I remember it like it was yesterday. The sun was shining, I’d hopped out of bed in a good mood. In a few hours, I’d be raking in thousands of pounds from my campaign. I was ready for success – how could I not be? This influencer had 200,000 Instagram followers! The campaign was launched on her Instagram page at 10:00am. I sat at my laptop ready for the orders to pour in.
11:00am… 12:00pm… 1:00pm.
Hmmm… strange. I clicked ‘refresh’ on my sales page. Nothing.
The day came and went. The following day I received one order. I was stunned. In the week that followed, I received 10 orders worth £1,000. I had paid this influencer over £10,000 for just 10 purchases. My heart sank as it dawned on me – Influencer marketing is the Wild, Wild West of social media marketing. Not all that glitters is gold. 200,000 followers doesn’t translate into 200,000 buyers.
The Wild, Wild West of Marketing
Influencer marketing is very new and it’s still evolving. Brands – big and small – are still figuring how to use influencers and get a return on their investment. While navigating this new world, I myself have made some money… but I also lost £30,000 on “Influencers” who had thousands of followers but behind the scenes – not one was willing to pay for what they were peddling.
In the landscape of online retail, we’ve heard about huge brands like Fashion Nova, GymShark, and Pretty Little Thing that have built their brands through influencer marketing. They have recruited social media influencers and turned them into lifelong brand ambassadors. Think about legacy brands such as Nike, Coca-Cola, Pepsi – they are the original “OGs” who’ve capitalised on influencer marketing for decades! After reading into the history of these brands, but also seeing the success of new-age businesses, I decided to try it out for myself. I thought Instagram influencers would make my business an overnight success.
Thirst trap pictures + fake followers = costly mistakes
I run a brand called High Spirit Bags and we sell stylish anti-theft backpacks to protect our customer from pickpockets when they travel around the world. We’ve been running for over six years and we are so thankful for how much our business has grown. Yet as the Founder, I am always looking for new ways to grow to reach new customers and raise brand awareness. As such, I decided to wade into the murky world of Instagram Influencers.
As sales, audience growth and traffic are the main key performance indicators that I pay attention to in my daily business, I decided to focus on how this changed within a 24-hour period once my business’ social media campaigns go live. This time frame will give me a clearer picture on which influencers are the most effective. In addition, I like to get results very quickly even if I have to spend more money to achieve this.
I had my wallet ready and I dove in headfirst into the elusive world of Instagram influencer marketing and tried it. My logic going into this was that if it worked for those brands then it can definitely work for my brand. So I searched on Instagram to find the best influencers that I felt were in alignment with my brand and I reached out to them. After messaging over 100 influencers, only a few of them got back to me with their rates and services. Some of the rates were out of my budget, but as it is something I was testing I decided to go for it. My assumption was that if they had all these followers, then it was inevitable that a small percentage of them will definitely buy my product. So I decided to bite the bullet and agreed to the payment terms of the influencers of my choice. For my first Instagram Influencers campaigns, I spent close to £20,000 and in 24 hours I got no sales, no audience growth and very minimal traffic. I was actually shocked by the result as I was so sure that I would get a few sales. I was totally wrong.
A Game of Perception
After failing the first time, I quickly dismissed influencer marketing as a scam. I was so confused as to how this marketing tactic was working so well for others but not working well for me. After recovering from my sense of loss and disappointment in this tactic I decided to do some further research into this to see if I was missing a trick. Soon I had learned that the influencer market is full of influencers that actually have no real influence. These are the influencers that have amassed fake followers and use that perception of influence to trick companies into paying them large sums of money. I already knew that some influencers had fake followers, but I thought they were just in the minority. I was completely wrong, they are in the majority, across all niches. I soon began to understand that in order to win in this game of influencer marketing, you had to find the influencer that actually has real influence with real followers. It is like finding a magic needle in a haystack.
The only problem was in order to find the best influencer I had to be willing to lose money in order to find the right influencer that brought me a great return on investment. After recovering from my earlier defeat I decided to give Instagram influencers another try. Before spending any money, I decided to do some further research to find the common trends and qualities that signalled a high quality influencer. One of the main indicators I found was to check the amount of comments on an influencers post. This shows that there are many conversations being had in the comment section, which in turn signals influence within their own community.
After gaining this new knowledge I decided to try it again with some new influencers that fit the comment criteria. I decided to spend a further £10K on the campaigns with the influencers. I felt a little bit nervous as I was putting up some significant financial risks in order to test a marketing tactic.
Once the campaigns went live I waited 24 hours and I to my surprise I got a few sales. It wasn’t as much as I expected as the campaign broke even.
I was definitely losing hope at this point, because I already lost £20K and influencer marketing did not seem to be blowing up my brand the way I expected it to.
It got me questioning, how did these big brands that found success with influencer marketing create such large businesses? I decided to do some further research and found that there was a metric that brands followed which was the engagement rate. The higher the engagement rate the higher their followers actually engaged with their content in the form of likes, shares and comments.
Finding the Secret Sauce
You can find the engagement rate of an Instagram influencer on a site called Phlanx, which gives you all the statistics on a particular influencer. According to industry standards, having an engagement rate of between 2-4% is considered very good. Engagement rates are held in high esteem because they are very difficult to fake unlike the other vanity metrics (likes, comments and follows).
I went on to further to check a website called social blade. This website enables you to further analyse an influencers statistics to see if there are signs of buying fake followers. This website gives you the capability to check the influencer’s statistics on multiple platforms such as YouTube, Tik Tok, Twitter and more. These two tools helped to demystify the numbers behind Instagram influencers and enabled me to make much smarter decisions on the influencers that I select for my campaigns that will have a higher chance of delivering significant results.
There is another tool called a Fake Follower Checker. This is provided. I used this is to supplement my checks on an influencer.
Cracking the Code
So having this new knowledge of how to check influencers credibility and effectiveness. I felt more equipped to give it another go and choose influencers with a higher engagement rate above 2%.
After running the influencer campaign, my brand made over £30K. We left the campaign to run overtime as it was very successful. Seeing the results actually reinvigorated my trust in Instagram influencers and reconfirmed that it actually works.
Since doing this experiment I have been using Instagram Influencers consistently to help grow my sales and generate brand awareness. It is now the main driving force behind my brand. It took a lot of trial, error and expensive mistakes to finally understand how it really works. I must admit, finding the right influencers is very time consuming because the majority of influencers have fake followers and it is alarming that no one is talking about this, especially when so much money is at risk.
For example, a small business owner just starting out may not necessarily have huge budgets to burn through. They do not have that luxury and I think it is unfair that there are a heap of influencers who are fully aware of their own questionable growth tactics and are selling that fake promise to unsuspecting brands.
I have been through the fire myself and I am so passionate about helping other business not have to go through that fire. Being aware of this I decided to offer my services and help other businesses find high quality Instagram influencers for their niche. I also go through the extra effort and share an action plan on reaching out to influencers, because the whole reaching out and negotiation process within itself is a minefield. I actually enjoy it because I feel like I’m being a superhero in my own little way by defeating fake influencers who prey on small businesses that are none the wiser.
Here are some tips that I learned that will help you.
- Check the influencers engagement rate on Phlanx (a good engagement rate is between 2-4% or more) Also check their growth on Social Blade.
- Contact Influencers that have passed your test. Please note that not all of the influencers will reply back to you. It is a numbers game. Ensure you contact as many as you can. You will get a few replies.
- Once influencers have contacted you. Make sure you create a spreadsheet of all the Influencers and make a note of their engagement rates, average comments, average likes, and their rates for promotion.
- Ensure you do a brand campaign with more than one influencer. Do not put all your eggs in one basket. Spread your advertising budget across different influencers with different audience sizes. Do not put all of your budget into one big influencer.
- When you start doing the influencer marketing campaigns ensure you set up a trackable link for each influencer to see how each influencer is performing according to your key performance indicators. This will remove the guesswork when it comes to deciding if you will work with them again or not. You can use Bitly or Google Campaign URL Builder to create your unique trackable links.
- Another way to measure and track your sales is to give each influencer their own promo code. This will give you an even clearer picture of where your sales are coming from.
The World of Influencer marketing is still the Wild West. Being aware of the tools and strategies at our disposal will enable marketers and business owners to bring some order to the chaos.