At the end of 2019, headlines abounded declaring that influencer marketing was “dying” or “dead.” They argued that consumers were growing weary of sponsored posts, and that the return on investment (ROI) was too difficult for ecommerce merchants to track.
We’re here to report that these headlines were entirely unfounded. Influencer marketing isn’t just alive and well—it’s also projected to continue to grow at unprecedented rates. According to the 2021 State of Influencer Marketing Benchmark Report, the industry is set to increase by approximately $13.8 billion in the next year.
“Influencer marketing is growing rapidly—and it’s evolving to get smarter and more measurable,” says Nick Veneris, marketing manager for Refersion, an affiliate marketing program that helps brands develop and track partnerships with bloggers and social media influencers. In the last year, Refersion saw a jump from $238 million in sales to $423 million—a nearly 82% year-on-year growth rate.
Yet, despite the continued importance of influencer marketing, only 67% of brands measure the return on investment (ROI) from their influencer campaigns. Regardless of whether you’re considering starting your first influencer marketing campaign or if you fall into the 33% who aren’t measuring ROI—or don’t know how to—here’s what you need to know to get started.
Table of Contents:
- What is influencer marketing?
- How do you calculate the ROI of influencer marketing?
- The qualitative vs. quantitative ROI of influencer marketing
- Influencer marketing KPIs to track
- What's considered a good influencer marketing ROI?
- What other variables should you consider when tracking ROI on an influencer marketing campaign?
- How to take the next step with influencer marketing
What is influencer marketing?
For the uninitiated, influencer marketing is a targeted method of advertising, where you develop relationships with influencers to tap into their audiences. Influencer marketing may range from sending content creators free product in hopes that they’ll feature it, to more formalized agreements, where influencers are paid by post. Increasingly popular are hybrid agreements, where influencers can also earn profits based on affiliate tracking programs.
Unlike celebrity endorsements—where a personality is hired to represent a brand in campaigns—influencers typically operate independently and create their own content, based on a brand’s advertising specifications. The result is an authentic advertising model that connects you with consumers in a more organic way.
It’s also a solid investment. According to research conducted by Mediakix, 89% of marketers say that the ROI on influencer marketing is comparable or better than other marketing channels.
“Influencers offer a cost-efficient way to produce high-quality content,” says Cristy Garcia, vice-president of marketing at Impact, a technology platform that allows merchants to manage and optimize all of their enterprise’s partnerships through every stage of the life cycle. “It filled a gap when production studios were closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. It allowed brands to continue posting during a time when users were spending more time on social media.”
Influencers offer a cost-efficient way to produce high-quality content.
But for all the opportunities, there are still threats. When Instagram changed its feed from chronological to an algorithm in 2016, it affected the organic reach of influencers. At the same time, Instagram’s use began to grow exponentially—by the end of 2020, there were one billion users—oversaturating feeds.
Changing algorithms on social platforms is just one of the reasons why understanding how to measure the ROI of your influencer marketing campaign is more important than ever.
How do you calculate the ROI of influencer marketing?
1. Set your goal
Is your goal to create brand awareness? Build your audience? Or to increase sales?
“The biggest mistake brands make is not knowing what they’re looking to achieve — then receiving an unexpected result. Start with a clear goal and know how you’re going to measure that,” says Veneris.
The biggest mistake brands make is not knowing what they’re looking to achieve.
2. Determine the key performance indicators (KPIs) most relevant to your goal
“Be sure you have the right tools in place to accurately measure the KPIs,” says Veneris.
Your goal will determine what KPIs you’ll need to measure to ensure your campaign was successful. For example, if you want to build brand awareness, tracking pageviews and impressions will trump tracking revenue. Or if your goal is lead generation, it makes the most sense to measure the number of new email subscribers.
3. Determine what marketing strategy—and platform—works best for you goal
Think about it: You wouldn’t host a flash sale to get newsletter subscribers, and you wouldn’t focus on getting people to follow you on social media if your goal was hard sales.
Influencer campaigns are no different—they could be formatted as contests or giveaways, a discount or promo code, or an account takeover—but they should be built to meet your goals.
Likewise, where you host the campaign matters, as different social channels have different levels of engagement and analytics software for analyzing and measuring ROI.
4. Evaluate your expenses
This is where the “I” in ROI comes in. How much do you plan on investing in the campaign? Your budget should include any influencer or agency fees, production costs, or fees for analytics software. It’s also important to consider whether you’d like to invest more into the campaign.
