Are influencers overpaid? A data-driven exploration of influencer metrics

A recent article in Digiday made the bold claim by a marketing executive that influencers are overpaid and generally do not advance business objectives. Let’s examine this claim’s merits. Do influencers matter? Are they overpaid?

What are influencers paid to deliver?

The first, most important question to answer is what are we buying when we work with influencers? Some influencers and their agencies make vague, illusory claims about what their influencers bring to the table. What do we receive when we pay influencers?

Influencers are paid to deliver:

  • Awareness: influencers are paid to deliver net new audiences to brands, audiences who might not otherwise be aware of the brand.
  • Trust: unlike first party advertising, influencers are paid to bestow additional credibility on a brand’s products and services.
  • Engagement: influencers are paid to create audience engagement with a brand, especially on social and digital channels.
  • ROI: influencers are ultimately paid for business impact, and their business impact must be measured against other advertising channels.

Influencer marketing is not new; celebrities have been doing endorsements for decades, ever since the invention of mass media. Who those influencers are and what channels they operate on changes constantly, but the fundamental principles, the fundamental deliverables have not changed.

Do influencers deliver?

Do influencers deliver? How would we know if they were delivering what we pay them to deliver? The answer to this question depends on analytics. Any influencer who refuses to provide complete first-party data (such as their social media analytics) should be avoided, as they have something to hide.

Even without their cooperation, we marketers and communicators can see a tremendous amount of information. What can we access?

  • Awareness data: we can see their total audience reach, their total following across channels. While not the end metric, audience data is a valid starting point.
  • Engagement data: we can see how engaged an influencer’s audience is. We can identify social engagement activity such as likes, comments, and shares.
  • Clickthrough data: by mandating the use of an open click-tracking service such as bit.ly (disclosure: a SHIFT client), we can identify how many audience members click through to digital properties we care about.
  • Brand baseline data: we know our own analytics. We know what reach, engagement, and action rates we can generate; if we compare our baseline data to a potential influencer’s data and find that we generate audience, engagement, and action rates orders of magnitude greater than a potential influencer, we know they’re not worth paying.

A Brief Survey of the Influencer Landscape

Using our marketing technology systems, SHIFT extracted influencer data from over 16,000 different influential individuals on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, totaling 3,640,894 social posts across all platforms. The timeframe for this examination is April 1, 2015 – March 1, 2016. You can download your own copy of the Tableau workbook off Tableau Public.

Median Audience Size

We examined the median audience size on each network of our 16,000 influencers:

  • Instagram’s median audience size was 258,301
  • Facebook’s median audience size was 7,797,648
  • Twitter’s median audience size was 108,064

Median Audience Size

Engagements

We examined overall engagement numbers per network for 16,000 influencers:

  • Instagram’s median engagement of likes and comments was 3,705 per day
  • Facebook’s median engagement of likes, comments, and shares was 5,101 per day
  • Twitter’s median engagement of likes and retweets was 10 per day

Total Engagement

In terms of engagement rates, our influencer pool generated:

  • Instagram median engagement rate of 1.44% per day
  • Facebook median engagement rate of 0.10% per day
  • Twitter median engagement rate of 0.01% per day

Engagement Rate

In terms of shares/reshares – a metric which tells us how much extra marketing an influencer is doing for us, our influencer pool generated:

  • Instagram median share rate of 0; Instagram doesn’t have resharing capabilities built into the platform
  • Facebook median share rate of 0.019% per day
  • Twitter median share rate of 0.031% per day

Share Rate

How does influencer pay compare?

The best benchmark to understand what’s fair for influencers to be paid is to look at other ways of generating the same metrics.

  • If we care about audience growth, we pay a social network to generate those followers for us from a targeted audience.
  • If we care about engagement, we pay for engagements from a social network’s targeted audience.
  • If we care about content acceleration, we pay a search or display ad network to show advertisements to our audience on relevant properties – including influencers’ blogs, if they accept advertising.
  • If we care about sales, lead generation, or ROI, we measure the cost per acquisition or increase in purchase intent from a well-managed, well-tracked influencer campaign versus other marketing channels.

Marketing strategy is about choices; if an influencer costs less to generate a specific metric than another advertising channel, use influencer marketing. If other marketing channels and tactics deliver better results, we choose those instead. Whether we overpay or underpay is a red herring question; the real question is, are we purchasing the desired outcome in the most cost-effective manner?

Best practices for effective influencer marketing

Given our data and analysis, what can we recommend for brands interested in influencer marketing?

Insist on measurement

The most important single thing we must ask for are metrics and analytics data. Beware any influencer who refuses to provide data; chances are they have something to hide. Give added preference and consideration to influencers who understand data and are willing to integrate their data with ours.

