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Why You Need to Find the REAL Influencers – Here’s Why #180

Revelations of fake followers, fake engagement, and low ROI have rocked the influencer marketing world, and threatened to destroy what not long ago was one of the precious darlings of online marketing.
In this episode of the popular Here’s Why digital marketing video series, Mark Traphagen helps you understand what went wrong with influencer marketing, and why there is still a way to do it right.

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Eric: Mark, what do marketers mean by “influencer marketing”?
Mark: Well, Eric, at its most basic level, influencer marketing is simply finding people who allegedly have a dedicated audience who are potential customers for your brand, and getting that influencer to mention, talk about, or outright recommend your products or services.
What I call organic influencer marketing happens when such a person gives my brand a mention or recommendation without any prompting on my part simply because they love what I do and want to share their enthusiasm with their audience.
[Tweet “Organic Influencer Marketing: When a true influencer mentions or endorses you or your product without prompting or compensation. Learn more at”]
But for most large brands, influencer marketing has been about compensated relationships, where the influencer is under an obligation to mention the brand even if they do it in a way that appears organic.
Eric: And are there some fundamental differences between those two?
Mark: Yes. Organic influencers tend to be bona fide subject matter experts whose recommendations carry weight with their audience because of their known expertise. An example might be a famous chef recommending a new restaurant because he’s visited it and he really likes it.
But on the other hand, paid influencers have tended to be people who are famous for being famous. That is, they appear to have some clout because they have huge social media followings and get high engagement on their posts. They’re typically high on image over substance, almost always either very attractive or entertaining people.
But that’s not to say there aren’t exceptions. There are certainly paid influencers who have real expertise and credibility in the area or the products they talk about, but they’ve tended to be the exception rather than the rule.
Eric: Lately, there have been some serious challenges to the paid influencer model, right?
Mark: There sure have been, Eric. A study published in AdAge in April of 2018 revealed that the top paid influencers for a number of major brands had huge numbers of fake followers, as high as 70%. Now, because of that, Unilever, one of the largest advertisers in the world, drastically curtailed its influencer campaigns, and several other major brands decided to drop paid influencer marketing completely.
It gets worse than just fake followers though. In Marketing Week, Marketing Professor Mark Ritson revealed how he got 56% of a group of paid influencers to agree to post a picture of his posterior and endorse it as his best work ever! Obviously, the credibility and the integrity of those influencers is about zero.
One last thing: Ritson goes on to provide evidence that the average influencer creates no more actual click-throughs to the sponsoring brand than what we might expect from a banner ad. And we all know how dim those CTRs are.
[Tweet “The average social media influencer creates no more click throughs than a display ad. More at”]
Eric: So, if these kinds of influencers are so lacking in value, is influencer marketing a complete dead end?
Mark: I don’t think so. But as with almost all aspects of social media marketing these days, trying to hack your way to success at a massive scale isn’t effective and probably never was.
What brands should be doing is investing in relationships with real influencers, what we call organic influencers. Whether those relationships are completely organic or paid, the emphasis should be on people who, A) can demonstrate their following is real, active, and engaged, and B) have a proven track record of expertise and credibility in your marketplace.
Now, of course, you can’t scale that because it involves real relationship building. It means you actually have to demonstrate to that influencer that what you do has real value to her or his audience. But the potential rewards of getting mentioned or recommended by that kind of influencer do scale with a much higher rate of return than you’ll ever get from the fake influencers.
Eric: Thanks, Mark.

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Mark Traphagen

Mark Traphagen was our Content Strategy Director for Perficient Digital until February of 2019. He has been named one of the most influential content and social media authors in numerous industry listings.

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