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Influencer Fraud and How to Avoid It

Influencer Fraud and How to Avoid It

It’s either a brave new world or the wild wild west when it comes to social media. Or maybe it’s a little bit of both. The platforms, popularity, and algorithms seem to change on a daily basis. Not only does that make it difficult for those working in influencer marketing but it makes it more challenging for influencers to sustain a business in this space.

As a result, influencer fraud is rising almost as quickly as influencer marketing popularity. Although most marketers will agree that influencer marketing is an effective strategy, it becomes an increasing challenge to navigate the waters around influencer fraud. 

What is Influencer Fraud?

Fraud exists on every social platform out there and varies by degree. At an extreme, you’ll find entirely fake social media accounts. From names to photos to followers, the entire account is a complete fabrication.

Fake-Instagram-Influencer-Account-Wanderingggirl
As an experiment, Mediakix created an entirely fake Instagram account – that was successful! Credit: Mediakix

More common are accounts with inflated follower counts, which can  be outright purchased or acquired in more subtle ways like international giveaways.

As more and more brands are focusing on engagement in addition to follower count, fraudulent influencers are also buying engagement (in the form of likes and comments), or creating false engagement on posts.

Why and How Influencers Do It

With influencer marketing spend in the billions, it’s fairly easy to figure out why influencers fabricate or inflate their accounts: money. 

Micro influencers (generally those with 10-50k followers) can command at least $1000 per post while Mega influencers (with 1M followers or more) can see that number rise to over $100,000 per post.

But as brands are starting to look beyond follower count at metrics like engagement rate, influencers are finding ways to inflate that data as well. And when Instagram shifts its algorithm to reward naturally engaging content, influencers find ways to game the system as well.

Here’s how it’s being done.

Buying followers

For years, buying followers was as simple as making a payment and watching your account inflate virtually overnight by thousands of followers. Unfortunately, many of these followers were bots. This resulted in high follower count and low engagement. So follower services got smart.

When you Google the term “buy followers,” you’re instantly given a list of services offering “100% real followers.” Many of these companies exist in foreign countries where people are paid to log in and follow an account.

These services are getting more advanced and will now trickle out followers so that influencers see a steady growth curve as opposed to a jump overnight.

Loop Giveaways

Loop Giveaways are one of the latest techniques to come under scrutiny. While they aren’t as prevalent as they have been, it’s still a fairly widespread technique for increasing a following.

Typically a foreign-based company will provide a high value prize (like an iPhone)  and create a giveaway for the prize. In order for someone to enter the giveaway, they have to complete a series of steps, including liking a photo, commenting on a photo, and following multiple Instagram accounts.

There’s nothing inherently illegal about these but giveaways are usually attract “sweepers” or those that create accounts simply for the sake of entering a contest.

As a result, follower counts go up but the quality of the followers is inconsistent. 

When evaluating the following for an influencer, you should be considering the following:

  • Are these organic followers?
  • Are they genuinely interested in what the influencer is posting?
  • Will you get a return on investment simply because this influencer has the numbers?
  • Will you see the type of engagement you’re looking for?

But engagement is something that can be managed as well with activities lik comment pods.

Comment Pods

Engagement can be bought as easily as followers. Whether it’s likes, comments, or views, everything comes at a price. But a more common practice is the use of Comment Pods.

Comment pods are groups of influencers that work together to like and comment on each other’s posts regularly. The idea is to “trick” Instagram into thinking they’ve created a highly engaging post which will then show the post to a larger audience.

While the result may be desirable, this skews true engagement numbers for a particular post.

How Serious Is Influencer Fraud

According to CBS News, at least 15% of advertisers’ spending on influencer marketing is lost to fraud, costing them $1.3 billion annually.

After researching a study from cybersecurity firm, Cheq, they surmised the root of the matter:

“Brands typically pay influencers based on their reach, as measured by their number of followers. The snag, however, is that influencers sometimes buy fake followers, or continue to count followers who no longer engage on a given platform, meaning brands pay for eyeballs that essentially don’t exist.” 

While research continues to show that influencers garner a much higher level of trust than celebrities and even a brand’s own advertising, the presence of rampant fraud is likely to erode trust in influencers, by both brands and consumers. 

