Do ‘Influencers’ Actually Influence Sales?

Anya Georgijevic recently penned an article for The Globe and Mail exploring how large lifestyle brands are spending significant portions of their marketing budgets paying (and gifting) social media mavens. Blog posts, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat posts can garner those with significant (this term is hotly debated) followers six to seven figure salaries, but are the brands seeing any ROI?

Over the last few years, many of these companies  (in particular fashion and lifestyle brands) learned that the sheer volume of content required to keep ‘trending’ was overwhelming. Creating campaigns used to mean a handful of television commercials and print ads but it was no longer enough, so why not partner with young creative bloggers with huge followings?

For a while, this was working well. A little too well. The industry quickly became saturated with bloggers who saw the opportunity to cash in on their perceived ‘perfect lives.’ Influencer agencies have emerged to manage these online stars and prices have skyrocketed. The cost of a single Instagram post can rival a print ad if the double taps follow.

Now, many of the same brands are left wondering, did it pay off? How do we measure this? And where is our money best spent? The simple answer is, nobody knows for sure. The social media world, while continually gaining momentum, is notoriously difficult to measure in terms of ROI. Click through rates, follows, likes are all great but do they warrant the significant investment that these people require?

Here are a few things to consider when planning your traditional advertising and social budgets:

  • Who is your target audience and are they active on social media? Higher ticket, aspirational products may be out of reach to young social enthusiasts. Put another way, if you spend your day earning enough money to buy those luxury items you probably don’t have time to read blogs.
  • Does it matter? If your product is established and aspirational grooming the next generation of buyers is a good thing.
  • How do you know if those users are organic or if they were purchased? Here is an interesting article on how to spot the fake Instagram accounts. A lot to consider before you partner with one.
  • What other brands does the influencer work with? It’s pretty easy to spot the oddball brands that find their way into the material.
  • Does the influencer also play in mainstream media, doing television, radio, write in print? This is an indication of legitimacy.
  • Are they easy to work with and likeable? If you choose a social partner make sure you select one who makes your job easier, not more difficult.
  • Do your research – monitor click through rates, any immediate spikes in sales, and if the specific items they feature are selling.

It will be interesting to see if the trend continues or if it has now reached the tipping point. New measurement tools, potential new governed editorial guidelines for bloggers, and skeptical marketing / PR professionals.