My writing on corporate innovation strategy

What exactly did my influencer influence?


Originally published on Crain’s Cleveland

An old advertising joke goes: "Fifty percent of my advertising money is wasted, I just don't know which half."

This was true until something called the internet arrived. Then in 1994, AT&T paid HotWired, a subsidiary of Wired, $30,000 to run a banner ad that said, "Have you ever clicked your mouse right here? You will." That's when the future of advertising was changed forever.

For the first time, a marketer could actually observe how the consumer interacted with an ad. AT&T now knew that 44% of visitors clicked on the ad.

This created an evolution! Digital ads started to target specific demographics and ROI tools were introduced such as DoubleClick to measure CPM (Cost Per Impression).

In 2000, Google AdWords was introduced and marketers started to turn to paid search and pay-per-click.

Then, something called social media began to get popular. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram ruled the ether and the most popular accounts began to realize they were modern-day celebrities. They could post workout videos and get paid $100,000 to promote a protein drink. They were sent fancy articles of clothing for free to show off their style to their followers (all while making a sizable checks, too). Influencer careers were born.

A parade of companies and agencies began to pay influencers to promote their products. And why not? They had millions of "followers." The logic went if people were following them, then their followers would want to buy the products the influencers were using.

In reality, this boomeranged advertising back to the Dark Ages. Large brands and companies now use influencers without calculating ROI. Metrics such as impressions, organic reach and engagements are becoming the new norm.

CMOs need to start asking two questions: "What exactly did my influencer influence?" and "How do measure their impact?"

But first, audit the ratio of followers to engagement. See if they have many followers but few who are truly engaged (such as likes and comments). This is a telltale sign that the account has fake influencers. To confirm this, use a platform-auditing tool that provides the percentage of followers who are likely human.

Next, consider tools such as tracked links to directly track the user funnel from the influencer ad completely through the cycle.

Do you need influencers for your consumer products? Absolutely. They are an important part of successful marketing. But that doesn't mean you should allow your influencers to go unchecked. Instead, hold your influencers accountable to ensure you are maximizing ROI for your marketing budget. And beware: Vanity metrics are real and many are falling for their stardom.

Ari Lewis