What You Can Do About It

If you’re looking for brand exposure on Instagram, consider what your goals are before you seek out the most populated accounts with the highest price tag. Often, a smaller, more authentic, more engaged influencer can bring more value to your brand than an elevated number of impressions. And you also want to make sure that the influencer reflects the values of your brand.

Once you’ve determined the list of influencers you’re interested in, you can check out their growth pattern with a free tool like Social Blade. But you have to know how to interpret the data. This article gives five metrics you can look at to help spot influencers that may be less than what you’re looking for. 

A suspect growth curve for an Instagram influencer
A suspect growth curve for an Instagram influencer
Desirable growth curve for an Instagram influencer
Desirable growth curve for an Instagram influencer

It also helps to work with an agency that is skilled in influencer research and vetting. At Blissful Media Group, we review influencer content and also use software platforms, like Julius, to help us review growth curves for follower counts, overall reach, and engagement rate. We pride ourselves on helping deliver authentic influencers that are aligned with a brand’s marketing strategies and goals.

2020 Trends for Influencer Marketing

2020 Trends for Influencer Marketing

The impact of influencer marketing campaigns reached an all-time high in 2019 and shows no signs of slowing down in 2020. Forbes has reported that influencer marketing spend continued to rise in 2019, as did its percentage of the total marketing budget in many industries. 

With budgets dedicated to influencer marketing said to have increased by up to 65% in 2019, it’s no surprise that the industry continues to rapidly grow. In fact, influencer marketing is projected to be a $5-10 billion dollar industry this year with some reports estimating that it could grow to $15 billion by 2022.

What can brands and marketers expect from influencers in 2020? How can businesses leverage new content strategies and evolving social media channels? 

Here are our thoughts on the top trends that will dominate influencer programs in 2020:

Trend #1:  Video content will still be king!

The biggest influencer marketing trend in 2020 will be the continued rise in video content across all social channels.  Multiple studies have proven that video is the most effective driver of sales when compared to static content in influencer campaigns.

Whether it’s on Instagram Stories, IGTV, TikTok, YouTube, or Snapchat, it will not be difficult to find the right video stars and personalities for your brand. 

You’ll also find that live streaming video, such as Facebook Live, Instagram Live, YouTube Live and most recently TikTok Live all continue to rise in popularity. 

We see video as continuing to rise and be an integral part of influencer campaigns. It provides opportunity for more creativity and collaboration with brands. And for those with a heavy investment in Instagram, video content on IGTV should be considered as a great way for influencers to engage their communities on a deeper level and provide  more value.  

Brands will also need to look at video campaigns on the fast-rising, short-form video platform, TikTok. Gen Z users are downloading and consuming content on the app faster than any other social media platform.

Trend #2:  Continued rise of TikTok

As we highlighted a few months ago, 2019 was a breakthrough year for TikTok which saw it continue to be the #1 downloaded app. As a result, many marketers have started paying attention – either creating a brand account or exploring strategies to work with TikTokers.

At this time, TikTok skews to a younger audience but it’s evolving and has the potential to reach a lot more people than just Gen Z.  

On TikTok, as compared to other platforms, anyone can be an influencer.  This is in comparison to other platforms where there is a clear distinction on who may wield the most influence when looking solely at the number of followers (albeit not an effective way to judge influence).  

TikTok’s algorithm amplifies the most creative type of content without regards to the influencers follower base. For example, a creator can easily jump 500 to 50,000 followers in a short time period because they’ve developed consistent compelling content that is then shown to more people.

TikTok’s content is discoverable primarily through hashtags, which allows people to follow the hashtag story. This differs from other social platforms whose content is primarily siloed.

Since this is a new platform, many marketers are hesitant to jump in but we’re inspired by Gary Vaynerchuk who suggests that marketers think of all these platforms like channels and don’t get hung up on whether or not they have longevity. Because even if they disappear, you can take advantage of them now, the loyalty you receive will not go away even if the channel does.

Trend #3 – Proliferation of bite size content

With the proliferation of content on so many platforms, we see consumers wanting “bite-size” content that they can quickly consume and share.  Brands are going to have to get creative and find ways to integrate their messages in just a few seconds.