Rare but special would be an influencer who installs our tracking tags on their digital properties for the duration of a campaign; should we find such an influencer, we should consider compensating them at a premium rate.

Measure as part of influencer selection

Use defined criteria for influencer selection. As we can see above, we have access to audience size, engagement, and other metrics of influencer analysis. Use this data in advance to help choose influencers, rather than wait for potentially lackluster campaign results.

When choosing influencers, decide on the metrics that are most important. If net new audiences are most important because our product marketing has saturated our existing audience, we should choose influencers with an emphasis on reach.

If loyalty and purchase consideration are most important, we should choose influencers with an emphasis on engagement.

If sales, lead generation, and cost per acquisition are most important, we should choose influencers with high rates of action taken on their content; influencers who wish to be considered for such campaigns must provide analytics data and access.

Make influencers work for you

One phenomenon we’ve experienced at SHIFT in our work with influencers is that influencers very often use brand dollars to promote their own channels and content. This has the net effect of making the influencer more powerful, but has not typically resulted in significant benefits to the paying brand.

Ensure that account/handle takeovers are a mandatory part of influencer programs and insist that influencers promote the brand handle with specific details about their takeover to ensure maximum impact.

Consider pay for performance models

Consider holding influencers accountable based on strict performance metrics. Offer scaled compensation based on established metrics such as reach, engagement, clickthrough rate, or even ROI, using affiliate marketing software.

Influencers who generate real, reliable results should be happy to earn extra money above and beyond a base pay; influencers who have something to hide will generally avoid being held to any kind of metrics.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, whether influencers are overpaid or not is something of a moot point. What matters most is whether we know and measure what we’re buying from influencers. If we treat them as we treat every other marketing and advertising channel, we can make rational, data-driven choices about why, when, and how to use them to deliver maximum marketing communications results.

If you’d like a data-driven exploration of the influencers you’re working with or considering working with, contact SHIFT today. We’re happy to help.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

Download our new eBook, Cultivating Influence

Posted on May 16, 2016 in Advertising, Analytics, Influence, Marketing, Marketing Technology, Metrics, Social Media

Share the Story

About the Author

Christopher S. Penn is an authority on digital marketing and marketing technology. A recognized thought leader, author, and speaker, he has shaped three key fields in the marketing industry: Google Analytics adoption, data-driven marketing and PR, and email marketing. Known for his high-octane, here’s how to get it done approach, his expertise benefits companies such as Citrix Systems, McDonald’s, GoDaddy, McKesson, and many others. His latest work, Leading Innovation, teaches organizations how to implement and scale innovative practices to direct change.

Christopher is a highly-sought keynote speaker thanks to his energetic, informative talks. In 2015, he delivered insightful, innovative talks on all aspects of marketing and analytics at over 30 events to critical acclaim.

He is a founding member of IBM’s Watson Analytics Predictioneers, co-founder of the groundbreaking PodCamp Conference, and co-host of the Marketing Over Coffee marketing podcast.

Christopher is a Google Analytics Certified Professional and a Google AdWords Certified Professional. He is the author of over two dozen marketing books including bestsellers such as Marketing White Belt: Basics for the Digital Marketer, Marketing Red Belt: Connecting With Your Creative Mind, and Marketing Blue Belt: From Data Zero to Marketing Hero.

  • StefaniaPomponi

    We addressed this from an influencer marketing pov. Measurable goals and metrics in general are crucial to influencer marketing success https://t.co/cLdShETwg4

  • MikeDriehorst

    Most of the time, when any company or person complains about ROI, it simply means that he/she/it didn’t have any objectives in the first place. Like with everything, you can know what the end destination looks like if you don’t first map out how to get there. 
    Great breakdown, Christopher on terms and definitions to help marcomm people at least know what to look for in what to measure.

  • I have worked as an “influencer” for several brands. When I have access to new information in a true spirit of partnership with the brand, I may mention this company information in a speech, in a class, in a webinar, even in a book. This sort of offline influence may be more important than anything that shows up in these charts. To gauge the real measure of influence, we are going to have to generate data beyond what we are able to discern from a social media dashboard.

  • ChrisHodgeman

    Excellent article – we were having this exact discussion the other day on how to evaluate influencer ROI.
    Cheers

  • Well-developed and supported points, Christopher – as always.  What I’m interested in seeing, especially with all the noise around influencer marketing, is measurement-driven case studies showing how brands are quantifying the value proposition of paid influencers.

Back to Top
Get Fresh PR News Delivered Weekly!

Get Fresh PR News Delivered Weekly!

Want fresh PR and earned media news delivered to your inbox? Sign up for the SHIFT HAPPENS newsletter!

You have Successfully Subscribed!