The business of influence is booming.
But whether it’s products for posts or paid campaigns, this gold rush has ushered in a significant problem: fake influencers. One-off stories from outlets like AdWeek, The Atlantic, and The New York Times offer a glimpse into the issue, and its true scope is staggering.
In aggregate, one recent study estimates the cost of fake influencers to be ~11% of the total influencer market. In dollars, that’s around $200 million per year. Worse, that number doesn’t include the other issues facing influencer marketing — namely, the dramatic rise in mega-influencer price tags and how fleeting most influencer campaigns have become.
How can brands push past these problems and make it work?
Two solutions promise hope: first, shared creative control through co-creation. Second, getting influencers truly “invested.”
More from PostFunnel on influencer marketing:
5 Ways Brands Are Embracing Generation Z
10 Customer Retention Influencers You Should Be Following
Influencer Marketing for Retention: Avoid “One and Done” Campaigns
Co-Creation: Content, Campaigns, and Products
“People are becoming brands, and brands are becoming human,” says Nik Sharma, previously VaynerMedia’s head of DTC and director of DTC at Hint.
The second half of the above statement means that putting faces to your brand — faces your target market already knows, likes, and trusts — is critical. On this principle, influencer marketing stands or falls.
But as brands head out into the world of influencers, the biggest mistakes they make fall at two extremes. At one end of the spectrum is the strategy of sending influencers free product or paid contracts and then just hoping for the best. At the other, creating content for the influencer to post in an effort to control the outcome.
Both of those approaches are ripe for abuse.
Instead, the way forward is co-creation: meaningful collaborations where you work directly with influencers to (1) build content they know their audience will love, or (2) build co-branded products.
As an example of the former, fashion brand Dorothy Perkins collaborated with lifestyle influencer Laura Noltemeyer to curate and launch three exclusive collections. These collections were then broadcast by Laura and nine other content creators on Instagram, Pinterest, and multiple blogs.
Driving a 63% increase in sales, the campaign exceeded expectations — but one Dorothy Perkins employee said it was also about building and nurturing relationships with influencers over the long term. And therein lies the point:
Relationships require trust, and co-creation naturally involves vetting reliable influencers.
The latter option is embodied by Morphe Cosmetics. Morphe began by establishing itself as a makeup brush brand and eventually expanded into eyeshadow, lip colors, and other cosmetics.
How? By not only leveraging beauty influencers, but going one step beyond that.
Take Morphe’s partnership with YouTuber Jaclyn Hill. The launch video created by Jaclyn racked up over 2 million views in less than three weeks. More than 50 of her fellow YouTubers published their own review videos, which compounded exposure. And at the center of that strategy wasn’t merely a campaign, but a product. In fact, an entire co-branded collection:
Morphe continues to partner with other beauty influencers to create products with, for, and by them. A more recent example is from YouTuber Deysi Danger’s new highlighter.
At the end of the day, brands are making money and influencers are too. Success may equal dollar signs, but what helps generate income is an experience based on passion and authenticity.
Investment: Funding Influencer Marketing through Equity
Influencers appreciate the opportunity to monetize their audiences and lean into our entrepreneur-obsessed culture. They want their own side hustle.
Enter the “influencer round.” Essentially, this means offering equity in a company in exchange for influencer marketing.
While details of influencer rounds range from traditional and transparent to speculative and murky, they’ve reportedly been the driving force behind some of the most successful direct to consumer campaigns of the last two years.
Ember’s CEO Clay Alexander, who designed a temperature-controlled coffee mug, tapped into this opportunity with a bold marketing plan. He approached celebrity managers who had expressed an interest in investing. The pitch: “Ember could be your first investment.”
Nick and Joe Jonas signed on early, followed by professional football players Aaron Rodgers and Ndamukong Suh. Late last year Alexander revealed that “the company has raised $45 million, all from individuals, and it’s valued at $140 million.” The announcement spawned major news stories.
Teeth-whiteners Snow, followed a similar route with high-profile investors like Rob Gronkowski (former tight end for the New England Patriots) as well as rumored investors like mixed martial artist Chuck Liddel and a slew of models. Their posts run the gamut from clearly marked “Paid partnerships” to unmarked organic:
But perhaps the greatest — and most faithful representation to the brand and the influencer — was Mizzen+Main’s “The Phil Mickelson Dance.”
Last May, Michelson caused a social media stir among sports fans by playing the PGA Tour’s Players’ Tournament in one of Mizzen+Main’s long-sleeve, button-down dress shirts. Shortly after, ESPN reported he’d worn the shirt “in exchange for an undisclosed stake in the company as well as cash.”
Then came the stroke of true genius:
“Nobody does kind-of-slightly-overweight-middle-aged guy better than me,” said Michelson, “and this says exactly who I am.”
Once again, that’s exactly the point.
In a social-media world flooded with fakery, the new face of influencer marketing is all about building long term authentic relationships. Co-creation and investment ensure not only that the influencers are authentic, but that your products and campaigns are too.