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Influencer marketing set to be the next big thing, apparently

Influencer marketing is set to be the Next Big Thing for the meetings and incentive sector. But what is it, and where do you start? Jonathan Reed finds out more.

There’s a good chance that your awareness of social media influencing is limited to an awareness of the Kardashian family or tedious TV dating programmes where the airbrushed contestants all claim to be ‘influencers.’ However, don’t be too quick to judge. According to researchers Nanoreach, the number of Instagram posts using popular hashtags to denote advertising or promotion rose from 1.1 million to 3.1 million between 2016-18. Meanwhile, spend grew from $1.7bn to $6.5bn in the same period.

But what is influencer marketing? Lee Odden of TopRank Marketing defines it as “activating internal and industry experts with engaged networks to co-create content of mutual value and achieve measurable business goals.”

Almost 50 per cent of global companies planned to use micro influencers

The area is still one fraught with negativity.  Mariska Kesteloo is the founder of Word of MICE, training and educating the sector on understanding and using social media influencers as part of a destination or venues’ marketing campaign. She understands the concerns. “There is often failure to differentiate between B2B and B2C influencer marketing, and the wrong examples – such as the infamous Fyre Festival – have deterred some marketers.” She adds, ”the issue is that many MICE marketers are leaping in without asking some of the fundamental questions. For example, what is an influencer going to do for your brand? That’s vital to know because every step they do has to be collaborative. And the influencer has to demonstrate their knowledge, expertise, network and also their personality.”

Recent success stories include software giant SAP engaging with specialist tech influencers; American Express with its global network of Amex Ambassadors. Industrial giant GE has sought to attract more female applicants by working with Girls creator and actor Lena Durham. Does it work? Well, the average ROI throughout 2018 was a return of more than 5:1, according to Nanotech’s study which looked at 2,000 influencer programmes

Yet the success stories can be dwarfed by the negative news. Earlier this year 16 social media stars – including singers Ellie Goulding and Rita Ora – were forced to change how they post online, following warnings from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) that their posts could break consumer law. With 88 per cent of consumers claiming to trust online recommendations transparency presents an issue. Dan Neil of the Wall Street Journal wrote about the “moral hazard” that influencers have introduced. “It’s a confusing landscape, especially for newbies as they seek authority. You don’t have to be much of an expert to have a million followers.”

Andrea Coscelli of the CMA, agrees: “Influencers can have a huge impact on what their fans decide to buy. You should be able to tell as soon as you look at a post if there is some form of payment or reward involved.” And there’s no excuse; platforms like Instagram provide the necessary tools and influencers must clearly label content that has been paid-for (#ad, #sponsored or #freebie, for example).

So once the ethics have been sorted, where do you start? Kesteloo recommends a tightly targeted approach, using micro-influencers – less than 50, 000 followers – and nano-influencers (under 10,000).

A 2019 study revealed that almost 50 per cent of global companies planned to use micro-influencers. The benefits are obvious; it’s much cheaper (costs might vary from free accommodation and expenses to a few hundred euro for a post). Influencers can be added and removed with relative ease, lower numbers allow for more in-depth analysis of readership and their audiences are likely to be far more committed and engaged.

However, even then the relationship needs to be managed. Kesteloo points to the need to create a strategy, setting objectives, actively target specialist influencers, develop the stories as partners, and then manage the full relationship lifecycle.

“There’s a disproportionate focus on the front-end, and far less effort going into developing the relationship. There may also be a need for specialist software and the right technical infrastructure to manage all aspects of this process.”