If 2018 was a turning point for influencer marketing (with the ASA signalling a crackdown on bad behaviour), 2019 looks to be the year that the industry makes real progress.

Indeed, this January, the ASA cautioned hundreds of influencers for failing to properly signpost sponsored or paid-for posts.

To improve the overall influencer space, and in line with stricter regulation, there is also likely to be a bigger focus on how brands and agencies measure results. In his annual digital trends predictions, Ashley Friedlein stated: “As the amounts of money being spent grow, media agencies will need to treat influencer marketing more strategically and not just as an extension of a short-term, tactical PR campaign.”

So, how can marketers take a strategic approach, and measure the real (and long-term) impact of influencer campaigns?

Defining metrics & aligning with authentic values

In the past few years, there’s certainly been more emphasis on proving the ROI of influencer campaigns. According to Influencer Intelligence’s 2020 report, 84% of marketers agree that being able to demonstrate the ROI of influencer marketing will be critical to its future.

Indeed, the majority of marketers have now moved away from potentially misleading metrics such as follower counts and likes, which can easily be faked and inflated, to more in-depth and insightful engagement metrics, like comments and shares.

These metrics should be defined from the get-go, as ideally they will be used to inform which influencers will be assigned to a campaign.

For marketers that want to create awareness about a brand, product, or wider campaign, basic KPI’s tend to be impressions or an increase in followers.

Beyond metrics relating to awareness, the next stage is often some sort of ‘action’ taken by the user, be that an app install, sign-up, or a form of engagement like a comment or share. Further down the funnel, if an increase in sales is the end goal, KPIs should relate to online and offline conversions, as well as return on ad spend. 

Customer retention tends to be a lesser aim for influencer campaigns, as the strategy is typically used to reach new audiences rather than foster the loyalty of an existing one. However, that’s not to say influencer marketing cannot be effective here too. In this case, longer-term partnerships are key, with authenticity and shared values an intrinsic part of success, and metrics like brand sentiment used to measure reaction and response over a period of time. Net Promoter Score (NPS) can be used to measure customer satisfaction, as it signifies what percentage of people would recommend a brand or its product. This offers insight into the customer’s overall perception of the brand – not just an opinion based on a single ad or campaign.

Tracking individual campaign performance 

Once individual campaign metrics have been defined, it’s then important to look at the tools, platforms, and strategies that can be used to track its success.

Influencer Intelligence’s research suggests that campaign hashtags are the most popular method in current use, with 61% of marketers saying they use them to track the impact of influencer investment. These hashtags help to collate and quantify engagement, i.e. the number of users searching, clicking, and commenting on posts.

One of the most high-profile examples of a hashtag is Coca Cola’s #ShareACoke campaign. While the hashtag was utilised for all social media marketing related to the campaign, it was also hugely enhanced by influencers and celebrities (such as Selena Gomez). Another Coke campaign with a more prominent focus on influencers was #RefreshTheFeed in 2018, which centred around feel-good messages on social media.

Another method used to measure direct impact is to include affiliate or attribution links in the influencer’s content, which will then provide clear data such as clickthrough rate as well as conversions. Promo codes can be also be effective in this way, as they offer a direct link between the campaign and levels of conversion.

Positively, it appears as if marketers are increasingly integrating these methods into campaign management. In 2017, we reported how just 29% of marketers are using trackable URLs for attribution. However, from Influencer Intelligence’s latest report, this has now risen to 46%.

One reason why marketers are now tracking attribution is that it is simply becoming more standardised and accessible, with platforms themselves including shoppable features. Instagram, for example, now includes shopping tags in Stories, allowing users to directly act on influence in-the-moment. The ‘paid promotion’ feature also allows Instagram to offer much more concrete data on these types of influencer posts.

So, with 29% of millennials in the UK and US now said to actively using social media to purchase products – and influencers becoming integral to why they do so – a more direct approach to measuring the success of campaigns can certainly be achieved.

Measuring long-term impact

One question raised in Econsultancy’s Measuring ROI of Influencer Marketing report is whether or not ROI should always focus on immediate conversion and sales.

The general consensus seems to be that – while the strategy is proven to be effective in this area – sales uplift is not always the common goal of every campaign. So, how can longer-term impact be measured?

This can be difficult to determine through standard web analytics, which tends to focus on more immediate gains like impressions and engagements. However, social media metrics like brand sentiment can be helpful. This is gauged by monitoring comments and brand mentions, giving marketers a picture of how a campaign impacts an audience over time. Through this approach, marketers can also build a business case for influencer campaigns, which could help to generate support and investment from above.

Including influencers in overall marketing ROI

Despite the aforementioned positive steps, it does appear as if influencer marketing is still thought of as a standalone strategy – one that’s too murky to be included in overall ROI measurements. Just 18% of marketers currently state that they do this. Unsurprisingly, this looks to be due to the varying ways that influencer marketing can be measured. In 2018, Nielsen continued its work on measuring the uplift and reach that influencers bring, work that will surely help marketers to attribute success.

One element that may positively influence ROI is the time and resource that influencer marketing may save, given it can be quicker to execute than other forms of marketing (where creative is produced by in-house content teams).

If agencies and brands continue to concentrate on fleshing out their own goal-orientated campaigns – i.e. using relevant metrics and producing relevant results – it could be that wider marketing teams have no choice but to take notice. If so – and as Friedlein says – 2019 could be the year we see influencer marketing grow up. Those that don’t evolve (and still bend the rules), might well and truly get left behind.