Influencing Marketers

Yesterday’s inaugural #ITPLiveSummit event here in Dubai tackled one of the core reasons why ITP Live has come to exist – influencer marketing. The business unit was borne from the longstanding ITP Media Group, until the end of 2016 known as ITP Publishing Group, in order to capitalise on perceived digital growth areas of video content creation, digital sales representation, ecommerce, live events and training, and also launching the region’s largest social media influencers’ agency.

ITP already publishes 85 titles, or brands as the official communication now refers to them, and the Live element is intended to augment these and also usher in a richer experience through enhanced content and data. I have yet to examine the set-up properly but, at risk of already sounding like an old dog faced with the new tricks of objective editorial and branded marketing content from the same entity, have to assume that commercial gain trumps ethics once more.

I “attended” the ITP Influencer Marketing Summit via Twitter, following and engaging with the hashtag as unfortunately could not easily find a live stream of the keynotes and panel discussions. One of the reasons I still adore Twitter as a media platform is its immediacy and transparency, where I was able to engage with various attendees and swap ideas and opinions from the comfort of my home office. I also managed to grow my network a little, too, with likeminded Twitterati from the UAE and beyond.

The main topics that seemed to crop up throughout were measurement, transparency and branding, areas that crop up in all marketing discussions where ROI and efficacy are important. We all know how easy it can be to grow a social media account with empty followers, ensuring massive reach on every post, but if no-one engages or buys the end product what is the point? I imagine the intention of yesterday’s summit was to announce the new kings of organised influencing but as far as I am concerned it is still Wild West Country crying out for a standard measurement of influence as opposed to a shiny socialite with a smart phone and a rate card.

Print PR for years has had Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE, sometimes AEV or similar), where we have the standard value of the column inches of an article mentioning our client and the price we migh thave been charged by the outlet if we put the same size advert. This, most PR practitioners agree, is an utterly outdated measure today but has provided something of a benchmark to work from. Digital and social channels cannot be measured the same way and the speed and importance of new media shouldn’t have but it seems to have caught us out, allowing various players to shout about their proprietary measurement as the best:

  1. Social Media Channels – with nearly 2 billion users on his channel, whatever Mr Zuckerberg decides will have a huge impact invariably will. Facebook adjusted algorithms to organically promote video content across Facebook in recent years and encouraged advertisers to produce moving images to take advantage of this, claiming incredible engagement figures that were exposed as lies in 2016. In an ongoing battle with YouTube, it brought up a valid discussion: what is classed as a view? According to Facebook and Instagram it was 3 seconds, YouTube around 30 seconds and Twitter was when the user clicked on the video to play it… further discussion on the confusion here, albeit from 2015. This debacle rolled on into 2016 and incurred Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP’s wrath. Still not 100% fixed, but Facebook are now focusing more on Live Video and Fake News… Don’t misunderstand me, channel-specific analytics do have their purpose but cannot be held up as an objective metric of influence alone.
  2. Klout – announced as the measure of your online influence in the Early Noughties, but riddled with issues ranging from the blackbox secret algorithms to privacy concerns over aggregating all your social media accounts into one place, Klout never quite made it as outlined in this article from 2014. My Klout profile is still active, however, and to this day I say anyone working in marketing or communications with a score under 30 needs to make more effort (I’m currently at 59, at one point Justin Bieber was more popular than Barack Obama, to give you some context). Not being considered anymore as a measurement tool, but at least they tried.
  3. Sysomos – a power player across social media managment, reputation assessment and almost every area of digital interaction, I used this tool on a daily basis whislt at Edelman Dubai. They offer their own take on influencer power and provide an unquantified authority ranking from 1 to 10 based on frequency of posting on keywords and other metrics. Unexplained, reliable, expensive solution not open to all. What about the likes of Meltwater and other monitoring tools? What standards can you offer up? And they are unlikely to be free for all to access, so why would you bother? Clients and brands switch platforms every few years so this solution might not be workable either.
  4. Agencies – whether PR, marketing, creative or media, we all need to justify our spend to clients. Long gone are the days when success of a Facebook brand page was gauged by follower numbers alone. Well, 6 years ago feels like an eon, doesn’t it? Who will pick up this mighty gauntlet and save the day? Media agencies tend to hold the bigger client budgets so their interest is clear in terms of reporting ROI, but influencer relations in my opinion sits firmly with PR agencies. In which case, is there a standard measurement for influencers already in place, produced by the likes of MEPRA or the PRCA?

An agency’s ability to manage and work effectively with the right influencer for your brand should be how you judge and select your communications partner. A PR agency unable to cover this only-slightly-broader-remit-than-before, when the work was predominantly media relations, is possibly not the right agency for your brand in the current communications landscape. I’m not talking about Instagrammers who attend launch parties, but authorities who will shift your products and offer a real rate of return. Choose wisely.

Featured image of striking a match in the darkness kindly taken by Jamie Street and taken from http://www.stocksnap.io