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Why Influencer Marketing Doesn't Work for TotallyMoney (and probably many brands)

TotallyMoney is driven by data; we make decisions based on reason, not assumption. So, when we first discussed testing Influencer Marketing (IM), I was very keen to see if we, as a financial brand, could make it work. There was just one question on everyone’s lips: how would we measure it?

The recommended success metric for IM is engagement rate. But, since we’re focused on direct response, we decided to measure sign-ups through a URL in our Instagram bio and track positive comments that suggested a sign-up. So, we launched with 10 influencers all praising the TotallyMoney Free Credit Report as the best thing since sliced bread, and waited in anticipation for the peak in activity.

However, since we drive so much volume from TV and digital, any peaks in activity were absorbed by other channels.  The only way we could track conversions accurately was through the Instagram bio link, which shockingly made up just 0.4% of our account volume that day. Although we anticipated measurement would be hard, we underestimated to what extent.

When I looked at the comments for a more qualitative measurement, I saw a bigger issue. Influencer price is determined by the number of followers, and how much those followers engage. Bot traffic is a well-documented problem, alongside the ability to buy followers. However, when I looked at the comments, I noticed something I hadn’t considered.

It became clear that many comments were from family and friends as well as other influencers (likely seeking comments or follows back). The problem is, when you have a partly insincere following coupled with engagement from an inner circle of other influencers and supportive peers, rather than genuine customers, it makes the recommended success metric, engagement rate, obsolete. This not only affects the ability to measure success accurately, but also the ability to select an influencer who fits your brand and has genuine followers and engagers.

Despite its limitations, there’s one key concept people seem to miss when discussing Influencer Marketing — and it’s fundamental to social media marketing: Social Influence is something we just can’t resist.

I’m a 24-year-old avid Instagram user and have bought products through Influencers. I didn’t engage with their post or navigate through their profile link. I was a valuable customer, yet impossible to measure. We should not underestimate Social Influence: I bought the product because I was convinced by the hundreds of likes and positive comments talking about it. Even if every comment was falsely made by a supportive friend or fellow influencer, it still convinced me to buy the products. Why? Social Influence is part of being human. We’re constantly influenced by our peers, through recommendations, reviews and discussion. We want to be like our friends and those we admire.

For TotallyMoney, Influencer Marketing didn’t work. We can’t measure true success and therefore we can’t justify spend. If you decide to quantify success by engagement, then I’d exercise even more caution: this metric is inaccurate, flawed, and fraudulent at its very core and it shouldn’t be the recommended measure.

Before I’d consider relaunching Influencer Marketing, I want to see some changes. Bot traffic and follower purchase must be regulated so we can see genuine followers and we, as advertisers, should not just accept this as a channel limitation. I want to see a clear way to attribute conversions, whether this is from clickable ads, call-to-actions, or even just the ability to paste a link into captions.

I think Influencer Marketing can work because Social Influence works. Using it as part of a successful and measurable marketing strategy does not. There are some exceptions, for example using unique discount codes or having a pure brand awareness aim. From my experience running Influencer Marketing, the biggest problem is: how do we measure those who did not engage or track but who were in fact influenced?

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