There’s no denying the rise of influencers and the power they hold in shaping purchasing decisions.

After all, people buy from people, and word of mouth has been influencing consumers’ buying choices for decades. Add into the mix the unprecedented scale of Instagram, with over one billion daily users, and you have yourself a recipe to reach the previously unreachable.

And so came the birth of Influencer Marketing.

The influencer market looks set to grow exponentially, having been predicted to more than double its 2017 figures in 2019, and Google Searches for ‘influencer marketing’ have grown by 1500% over three years. Not to mention that marketers’ allocated budgets have doubled over the last two years, reaching 40% in 2019.

But this begs the question, how do brands ensure the authenticity of the influencers with which they’re collaborating?

Take, for example, Arii — an established Instagram influencer with 2.6m followers and a huge presence on YouTube, who built up her following on social media platform 18-year-old Arii was tasked with moving a limited first drop of merchandise as a prerequisite for her producing company to launch her fashion brand, but failed to sell just 36 t-shirts to her 2.6 million followers.

There’s a key learning here, and it goes back to the old ‘quality not quantity’: ditch the mindset that follower numbers equal success and focus on the real quality of their audience. While the sheer exposure of associating a brand with a globally recognised influencer is alluring, the real focus should be on genuine engagement, audience authenticity and audience relevance.

At TJ, we work with a number of clients on influencer collaborations as part of their social strategies, and to provide real value to our clients, we go through an in-depth process which looks past follower numbers into the horizon that is their audience.

After initially identifying the applicability and alignment of the influencer to the brand and the campaign, it’s important to delve deep into their audience insights, starting with legitimacy: Is there a noticable spike in follower growth? Can we see a trend of mass following/unfollowing? Is it possible they bought their followers? For example, we took a look at Arii, and not only saw a decline in her follower numbers, but the authenticity of her audience was around 50%. Red flag? We think so.

The real focus here is, however, on evaluating the relevance of their audience and whether they are, in fact, the brand’s customers. Demographics and audience interests are the obvious starterpoints, but it’s important to also consider the relationship influencers have with their audience, looking at not just engagement rate but also the quality of these engagements. If the majority of the comments are from other influencers, it’s likely they engage in Influencer Pods, and it’s probably safe to assume they’re not the customers we’re after.

This is by no means the full story, but it gives an insight into the endless layers of the influencer cake. At the end of the day, it’s all about the return on investment. But having someone — an agency, dare we say — who knows how to navigate the sea of influencers, will help make that return all the sweeter.