Why an Opt-In Influencer Network Doesn’t Work (Authenticity Matters with Influencers)

An influencer leaning against a wall.

The search for authentic influencers

Modern social media influencers can be traced back to the “mommy bloggers” of the early 2000s. A fitting start for an intimate and everyday medium, those early days saw regular people creating intimate, relatable, and trustworthy content about their daily lives. 

Consumers at the time saw a stark contrast between this content, traditional media, and the very early days of digital media. Without a clear means of monetization, influencers and brands began to recognize the transformational pull such content creators held with their audience.

Early adopters noticed that influencer campaigns often far surpassed that of digital advertising benchmarks—today 89 percent of marketers reported that influencer campaigns obtained ROI that was better than other marketing mediums. In the two decades since, influencer marketing has gone from a low-tech niche to a venture-backed full-on tech vertical. The industry’s growth also comes along with some growing pains, notably a rise of transactionally-minded, inauthentic content creators looking to cash in. Here’s what marketers need to find the right influencer, and why an influencer marketplace isn’t the ideal starting place.

What to consider when looking for an influencer search tool 

Finding influencers remains a critical pain point for marketers—a full 68 percent of polled marketers reported sourcing influencers as their single largest challenge. And while sourcing is no doubt among the greater challenges in influencer marketing, it’s by no means out of reach of today’s marketers.

Ultimately, finding the right match means identifying influencers who engage honestly and authentically with their audience, and whose interests align with your brand’s image and products. While you will have to sift through a number of misses before you find your hit, you do, after all, know best about whose most qualified to represent your brand. 

Thankfully, influencer marketing software has been developed to help brands sort through volumes of influencers and identify the right pick. In looking for the right tool for you, you’ll want a range of features that assists in doing these things:

  1. Simplify the research process 
  2. Aid in content review
  3. Assist in outreach
  4. CRM-like relationship management capabilities
  5. Have social listening capabilities (to automatically monitor keyword usage)
  6. Analytics that let users compare meaningful metrics of social media influencers (audience size, keywords, location, gender and age)

Your search process can’t be automated

While search tools can ease the process of finding influencers, eyes-on research is, of course, still a critical part of the process. After all, no single metric can tell you the whole story of the influencer-audience relationship, the unique qualities of their content, their tone, originality, and accuracy. 

So, when you’re on your software-assisted search, you’ll want to spend your time making the following considerations:

  • Does the influencer’s content promote discussion and engagement 
  • How often are they engaging with fans 
  • Do they have an observable passion for their interests
  • What are their highest performing posts 
  • What is their ratio of sponsored posts to regular content

By the end of this search, you should have the answer to your most important questions: whether the influencer has an authentic and engaging relationship with their audience, whether that influencer could show genuine interest in your products, and whether their audience would feel the same love. 

What is an opt-in influencer network?

Opt-in influencer networks work a little like dating apps. 

Like dating sites, each influencer marketplace attracts their own distinct and (ideally) diverse audience—all of whom are all looking for love—brand love, that is. Influencers compete with one another for contracts on marketing campaigns, with the entire relationship taking place on the network platform.

This simple set up, however, has its flaws.

Why an opt-in influencer network does not promote authentic media

The purpose, design, and management of opt-in influencer networks are at odds with the free-flowing, organic nature of authentic influencer marketing. They may offer slick sites and many legitimate influencers, but sourcing the right influencer for your brand requires a much larger pool to select from. 

That, however, is not the only issue at hand. Since their introduction, influencer networks have drawn scrutiny for lax influencer vetting, outdated information, and hosting a crowd of content creators more concerned with making money than fostering authentic relationships.

The audience matching features are also limited by overly strict taxonomy of industries and audience types. Any inaccuracies in the data could threaten the relevance of the search. Also, in this, the pool of influencers is biased, since the influencer signs up to appear in one. What’s more, these groups are rumored to be much less stringent in vetting than one would want.

In other words: authenticity. 

The “I’m for hire” mentality 

As we’ve covered above, influencer marketing is growing both as an industry and as a profession—with 500,000 influencers active on Instagram alone in late 2018 (a whopping 39 percent of all instagram accounts). Eighty-six percent of surveyed 13- to 38-year-olds hope to become influencers.

