This article was updated in February 2022.
With his washboard abs and green eyes, reality TV actor Michael Yerger is on the hot list. And his 274,000 Instagram followers made him relationship material in Match Group’s campaign for its new crowd-sourced dating app, Ship by Match.
“We’re targeting millennial women—the hard-working, girl boss,” says Catherine Napoli, director of marketing strategy at New York-based Influence, which is running the Ship by Match campaign. The company is hoping for a repeat of Yerger’s performance in 2018, when his Instagram content generated more downloads than any other post for Crown, another Match app.
Once an informal tactic, influencer marketing spend is skyrocketing from $1.6 billion last year to a projected $5 billion to $10 billion in 2020, according to marketing firm MediaKix. Accompanying the channel’s rise are serious concerns about the veracity of influencer accounts and true engagement.
Influence uses a mix of corporate partnerships with modeling agencies, its own software, and junior employees who comb through Instagram to identify brand-safe spokespeople. Collectively, another influencer marketing agency, uses its own software that tracks information beyond the follower count, said co-founder Alexa Tonner: “We also want to know if the influencer is married, has kids, where they live, their hobbies, credential, capabilities, their overall persona.”
Influencers have bought fake accounts to increase followers in an attempt to heighten brand appeal; ensuring authenticity requires technology and finely honed instincts based on experience. Lindsay Hoffman, 28, a Los Angeles influencer and entrepreneur, can tell if accounts are legitimate by tracking reactions to posts. “If you have 100,000 followers and five comments, then you know a lot of the 100,000 followers are fake,” says Hoffman, producer of “One Million Views,” a 2012 documentary about YouTube stars.
With an Instagram-verified account and followers in the high six figures, Yerger “is a power middle influencer” says Napoli. Even after stripping away fake and bought likes, his 16.2% engagement rate would still be 15%, she says. Having posted only 360 times, he has 15 to 30 times more engagement than an average influencer, she says.
Where are the followers?
Once there’s trust among the parties, strategy and money come into play. Whether she’s connecting brands to other influencers or participating in campaigns herself, Hoffman says both parties need to ask questions. Brands need to communicate their goals and strengths and influencers need to decide if the project fits their public image.
“Brands will email you and say, ‘Will you post it by this day and use this hashtag?’ And then the brand will say it did nothing,” says Hoffman. “They just asked for a post and didn’t think what the goal was. They’re reaching out to influencers blindly, and wondering, ‘Why didn’t our followers go up?’”
The range of budgets for influencer marketing is “enormous” said Tonner. Influencers can be compensated at $50 to $100 a post; some can earn as much as six figures for campaigns that include TV and appearances, she said.
Designer Amy Roiland, who blogs under the moniker “A Fashion Nerd,” built her personal brand and collection of 177,000 Instagram followers over the last six years, starting by posting pictures of herself in various outfits. “I didn’t make money for a long time,” she says.
A Fashion Nerd
That changed six months ago; since then she has had 109 paying gigs ranging from $250 to $6,000 per post. One of her recent campaigns is for Collectively client Rothy’s, a vegan shoe brand; Roiland writes about the shoes in the context of her everyday life. “It’s an interesting hybrid of paid content creation and giving up a certain amount of control to content creators so they can do what they do best,” Tonner says.
As Roiland was building her photo gallery, Spankie Valentine was creating funny videos, films and music for her YouTube channel. Hers is a unique tale about “doing everything in my power” to build an authentic reputation, only to have it decimated because of an inexplicable YouTube tech glitch in late 2016.
She tells her story in “How I Lost 600,000 Subscribers Overnight,” on her new YouTube channel, Swoop. With candor and frustration, she recounts the lasting effects of a single day in November 2016, when views mysteriously dropped by 99%; no one at YouTube could explain why.
Months later, she happened to meet a YouTube/Google employee who pulled up her channel and took a look at the back-end, the charts and numbers content creators can’t see. He confirmed her instincts by identifying the very same day in November when activity ceased to function normally. “Oh yeah, you got screwed,” he told her.
Rehashing their conversation on camera, she goes on to say that her channel “got instantaneously dropped out of all home screens, out of all searched and recommended, out of the browse features, out of everything.” She was told it was an anomaly of the algorithms that make up YouTube’s programming “that is basically the equivalent of being struck by lightning.”
Over the last two years, she has worked to rebuild her sphere of influence on Swoop, which has 131,000 subscribers. Clearly, not all is lost. She was, in fact, one of the influencers Adobe hired to market its software last year.
To be sure, whether it’s a blogger taking photos on a rooftop, Instagram bots or a freak YouTube accident, the underworld of influencer marketing is invisible and opaque at the same time. Agencies, brands and influencers themselves will require more transparency going forward.
Come back to Velocitize for more of the issues to watch in 2019, from marketing marijuana to the ins and outs of in-house agencies.