“One of the biggest mistakes that ecommerce merchants make is not putting ad spend behind content that’s doing really well organically,” says Jason Goldberg, president and co-founder of Carro, a collaborative commerce network that helps brands build partnerships with influencers.
One of the biggest mistakes that ecommerce merchants make is not putting ad spend behind content that’s doing really well organically.
The qualitative vs. quantitative ROI of influencer marketing
Below, we’ve included some of the KPIs that you can use to evaluate the ROI of your influencer marketing campaign. But before we delve into them, a quick note: While the quantitative KPIs can be easily tracked and analyzed, understanding the ROI of influencer marketing campaigns may also require delving into the qualitative data.
If your goal is to develop brand awareness, for example, looking at the number of comments on a post isn’t enough—you’ll also need to evaluate the type of language used in the comments. For small campaigns, these can be done manually, while for larger campaigns, third-party analytic tools can be used to research this type of data.
Regardless of whether your focus is on the qualitative or quantitative data, Veneris’ advice is to follow the data.
“Measurable attribution is possible for all channels and all influencers,” he says. “The performance marketing model with influencers works great for long-term, sustainable relationships and also gives you extremely concrete data about clicks, conversions, revenue, and AOV—and that’s possible from Twitch and YouTube, to TikTok.”
Measurable attribution is possible for all channels and all influencers.
Influencer marketing KPIs you should track
When evaluating your ROI, you’ll largely be focusing on your audience reach, followed by sales data. Here are the KPIs you should be tracking to evaluate your success:
Revenue and conversions
The baseline goal for many influencer marketing campaigns is to increase overall sales or conversions. You can track sales by providing influencers with a unique promo code or custom URLs, which can then be tracked within the Shopify dashboard.
However, while tracking sales made through affiliate links or promo codes is key, keep in mind that there may be a number of variables at play (see below) and the path to purchase may be less direct than it would be if a customer was reaching you for the first time through your own site.
Goldberg predicts this will be made easier soon, as social networks continue to develop means for influencers to close purchases within the social media networks themselves. “They’re trying to make the funnel as optimal as possible, which will make tracking the ROI straightforward,” he says.
Pageviews and impressions
According to the Influencer Marketing Hub 2021 survey, the most common metric brands use to measure an influencer marketing campaign’s success is conversions or sales. And while these tangible results are important, it isn’t the only data that you should be considering, particularly if you’re launching a new brand, store or product.
“For new launches, we find that impressions are the best indicator of ROI, since we want to introduce the new product or service to the widest targeted audience possible,” says Garcia. “More eyes on content means more opportunities to engage, new followers, and potential new customers.”
For new launches, we find that impressions are the best indicator of ROI.
Pageviews can be tracked in Google Analytics, while impressions are typically found on the social media platform’s built-in analytics or insights dashboard.
Engagement on social media posts
Other metrics can also be found within the insights pages of each social media platform, including the number of shares, likes, comments, click-throughs, and engagement rate.
You may also use a social listening tool to track mentions that your brand gets on social media. As part of your agreement with the influencer, you’ll need to request that they report on their analytics, so that you’re able to measure how well the campaign is performing.
Earned media value
Tracking earned media value (EMV)—which can be measured through page views, daily unique visitors, likes, shares, and comments on social media posts—will give you a dollar amount for the value of the impressions your influencers have created.
Number of subscribers or social media followers
This may include the number of new Instagram followers, YouTube subscribers, email newsletter subscribers or Facebook likes. You can track this through using a CRM that lists where the lead originated, which will help you determine the traffic source that led them to your website.
Number of backlinks
If you’re looking to improve your site’s performance and ranking, backlinks can lead to better SEO and content reach. These are typically established through guest posting or sponsored content on other sites. Determine the number of backlinks your site had prior to the marketing campaign, then compare it to those once the campaign has been completed.
What’s considered a good influencer marketing ROI?
Ultimately, there is no universal standard or key industry number for measuring the ROI on an influencer marketing campaign.
But as one point of comparison, Influencer Marketing Hub’s 2020 report indicates that you can earn up to $18 in earned media value for every dollar spent on influencer marketing, with the average being closer to $5.78 per dollar spent.
What other variables should you consider when tracking ROI on an influencer marketing campaign?
The time of the year
Due to the volume of campaign opportunities available and demand, influencer costs increase during the holiday season (generally from November until January and on other special occasions such as Mother’s Day). This also means that social feeds during these months become saturated with branded content, which may skew your ROI lower.
