The Influencer Bubble Is Popping—But It Can Still Work for You

The success rate of a sponsored post on social media, particularly Instagram, is way down. But if you’re targeting and auditing correctly, you can still come out ahead with an influencer strategy.

Influencer marketing has had a pretty good run in the past few years—and brands, looking to move beyond tactics such as banner ads and search-engine marketing, have increasingly leaned on influential voices to make the pitch.

Individual deals involving influencers, however, might be on the cusp of a recessionary period.

A recent Wall Street Journal piece, citing data from InfluencerDB, noted that average engagement rates on sponsored Instagram posts—generally a favored platform for influencers—are falling across the board, with rates below 4 percent in categories such as food, lifestyle, and sports. “The bubble is starting to burst,” one online retailer told the newspaper.

Additionally, anecdotal evidence suggests that some influencers are feeling the pressure. “I had to lower my day rate. I had to work twice as hard for twice as less,” noted Jessica Zollman, an early Instagram employee and popular photographer, in comments to the BBC.

These trends may bring a market shift where marketers return to more reliance on the old standby of paid placement, according to a recent Gartner report.

If we’re heading toward a “trough of disillusionment” with influencer marketing, as Gartner’s famed Hype Cycle would put it, it’s perhaps not a massive surprise. The concept is pretty established at this point—I wrote a primer for associations back in 2016—but growth came fast. Its life cycle resembles that of many other once-buzzworthy ideas that evolved from “hot new thing” to “generally useful tool.”

But even if influencer marketing is losing some of its impact, there’s still plenty of room for associations to succeed with it, whether using it to attract new members, create an effective external source of content marketing, advocate a message, or even get new people to show up at your event. Here are a few thoughts on the matter:

Don’t be afraid of a smaller scale. You may not have the budget to enlist a Kardashian or Jenner run your sponsored posts, but you also don’t need it. As I wrote last year, small influencers with fewer than 1,000 followers are often much more effective than larger ones at attracting the specific attention you want. The secret is the more intimate scale, sure, but it’s also the better targeting.

Set the right criteria, and stick to them. Finding the right influencer is not just about identifying someone who says the right things in the right way: The whole picture of the influencer’s value proposition needs to be taken into consideration. A guide from the social media management tool does a great job of laying down the basics of what good influencer criteria should look like, including topical context, follower count, demographic of the community, quality of the content, and overall level of engagement.

Analyze early and often. Like any other marketing campaign, an influencer campaign needs to show results, and when something isn’t working, it’s time to cut bait. Identify how you will track the campaign’s success, whether through likes, shares, or clicks on a specialized link. If you’re not sure about a campaign, do a one-time test on a smaller scale, then build up to something bigger once the influencer has passed your test.

Know the risks. Fraud remains a common problem within influencer marketing, whether the deception is about the product sold (think Fyre Festival) or the creator’s reach. If you sign up for a creator who has 150,000 followers and many of them are fake, you obviously won’t get the value you expect from the campaign. The best way to mitigate risk is by doing your homework: Guidelines like those published by the Influencer Marketing Council earlier this year are a great place to start. But there are some common-sense things to look for, such as signifiers of identity (a verification check mark, for example), how much engagement the user is getting on their account, and the content the user produces. Paying early attention to these factors could save you from headaches down the line.

Have you had success with influencer marketing? Do you have any tactics to share? Tell us in the comments.

(ImageGap/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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