This growth in interest has also encouraged less-than-ethical content creators to cash in on this growing trend. Brands should be mindful that influencer marketplaces often host a number of content creators and minor celebrities who don’t subscribe to authentic influencer practices.

“People off Love Island or the Made in Chelsea girls aren’t as strict with it because it’s not their livelihood,” said Olivia Allan, an influencer talent agent, to The Guardian. “If something goes wrong and they need to delete the post and give the money back, they’ve still got a stream of income. They are the problematic ones.” 

In relying on opt-in influencer marketplaces and not influencer management software, brands expose themselves to greater risk. Risk of what? 

  • Poor performing campaigns. Due to bad audience-brand fit. Since marketplace influencers make their money on successful bids, it’s in their financial interest to take any opportunity offered—regardless of any interest they may have in your brand.
  • Poorly-vetted influencers. Platform owners make their money off the volume of transactions that occur on their site, incentivizing them to let in as many influencers as possible.
  • Higher volume of fake followers. Such a prevalent issue that it cost companies approximately 1.3 billion in 2019.
  • Limited growth among these platforms means getting bids from the same influencers over and over.

Influencer network’s don’t incentivize authentic interest in products and brands

The ultimate aim of influencer marketing is to take the trust and love audiences feel for their influencers and seamlessly transfer that affection towards the brand. 

However, for that trust to transfer, influencers need to have a genuine interest in the brand. I know what some of you may be thinking—do influencers really need to have a genuine interest to make compelling content?

Absolutely. Influencers need an authentic connection with both their audience and their brand. Without that, their content is unconvincing at best, and perceived as greedy at worst.

Take, for instance, the influencing career of Yovana “Rawvana” Mendoza. As her nickname hints, Mendoza is a raw vegan lifestyle influencer with a sizable YouTube and Instagram following. One day, however, another blogger posted a video showing Mendoza eating fish. Mendoza apologized and said she began eating meat at the recommendation of her doctor. Regardless, the story was picked up nationally and the video went viral; fans were angry. 

As one fan wrote, the anger wasn’t that she was a “fake vegan,” but that this dishonesty broke the implicit trust held by her fans.

To be sure, the consequences of a poor influencer-brand fit are often less explosive than wall-to-wall negative press coverage. More often than not, sponsored posts from inauthentic influencers will simply be ignored.

Loses the genuine influencer connection

Deep, lasting, and authentic brand-influencer relationships are absolutely essential for realizing the best results of influencer marketing—something few influencer marketing experts would neglect to recommend.

Opt-in influencer marketplaces limit the possibilities of that relationship by tying influencers to their networks with exclusive deals. That means should you get lucky and find an ideal influencer, they may not be available for repeat engagements. And since their primary relationship is with the network, and not you, this leaves them open to collaboration with any number of your competitors—all of whom have equal access to the same talent.

What’s more, as discussed above, it’s in the best interest of opt-in influencer marketplaces to focus on quantity over quality. Since marketplaces usually make their money by taking commissions, they’re more inclined to pair brands with poor-fit influencers than to forgo a sale. This disincentivizes long-lasting relationships by prioritizing short-term economic gain—a recipe for disappointment in a practice that requires authenticity and transparency.

Why brands should opt-out of influencer marketplaces and use influencer relationship management software

Due to all the aforementioned issues—the misaligned financial incentives, exclusivity, and limited selection—we don’t recommend opt-in influencer marketplaces to today’s marketers.

This isn’t to say that technological platforms shouldn’t play a role in influencer marketing. Rather, it shows that there’s no substitution for the hard work involved in sourcing influencers. Instead, tech’s role is to ease workflows by enabling wider and deeper influencer searches, relationship management features, and deep easy-to-use analytics. 

In fact, the prevalence of influencer networks sparked us in the creation of our own influencer relationship management tool, GRIN. We designed our digital platform to facilitate quality influencer marketing from outreach to analytics, campaign creation, and the management of payments and deliveries.  

Best way to find authentic influencers for your campaigns across all social platforms

Ultimately, opt-in influencer marketplaces aren’t designed to facilitate the kinds of lucrative, long-lasting influencer relationships that have made the practice so hot. Though intimidating, your search for the perfect influencer can’t be automated. Marketers looking for assistance are best served by influencer marketing software to help manage authentic relationships with greater ease.

This article originally appeared in the Grin.co blog and has been published here with permission.

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