How to find the right influencers for your brand - and weed out the fakes

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher August 28, 2017
Not all influencers are created equal. Can brands use technology to find the influencers that move the needle for influencer marketing - and weed out those who don't?

There’s a lot of fake news out there. And there are almost as many “fake influencers.” You know, the ones who create fake videos, or photoshop their images, or claim to like a product when they really know it sucks or they know nothing about it at all (but the benefits of promotion are good right?). Then there are the ones who claim authentic high follower numbers when they bought them. So how do get past all the fake stuff and find the influencers who will truly make a difference for your brand?

You could look to an influencer marketplace. There are more than enough out there to leverage. A recent article on TopRank listed 25 of them (and it only scratched the surface). I had an opportunity to chat with Joel Wright, President and Co-founder of #Hashoff (one that didn’t make the list) about their approach to helping brands find the right influencers.

Wright said they have yet to run into an influencer in three years who has pretended to be someone they are not. He attributes that to technology. He does believe there is a problem with fake influencers and it brings up a dilemma and series of questions for marketers. How do you know an influencer is authentic and can a technology platform help you pick the right one?

What makes a good influencer?

I asked Wright what makes a good influencer and he said it’s a combination of things:

  1. Authenticity is really important. An influence must have a natural alignment or affinity for the brand they are getting involved with. Wright said the notion of simply selling a product based on celebrity is running its course. I would add that celebrity doesn’t just mean actors and sports stars. In some industries, particularly in B2B, a celebrity might be an analyst or consultant.
  2. Super creativity. Wright pointed out that many influencers are building high impact advertising. To do that effectively, that creativity must be “inherently woven into who you are.”
  3. Consistency. Consistency in who you are and how you view the world. That community an influencer has spent time and energy curating must be continually interested in what you are doing, and that requires a consistent story. Wright said that a strong and persistent point of view engages the community.
  4. Open Minded. An influencer must not only be thinking about what’s important to them. They need to understand what’s important to a marketer as well and be open to their ideas and requirements.

Brands often look for help with their influencer strategy, Wright said. Some are savvier and have strong opinions about what they want to do. But finding the right influencer isn’t simple. As Wright pointed out, there is a big difference between popularity and influence. A person can create a lot of fun content that people want to watch, but that doesn’t mean those same consumers will see that person as synonymous with a product that is incorporated into something they create.

How do they find influencers?

You could go the traditional model and do a lot of manual research: keywords, hashtags, social media searches. And there are companies out there that take this approach. But it’s a lot of work, and there are many potential influencers out there that a manual search could miss.

Technology is beneficial here. Hashoff provides a search product that can identify a series of influencers in a very contextual way across Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook (proprietary algorithms and all). A brand can come in and look for a type of influencer they want to work with. At this point, the influencer doesn’t know the brand is interested in them. The relationship starts when the influencer is engaged through the technology where the brand reaches out and requests to work with them.

Hashoff also brings influencers into the marketplace in a few ways. It might invite an influencer to opt-in in its private marketplace. Wright said they also have influencers reaching out requesting to opt-in. Of course, Hashoff is very selective, and not everyone gets invited.

How do you sniff out the fakes?

Not everyone is a true influencer. The fakes are out there, dying to get attention. Wright said there are ways to avoid them.

The following things are looked at through Hashoff’s technology. You could do some of this manually, but not all.

  • Followers to following: Does someone have a ton of followers versus the number that they follow? Wright said this suggests buying followers.
  • Followers to Posts: A person has very few posts but a significant number of followers - also suggesting buying followers.
  • Posting content in huge bursts: Does a person post multiple assets with high frequency over a short period? Again, an indicator of buying fraudulent traffic.

Hashoff also goes back and analyzes four years of historical content creation. Wright said they do this to identify which category the influencer fits and what brands they may have worked with in the past. When the influencer did work with a brand, what did the community look like when it was engaging with the brand content? Low engagement rates, said Wright, suggest the influencer isn’t real.

When we talk about engagement, it means a few things: the community participates through things such as video views, likes, comments, tagging a friend, retweeting, sharing, etc., all signs of an active participant.

It’s also important to note that all content influencers are creating for a brand is fully controlled by the brand when using Hashoff. Nothing is published without final approval from the brand or Hashoff, ensuring that the content is what the brand is expecting and wants.

Are micro influencers better to work with?

Micro influencers are gaining in popularity. These are influencers who may not have as big a following (we’re talking thousands as opposed to the millions some celebrity influencer have). They are also very specific in the content they create and usually are involved in the topic category in some way regularly.

These attributes are what can make a micro-influencer more influential than someone with a higher follower count. Smaller communities can mean more engagement, and more affinity to accept brand content. While in the US the FTC requires clear transparency in influencer marketing, there may be the question of whether the community will accept branded content.

Wright pointed out that they don’t often see blow-back from influencer communities. Influencers have already been creating content around a topic or category, so introducing branded content doesn’t affect their experience - as long as it’s valuable and authentic.

Micro influencers are also typically less expensive to work with, and you do pay influencers in some way. Wright said the payment model depends on the influencer. He said many are creatives asked to develop assets for a brand. These types typically expect cash payment. Other payment models include the usual - VIP access, tickets, gift cards, and so on.

My take

Influencer marketing has been a big topic for quite awhile. But it’s still struggling to find its proper place in marketing strategy. It’s kind of an add-on, something the social team or the content marketing team does. Wright said that needs to change.

I think the challenge for many companies is that influencer marketing is social-focused and as we’ve seen already, companies still aren’t taking social as seriously as they could be. Social isn’t a separate function, and influencer marketing isn’t tied only to social. Bringing both into mainstream marketing strategy are critical to successful marketing.

I recently took a short course on advocacy marketing by Influitive. The course was pretty good - I learned a lot about how to find the right influencers and engage with them to create great content. Your employees and customers are great advocates for your brand as well (and they have direct experience with your products).

The point is, companies need to reach out and find people to help them authentically communicate the value of their brand and the products and services they sell.

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