“In order to stand out [at this time of year], you’ll need to come up with creative guidelines that will draw attention, such as interactive video content or giveaways,” advises Garcia.
The nature of your partnership
Are you using a social media influencer as a one-off advertising partner? Or are they a long-standing ambassador for your brand?
How you approach your relationship with the content creators you’ve chosen to work with can have a big impact on ROI—and how you should be measuring it.
“We’ve found that repetition is the key to conversion,” says Garcia. “An influencer’s recommendations are more trustworthy when they genuinely use the product over a long period of time—and the audience is more receptive.”
An influencer’s recommendations are more trustworthy when they genuinely use the product over a long period of time.
She adds that one of the biggest mistakes Impact sees brands making it choosing celebrities or mega-influencers, rather than selecting micro-influencers or personalities that are a good fit for the brand and reach the right audience.
Veneris agrees. “Influencers in the wrong niche or with too broad of an audience may not drive the results you’re seeking,” he says. “Finding brand alignment with the influencer is probably the most important thing to get right. Set clear goals, find influencers who can help achieve those goals, then trust the influencer’s expertise.”
That’s exactly what has driven the success of jewelry brand Mejuri’s influencer marketing: “We look for women who are passionate about the brand, who share the same values. It's not necessarily about the number of followers,” CEO and co-founder Noura Sakkijha told Shopify. “They share very genuine relationships or influence on their following as well and that's really key for us to make sure that we know the authenticity of the brand flows through ourselves and our partners.”
The price point of your product
Dependent on whether you sell impulse purchases or investment pieces, the types of campaigns you’re running and how you measure they could vary dramatically.
Although there’s been a shift in recent years to short-term content creation—think TikTok and Instagram stories—certain products still lend themselves to longer-form and long-term content, such as blog posts. You’re unlikely to sell a mattress through an Instagram story swipe-up. You may, however, sell one through an Instagram swipe-up that links to a blog post where someone reviews the product.
“Differentiating the affiliate links between the long-form blog post and the Instagram story is essential in understanding how audiences engage with the product. There is measurable impact even in tracking how many people have ‘swiped-up’ to read the initial blog post, as that allows us to understand the consumer engagement at a deeper level,” says Garcia.
If measuring revenue is your bottom line, then you also need to keep in mind that different categories of goods will see different results. Veneris says that in 2020, Refersion saw average order value (AOV) around $75 for beauty brands, $89 for clothing brands, and $142 esports and gaming.
“Set realistic goals for your category and don’t be afraid to experiment,” he says.
Consider the longevity of content
Finally, remember that just because a campaign has officially “ended” doesn’t mean that the content suddenly ceases to have impact or impressions. Content lives on long after a campaign—and dependent on your contract with the creator, the collateral produced can be repurposed for targeted ads, email marketing, or other campaigns.
“When you get a great content creator who is a strong fit for your aesthetic and brand, recognize that they’re going to bring you followers, traffic and sales—but there’s a lot you can do with the content that they create outside of just reposting it on Instagram,” says Goldberg.
Garcia agrees. “Imagery can be repurposed, resulting in nearly unlimited ROI,” she says.
Engaging with influencers isn’t just about tapping into their audiences—it’s also about harnessing their skills as content creators.
How to take the next step with influencer marketing
Working with an influencer, app partner, or marketing agency can help to reduce the time and costs associated with influencer marketing campaigns. Technologies and agencies that already have established relationships with influencers will help you to secure lower rates, identify content creators who are the best fit for your goals, and build data-driven campaigns based on reliable metrics.
Refersion, Impact and Carro are three app partners that specialize in Affiliate & Influencer Marketing. They’re part of the Shopify Plus Certified App Program, which supports Shopify Plus merchants by helping them find the apps and solutions they need to build and scale their business.
“With measurement being the number one pain point for influencer marketers, merchants and marketers need reliable attribution technology and a performance-based solution,” says Veneris. “Never settle, follow the data and make smarter marketing decisions based on real numbers.”
We’re excited to announce a brand new Shopify Plus Certified App Program cohort, including:
- Gladly (Customer Support)
- Bluecore (Marketing Automation)
- Impact (Affiliate & Influencer Marketing)
- Carro (Affiliate & Influencer Marketing)
- Stamped.io (Reviews & UGC)
Check out our full list of Shopify Plus Certified App Partners to find a partner that fits your brand’s unique needs.