In an age where all you have to do to become a food blogger is upload a picture of smashed avocado on toast with a high contrast filter, not only are influencers are having to get more creative to stand out from the crowd, but brands are having to get more savvy at recognising authentic influencers who will add real value to campaigns.
Understandably, there’s still apprehension about influencer spend for many brands.
In a landscape restricted by challenging metrics, yet-to-be-defined ROI and grey areas; the most significant way of grabbing a brand's attention is a numbers game.
And it’s a numbers game that can be misleading.
Not only do higher numbers seem more impressive, but brands are often drawn into the science of probability – if someone has two million followers and even just 1 per cent converts, that will still impact the bottom line, or sales, or following, or whatever is trying to be achieved through influencer marketing.
But herein lies the most significant problem.
When it comes to influencers, a lack of understanding and education means that brands will engage with them without a clear end-goal.
Too many are content to accept whatever results are fed to them by the influencer 'media pack'.
Whether it is purely a visibility exercise or to drive traffic to a site, to increase followers or to feed out the images to press, it is vital to know what you want to accomplish.
Starting any media investment without a clear idea about desired output creates a grey area in which bogus influencers thrive.
Proof of concept does exist for influencer marketing.
With the marriage of a relevant, legitimate following, a suitable product and price point, and a realistic purchase opportunity for a consumer, brands can see a significant return on their investment.
It’s the bandwagon influencers that are ruining it for everyone else.
It’s no surprise that brands see the red mist when they are advised to invest in something that gives them nothing back.
But the desire for people to be seen as influencers has fundamentally over taken their desire to provide a legitimate service for the payment they are receiving.
A lot of money is being reinvested into fast-track solutions to make influencers' numbers appear sexier than they are.
Making false claims about number of followers and engagement levels means that the information that a brand is basing their spending decisions on are false, leading to inevitably disappointing results and ultimately distrust in the metrics used to determine success.
In order for brands to have faith in a service, they must believe in its legitimacy.
Dishonestly and mistrust in any industry means budgets are harder to sign off, campaigns are managed more closely and results are scrutinised. The system becomes flawed.
It’s the responsibility of PR professionals to be vigilant in determining which influencers have legitimate, relevant followers, and which have tried to buy their way into the club.
Emily Austen is the founder of Emerge