A panel of influencer-measurement experts from Ogilvy, Mischief, Edelman and G Adventure has urged the industry to use measurement and analysis as a core part of choosing the right talent for a brand and influencer campaign.
Getting the selection and vetting process right will not only prevent the likelihood of influencer fraud, but could also yield more organic, relevant content and a healthier relationship between influencer and brand.
Recent reports suggests influencer costs have escalated, with the price of a post on Instagram rising 44 per cent in the past year.
However, Ogilvy head of influence Rahul Titus told the PRWeek Measurement Conference that he had noticed influencer costs becoming cheaper.
"How much you pay an influencer really depends on what their targets are, but I don't think it's actually that high," he said.
"When I started working with influencers, you would have to give them a good amount of money to get quite decent results. Now, with attribution modelling and how the measurements have come quite a long way, you can use the data you already have to work out how much you pay for them – how much you negotiate in a deal."
Where Titus believes brands come unstuck, in terms of cost, is a fear of negotiating a better price.
"[There is a fear] that they are approaching someone too big and that is going to cost them £2m or whatever, but you have to be brave enough to ask those questions. If they don't deliver those KPIs, you should ask those questions to get a better deal."
Mischief head of influence and advocacy Lucy Hart believes that influencer marketing has become much more commoditised than it was a few years ago and there are a lot more professionals out there looking to make a quick quid.
"But when you get the right people you get a lot more organic content, because there is an alignment and they believe in your brand and are excited about a longer-term relationship," she added.
"What we are seeing is exponential organic content, particularly people falling in a middle market [who] are trying to push their career places."
Ogilvy research found that striking a healthy balance of earned and paid influencer campaigns can lead to an increase of 35 per cent in organic content.
Edelman's associate director of strategy and analytics, Lizzie Rabone, pointed out that good influencers will add a lot of value by bringing many of the skills of a professional production company, but at a fraction of the price.
Fraud and follower counts
The panel also considered the perennial problems of influencer fraud and the market's "obsession with followers".
Titus said he has a big issue with follower counts and believes the market should focus more on true reach than the overall follower count figure, which is easy to manipulate. A recent study by social-media agency Pilotfish Media estimates sports and beauty brands also score highly on fake follower counts (see above).
"If you work with an influencer you are never going to hit more than 10 per cent of their followers organically," Titus pointed out. "As an industry, we really need to move away from followers being a base of how we define an 'influencer'."
In the past few years the incidence of fraud has escalated. A study by HypeAuditor – one of the industry's preferred fraud-detection tools – found the majority of UK Instagram influencer accounts engage in some form of fakery, while another study estimates that 15 per cent of influencer adspend ($1.3bn) reaches fake followers.
All panellists agreed fraud and fakery are growing problems and that measurement in the due diligence process is vital to mitigate against the risks.
At Ogilvy, 20-30 per cent of the identifying and vetting process is based on measurement against KPI–based metrics. "That measurement has become very important to us," Titus said.
Measuring the success of the campaign has also become increasingly important in determining ROI, but "there's no silver bullet".
"ROI is dependent on what you are trying to measure," Titus added. "A lot of firms in PR, especially, tend to measure the metrics you can get really easily. I see a lot of influencer plans that are measured by things like OTS or number of followers, or vanity metrics like engagement.
"Those are not the questions we get asked by CMOs, so why are we using that as the ultimate measure?"
Rabone told the panel she would like the industry to find a better way of linking online and offline activity – for example, whether a social-media post or tweet changed consumer behaviour or led to sales.
Although measurement is improving all the time, the panel concluded that it is still a relatively new area of marketing and measurement would take longer to mature.