Influencer marketing exists in a fuzzy space as a creative and media asset, but also a public relations activity. If you were to draw a Venn Diagram of the three marketing sectors, influencer marketing would sit neatly in the overlapping middle.

This ambiguity is the biggest roadblock to the maturation of influencer marketing. How do you make clear decisions about who’s responsible — let alone budget allocation and strategic value — when you’re not even sure where influencer marketing fits in?

PR, media or creative?

There’s a strong argument that influencer programmes are all about people, relationships and products, and thus should be the domain of PR. As the industry has evolved, there has also been strong argument in favour of placing influencer under the media umbrella, as part of the social media mix.

And with so much of influencer marketing focused on creative strategy and content development, we could also argue for influencers to be managed by creative agencies.

There are benefits to placing influencer marketing into any of the three — PR, media or creative — functions. Because PR work is often about understanding the nature of influence, negotiating with journalists, managing events and endorsements, influencer marketing aligns naturally. Since it’s content driven, it also makes sense for the creative team or agency to manage the process from start to finish. And with media you get budget allocation based on disciplined performance measurement.

Historically, measuring return on investment has been a challenge for marketers working with influencers. However, more than a half of the advertisers who have run an influencer marketing campaign say that influencer-generated content outperformed brand-created content, which is why they keep investing in creators. And there are lots of analytics tools — including the Paid Partnerships Instagram feature — that help brands gather hard data well beyond vanity metrics.

But it’s not enough to measure campaign success based on the ever-nebulous engagement; you must also examine how the campaigns convert. How did influencer programmes perform when compared to other tactics? And are influencer campaigns a more powerful branding tool than other tactics included in the overall media mix?

To help you answer these questions, extract the most value from influencer marketing, and prove its value to sceptical stakeholders, here are a few things to consider.

Four ways to get the most out of influencer marketing

1. Make influencer marketing part of paid media

While influencers are on social media, it’s best not to think of influencer marketing only as earned media.

There is certainly earned media value — to the tune of $7.65 for every dollar spent, according to Influencer Marketing Hub — but influencer campaigns are only comparable with other paid media when brands own the content and can distribute it through official channels.

This represents a mindset reset when it comes to the general perception about influencer marketing: influencer-generated content should be considered work-for-hire, while influencer-amplification through their networks should be seen as paid placement.

2. Be clear about who’s responsible

This is important from both a strategic and budgetary standpoint. According to our research, less than 50% of organisations make marketing teams responsible for influencer programmes. Sometimes it’s the PR or social media teams; sometimes it’s content; and on rare occasions, there’s a dedicated influencer marketing team.

Not only does this confusion make it near impossible to generate interest and buy-in with internal stakeholders, it makes developing a meaningful and impactful strategy difficult as well. As a result, campaigns are disjointed and the impact is isolated, making it impossible for organisations to maximise the benefits of influencer campaigns.

In order to maximise the strategic impact of influencer marketing, there needs to be senior level stakeholder to champion the strategic value for the organisation.

3. Establish measurable KPIs

One of the main issues related to data and metrics in the influencer marketing space is the lack of benchmarks. One of the big reasons for this is the shift from an industry that evolved as an alternative to paid media, when the only KPIs were reach and engagement.

When social media platforms became pay-to-play, marketers sought new ways to engage audiences in an organic and authentic way. As the industry evolved, marketers have focussed more on how to track ROI and show results to back up the increasing investments on influencers. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to gathering the right data; ultimately, KPIs are dependent on the objective of the campaign.

For example, if you want to prove sales lift, the best way to track it is by using promo codes or features such as the Instagram shoppable links, which makes it possible to see which influencers drove the most sales.

4. Use the right tools

Unfortunately, the era of scraping data from Instagram and Facebook using API connections is over. However, the solution lies in holistic platforms capable of providing direct access to influencers’ data.

When it comes to gathering data on the efficacy of influencer campaigns, the best option is to team up with a company that provides global measurement insights, so you can compare results of your campaign versus non-exposed audiences. When talking about data on creators — demographics, audiences demographics and brand affinity — the only answer is tech.

This is where using a platform that provides a variety of data and insights through a real-time dashboard can enable brands to measure average engagement per channel and audience demographics. Such data is key for brand affinity and understanding which creators represents the best fit for a brand. The right tool for marketers is the one that offer all these capabilities in one place.

It’s clear that the influencer marketing space is undergoing a big evolution as marketers work to prove its value. And while many organisations are moving toward DIY solutions, the reality is that influencer marketing is often managed by consultants and next generation media companies.

Whether it’s managed in-house or by an agency, in order to move influencer marketing forward, we have to examine its performance within the context of other paid media. Indeed, getting clear on where influencer marketing lives and who is responsible enables marketers to prove its value and brands to make informed decisions.

For all the information, contacts and insights you could need on influencer marketing, including in-depth influencer profiles and a deep dive into audience data, visit Influencer Intelligence (part of the Econsultancy family).