Major brands are planning to increase spending on influencer marketing over the next 12 months despite concerns over lack of transparency and fake followers.
New research from the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) indicates that the quality of followers ranks at the top of brands’ selection lists when deciding who to work with, with 96% of respondents regarding this as “absolutely essential” or “very important”.
The findings are based on a survey of 34 companies and $59bn (£45bn) in global media and marketing spend, and the concerns over lack of transparency were evident. Seventy-one percent declared that the way the relationship is disclosed was an “absolutely essential” or “very important” part of the selection process.
However, these concerns have not deterred brands from investing in influencer marketing, as 65% of brands plan to increase spending. The main aim of the investment is to boost brand awareness (86%), reach new audiences (74%), and improve brand advocacy (69%).
Concerns over influencer fraud
Last month, Keith Weed, Unilever’s markets boss brought the issue of influencer fraud to the fore and detailed how the company plans to combat it.
Unilever won’t work with influencers who buy followers, and promised its brands will not buy followers. It will also prioritise working with partners who increase their transparency and work to eradicate fraudulent practices through the digital ecosystem.
At Cannes Lions, Weed outlined why this is important, saying “the market gets undermined if people don’t trust the amount of followers someone has”. He underlined the importance of trust, declaring that it “is such an important part of brand and marketing. A brand without trust is just a product; the difference between the two is trust.” Without such trust, he believes that the whole system will collapse.
Yet despite his concerns, Unilever, like many other brands, will continue to use influencer marketing. Weed said: “Influencers are an important way to reach consumers and grow our brands. Their power comes from a deep, authentic and direct connection with people, but certain practices like buying followers can easily undermine these relationships.”
YouTubers and vloggers have been a great asset for driving Unilever brands like Dollar Shave Club and Dove Men; but Points North Group research identified that 20% of the followers of Magnum’s Instagram sponsored posts were fake.
Having such a large number of fake followers can cause issues as it hampers brands’ ability to measure ROI and track authentic engagement.
Assessing the impact of influencer marketing
Stephen Loerke, CEO of the WFA acknowledges that “influencer marketing is becoming a key channel for many marketers” and claims that the research provides a benchmark revealing how marketing teams and their external partners are managing the new channel in the rapidly evolving area.
The research identified that key KPIs being used to assess influencer activity are reach and views (96%), engagement (80%), traffic generated (44%) and other earned media (44%).
Concerns were mainly focused around four areas with consumer trust and blurred lines cited as “very concerning” and “concerning” by 64%. The other three were legal and financial risks (60%), reputational risks (64%), and brand safety risks (59%).
Despite this, the WFA research reveals that 64% of brands use external partners to find relevant influencers and 63% use them to manage the partnership. The ways in which brands partner with influencers will be increasingly scrutinised by watchdogs like the Competitions and Market Authority (CMA) and Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK.