Touted as the darling of the industry, influencer marketing is now being embraced as a go-to strategy, as agencies and brands begin to leave traditional advertising in the dust.  In fact, for every $1 spent on an influencer campaign in 2016, the average ROI was $11.69 in earned media (Source).  Taking that into account, along with the 73% of marketers who have set aside influencer marketing budgets (Source), plus the average brand spend of $51k on influencer campaigns in 2016, this industry’s limelight comes as no surprise.  It’s no wonder so many companies are betting on The Influencer as their ace.  Given the trends, experts predict the industry to reach $5–10 billion in the next five years.

The rapid growth we see in this booming industry has given rise to a plethora of new careers and advances in the tech world, everything from social media celebrities, influencer tech platforms, niche influencer marketing agencies, and influencers practically crawling out of the virtual seams.

Naturally, brands are jumping at the chance to leverage influencers.  The biggest question for them is how to reach the influencers who will generate the right customers and the greatest gain with the least effort.

The Influencer Equation

The influencer marketing equation appears simple on the surface:

Brand finds influencer to work with.

Brand supplies influencer with engaging, authentic content to share with influencer’s audience.  

The influencer is well-paid for their efforts.

ROI gains for brand.  

In the midst of the industry’s growth spurt, the brand-influencer equation, in reality, is often a lot more complex than it appears, which leaves companies in search of help.  Brands seek out help primarily to run a campaign, but sometimes it might just be for a piece of the equation, like locating the influencer or connecting with them or running the campaign.

One of the main factors that creates complications in brand’s ability to work with influencers without any assistance is the increasing number of “fake” influencers; those individuals who either have set up profiles lacking in any authentic, engaging content.  When brands do not have any means of efficiently sifting through the influencer rubble so-to-speak, profitable results of a brand campaign are questionable.  Also, brands’ lack of clarity around the most effective way to connect influencers who will be the best fit for their campaign often results in a less-than desirable ROI.    

Enter: influencer marketing agencies and influencer marketing platforms to save the day.

Agencies vs. Platforms

An influencer marketing platform is a database where brands can search and find influencers to use in, and at times run, a campaign.  Different platforms offer different features and benefits, but they all have one constant: they are all virtual.  On the other hand, influencer marketing agencies are full-scale, hands-on marketing firms with the knowledge, expertise, and influencer connections to support a brand from campaign strategy to completion.

Companies have increasingly become hesitant to outsource to niche marketing agencies because, for the most part, platforms can offer a virtual DIY version at a fraction of the cost of what they would otherwise pay for hands-on agency services.

What is the precise the difference of the two, does it matter for a campaign’s bottom line, and does it mean the slow death of influencer marketing agencies?

      Influencer Platforms

Influencer marketing platforms are advantageous to brands looking to connect with influencers without doing much heavy lifting.  The alternative, of course, would be to go the old school route and search for those folks who fit the brand’s niche within their platform of choice and reach out to them via email (a true DIY method).  A platform, however, saves them a ton of time and effort.  Platform communities become filled with influencers through one of two techniques, for the most part: either the influencers join via their own accord, or the platform uses a program that pulls influencer profiles and data into their system.  The latter leaves less to be desired because the chance of successfully connecting with those influencers is no more likely than a cold-call.   

Not all platforms are created equal.  Benefits of top influencer marketing platforms:

  • Tools which help both influencers and brands determine what percentage of followers are bots. (Source)
  • Ability to easily narrow down and identify influencers by criteria, such as age, audience size, location, niche.
  • Ability to launch a campaign with several influencers or micro-influencers simultaneously.
  • You can be in touch with influencers directly, which can prove beneficial in the long-run.
  • Campaign bottom line: High-priced annual contracts ($750-$1,000 a month) (Source)

     Influencer Marketing Agencies

Agencies come in all shapes and sizes, but they all have one thing in common; the human aspect.  Utilizing an influencer agency for one’s campaign offers a higher level of service than running a campaign through a platform for many other reasons as well.  At top agencies, an agency will be intimately connected with their influencers, will run every aspect of the campaign, and can produce top results for their client.

Naturally, not all agencies are created equal.  Benefits of top-notch, expert influencer marketing agencies:  

  • Agencies have intimate relationships with their influencers, which affords brands a level of built-in trust and loyalty not available with virtual platforms.
  • Campaigns are overseen from start to finish, with every detail from recruiting and sourcing influencers to negotiating contracts to managing the content itself.
  • Different agencies offer different services; some act in similar capacities to platforms, while others offer the client fully-customized campaign based on individual needs.
  • The level of personal service is always greater at an agency than with a virtual platform, with some offering a point-person, and others an entire hands-on team at the client’s disposal.
  • Campaign bottom line: Typically most expensive option.  Could this route result in the highest ROI?

The Future of Influencer Marketing Agencies

Will influencer marketing agencies stick around?  A recent article talked about the trends in companies sidestepping agencies to work directly with influencers and adopting the “influencer as creative” model.  Both of these avenues suggest brands are moving away from firm support.  Although there may be some isolated examples of this, it is not an industry-wide trend.  Brands enlisting the virtual platforms or DIY influencer campaigns and side-stepping influencer agencies for the occasional campaign do not suggest a lack of love for influencer marketing companies.  Besides, it is important for companies to understand the internal workings of an influencer campaign, and compare it with the value of working with an influencer agency.  The more a brand’s needs grow, they may just find themselves turning to an influencer marketing agency for hands-on, customized services and a higher return on investment.