When the concept and subsequent incorporation of Friends of Brands in late 2014 came about, I had built a strong interest in influencer marketing, thus, my then aim to build a platform that would aggregate social media (and web) personalities who had large followings, high interaction rates and resonated well with their audiences. At the time, only Webfluential existed in South Africa; it was also barely a year old. It still exists, but only as a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), and no longer offers agency services, which is the area on which Friends of Brands has pivoted.
Key to Lelo and Afro’s podcast is the saturation of a few individuals who have (in the past 2 years or so) received the lion’s share of the work that brands have put out there. The podcast highlights the following 2 points about these individuals (and possibly others who will follow in their footsteps):
- A lack of authenticity about their endorsements
- Brand “whorism” for a lack of a better phrase
I won’t delve into the obvious negative implications of the above; the podcast goes into more detail. However, my main gripe with almost everyone I hear speaking on this topic is them placing most of the blame on the influencers. Ultimately, the decision to choose certain people over others to endorse a brand lies with the brand itself (and its agency). This is really where the problem lies.
The choice of influencer(s) for any campaign should be backed up by numbers first and foremost, and secondly, by that individual or individuals’ resonance with the brand and the brand to his/her/their audiences. What has been happening, however, is that agencies have been bullshitting many of their clients by not articulating clearly that large numbers of followers, fans, etc., won’t necessarily equate to sales or the right (and relevant) exposure. Instead, agencies sell these misleading metrics and numbers to brands, who then give the go ahead for what ends up being a disaster in the most extreme cases, or a completely poor ROI on the entire exercise, given alternatives.
The Role of Agencies
Agencies and the brands they represent approach influencers because it seems safe to use the same personalities that other big brands have used before, thus, we often see the same influencers for competing brands. The marketing team knows it’ll get numbers of some sort, and as someone who works with data, it’s very easy to smooth out failures in the numbers and highlight only good performance, which is what management wants to see.
Therefore, my opinion is that influencers should take less of the flack for their supposed brand prostitution and disingenuous promotion. As long as the brainstorming sessions and war rooms come up with the same ideas and the same people, the influencers (upon accepting the work) will continue attracting a lot of negativity and ultimately alienate their communities, which is not good for the brands also.
What Should be Done to Save Poor Influencer Marketing Campaigns
Members of the marketing team need to conduct thorough research about the influencers who are likely to have a big impact on their brand. Those guys may not be the ones whom everyone else uses – Lelo briefly mentions them on the podcast as micro influencers. I strongly agree that brands should start looking at these people and their small communities rather than follow the route that every other brand has been following. That is the kind of approach that we follow at Friends of Brands, and one that offers better results.
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