In today’s virtual marketplace, influencers are a dime a dozen.  Growing at a clipping pace, the industry is projected to reach $5–10 billion in the next five years and social media influencer wanna-be’s are scraping for a piece of the virtual pie.  In the beginning, highly-sought-after influencers were discovered by brands because they were doing what they loved and sharing it with the digital world.  Today, there is money to be made as a social media marketer, blogger, vlogger, and The Influencer has become a lucrative and desirable career for the masses.  In fact, many people have started blogging or working to grow their influence in social media for reasons other than passion, like money and fame.  

A campaign’s ROI is the bottom line for companies and brands, and every aspect of a campaign can matter, including the influencer themselves.  While working with someone who cares about what they do can be a plus, can it affect a campaign’s return on investment?  The ultimate question brands should be asking is, “Will collaborating with an authentic influencer impact the ROI for a brand campaign, vs. working with an influencer who works in social media for other reasons besides pure passion?”   

How to Spot an Authentic Influencer

What is the difference between an “authentic” and “fake” influencers?  

Content is not what it used to be.  For influencers to gain social klout, many go to great lengths to win notoriety, popularity, loyal audience, and engagement.  Alongside the hard-working influencers who have been building their personal brands since the beginning of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, we have also witnessed the rise of fake accounts, most of them undetectable to the naked eye.  Computer-programmed bots follow these accounts through a paid service – filler accounts which systematically increase a wanna-be influencer’s numbers, superficially boosting their social klout.

There are ways to tell the difference, however subtle they might be.

  • Take a close look at images

Many influencer profiles are built with beautiful but fake images, don’t include people, or have been edited to the point they are not identifiable as the original.  On the contrary, real influencers are not born, they are made, and the “making” often requires professional assistance in areas like photography, makeup, fashion, and more.  Although an image alone might not be enough of a clue if this person is an “authentic” influencer, piecing together a complete digital imprint of someone can give you a better idea.

  • Audience

Does an influencer have the ability to connect with their audience in a meaningful way?  Furthermore, does this influencer’s audience make sense of their vision and message?  In some cases, the individual in charge of an account buys fake followers for filler and social proof to like the images for visibility.  An influencer worth leveraging has been able to attract their audience because they post content they care about.  Their audience not only recognizes this fact, but you will find the subject matter is highly niche for the most part.  Connecting with an influencer whose audience is interested in a niche topic is one of the keys to a successful campaign.

  • Engagement

The extent to which an influencer engages with their audience can be one of the most accurate ways to measure how close to “authentic” they are as a person.  Why?  Well, first it’s an excellent idea to look at the type of content they are writing because if their engagement makes sense and is on-topic, that’s the first sign of authenticity.  Diving deeper, if an influencer is replying to comments, liking others’ comments, and actively engaging with their audience, it shows they are human, and they care about what they do.  

  • Turn to the Consumer

Consumers are not foolish.  Those who are open to hearing about the latest trends in industries and like to follow certain social personalities for the value-add, won’t put up with a social feed full of nonsense.  They demand good content and will drop those fake influencers like a bad habit.  If you’re unsure about a particular influencer, check out their followers to see if they are legit, and the types of consumers you are targeting.

Why the Authentic Brand-Influencer Partnerships are Key

Brands trying to beat out the competition have a tough road, but trying to leverage influencers who are either “fake” or only have a mild grip on their audience is a weak play.  Sure, you can pay Kim Kardashian way too much money to post sponsored content Instagram, but will any of her 102M followers look past the image to read the content she writes, let alone care about the product for a long-term gain in customers?  In other words, will the ROI be worth it?  

On the other hand, consider hiring an influencer who has an ongoing, genuine rapport with his or her audience.  They can appeal to the emotional and logical senses of their loyal and dedicated audience, who will likely care what this influencer has to say.  This practice, in reality, holds its weight in gold.  

Take a recent example from the US beauty chain Waxing in the City.  When looking to find new ways of advertising their services, including an intimate beauty wax, they decided to partner with “Madge the Vadge,” a comic who interviews women about hair removal.  The CMO of Waxing in the City, Meredith Jurek, told CNBC, “‘When you partner with a third party to provoke that conversation on your behalf, it takes some risk off our part, but it also makes it more authentic, and I just fell in love with the character and her authenticity.’”  

The results of that campaign spoke volumes: the company saw 50% increase in traffic over two weeks during February 2017, plus the video drew in more than one million views.  

Micro-influencers like “Madge the Vadge” and Scary Mommy are often a key to an authentic influencer-audience relationship.  They often still care deeply about what they do and can interact meaningfully on a daily basis with fans which are the most impactful for a brand partnership. Given their audience size around 10,000 give or take, they are potentially the key to unlocking authenticity in your next brand campaign.