As consumers spend more time on social media and online, influencers have become an increasingly important part of retailers’ digital marketing efforts. Companies of all sizes are now working with bloggers, vloggers, Instagrammers and Snapchatters to reach highly targeted and engaged audiences in authentic ways.
Some studies even show that influencer marketing is more effective than traditional methods, because people may view product posts as recommendations from a friend or peer they know and trust. But for every success story, there's a cautionary tale of a collaboration that missed the mark, achieving poor ROI, or worse, sparking a backlash on social media.
To avoid this, retailers must set clear objectives from the start and influencers should be honest about their ability to deliver them. Here are three key ways to minimise risk and reap all the benefits of influencer marketing.
Most failed collaborations occur when there’s a mismatch between the retailer’s aim and the influencer’s audience, says Taryn Williams, CEO and founder of The Right Fit, a platform connecting influencers with companies.
“This happens when there’s no due diligence process, or when a company just picks someone with 100,000 followers who’s young and fun, instead of getting really granular and figuring out what they’re trying to achieve,” Williams says.
Instead, retailers must be very specific about their objectives and target audience before they even think about selecting an influencer. Then they should focus on finding someone who can speak authentically to their customers.
When it comes to that process today, many retailers are choosing relevance over reach. Influencers with smaller, more local followings often have a much higher level of engagement than Insta-celebrities.
Williams also suggests thinking beyond social media: “An influencer can be so many more things. Depending on your brand, they might be a journalist or veterinarian.”
Consumers can generally tell when a sponsored post is purely transactional and will either ignore it or call the influencer out on it. It’s important for retailers and influencers to find some common ground on which to build an authentic relationship.
“The influencer’s followers have to trust that what the influencer is saying about the product or service is true and worthwhile, otherwise it’s not of interest to them,” Victoria Harrison, managing director of The Exposure Co., an influencer platform specialising in Australian Instagrammers, explains.
One way retailers can do this is by engaging the same influencers on multiple occasions. This not only ensures more people will see those posts, but also increases their credibility, Harrison suggests.
Another way is by ceding creative control to influencers. “Followers are more likely to get annoyed by sponsored posts that have been curated by a brand that isn’t something the influencer would normally write,” she says.
Of course, retailers and influencers must agree on a few things upfront, such as when the posts will be published, which hashtag will be used and whether the retailer’s social media handle will be included.
Australian Consumer Law prohibits businesses from making false or misleading claims, including in testimonials and reviews.
While the ACL doesn’t clearly state how this applies to influencer marketing – or who is responsible for the disclosure – industry associations are slowly moving towards transparency.
In March 2017, the Australian Association of National Advertisers updated its code of ethics to include this statement: “Advertising or marketing communication shall be clearly distinguishable as such to the relevant audience”.
According to legal experts, influencers should always disclose their commercial relationship with retailers through hashtags like #sponsored and #advertisement.