For this reason, we continue to recommend adding Instagram Stories (and now Facebook and YouTube Stories) as well as TikTok videos as part of an influencer campaign.

Trend #4:  Third parties that detect false followers

The focus for influencers is no longer solely based on follower numbers. It’s based on engagement and authenticity. And for good reason. It’s estimated that fake fans will cost brands $1.3 billion in 2019 alone.

The challenge is assessing whether the follower counts and engagement rates are legitimate. As many have seen, both can be fabricated for a price. That’s why we’re looking at the continued rise and use of software, like Instascreener and Influencer Marketing Hub, to detect fake followers on platforms like Instagram, where the problem is rampant.

It’s no longer as easy as looking for jumps or spikes in follower counts. The services that offer fake followers are getting more sophisticated and detection needs to follow suit.

Trend #5:  The rise of the no-edit vibe

Authenticity is key, especially for the Gen Z audience. We are seeing influencers creating content that is more in the moment without heavy filtering or editing.

With the rise of Instagram, we saw the evolution of the curated content feed. Influencers created feeds that were polished and aesthetically pleasing, offering inspiration and aspiration to their audiences. 

We are starting to see a shift to a more in the moment, no edit vibe – audiences feel more engaged and a stronger connection and also part of the journey.

While we will see the “no-edit” edit influencer marketing trend continue and evolve, we will still have a lot of accounts that have a certain aesthetic and remain more curated. 

When working with influencers, it will all come down to brand persona and the message the brand is trying to convey when they decide on the type of influencer content they are looking for.

Trend #6: Captions that are longer (micro-blogging) that draw in audiences

When we think captions, we think Instagram. While it started solely as a visual platform, it’s evolved to become a micro-blogging, storytelling platform.  

Typically, a great image will capture an audience’s attention but the caption is where you convey the complete story and details you want to share. It’s also where you can share an appropriate call to action.

Keep in mind that Instagram, to maintain the visual aspect of the platform, will typically only show the first three lines before the user has to expend the caption. So that first sentence needs to be powerful enough to draw the audience in for the bigger picture.

Trend #7: Shoppable content and e-commerce opportunities 

A 2018 Influicity study predicted more influencers would be interested in creating their own branded products that complement their online personality and niche. “With their reach and authority growing at an accelerated rate, influencers will start to explore new avenues of revenue generation, primarily e-commerce.” 

New features like shopping on Instagram, buyable Pins on Pinterest, collections ads on Facebook, and shoppable videos on TikTok make it possible for influencers and brands to drive purchases directly from a social media post. In 2017, Amazon rolled out a new program called Amazon Spark that enables customers to follow influencers and, with one tap, purchase the item that they saw on the app.

The growth and expansion of these e-commerce tools in 2019 allowed brands to leverage more specific calls-to-action to purchase in influencer campaigns and experiment with different programs. It also made it easier than ever before for customers to directly purchase products shown in influencer content and for brands to determine campaign successes through solid KPIs like foot traffic, e-commerce sales, and subscriptions.

We see e-commerce being closely tied to influencer relationships as brands consider developing hybrid compensation models for some of their product campaigns.

We’d love to hear which trends you’re incorporating into your influencer marketing strategy this year. Let us help make the most of your influencer campaigns in 2020. To request a proposal, contact Paula Bruno paula@blissfulmediagroup.com.

Why Micro-Influencers Are Key In 2020

The latest data shows that micro-influencers, influencers with 10,000 or fewer followers, might be a more effective influencer strategy in 2020.  These micro-influencers are getting great results for brands – ie, more engagement, more clicks, at a lower cost.

Finding the right influencers is a key component for a successful influencer marketing strategy that generates ROI. While celebrity influencers can still be a great option, it might be wise to consider micro-influencers.

Reasons To Use Micro-Influencers

  1. There is a larger pool of micro-influencers and most are eager to work with brands
  2. Influencers with a smaller following typically have highly engaged audiences which is huge for ROI. According to another report, influencers with 10,000 followers or more have 3.6 percent engagement and those with 5,000 to 10,000 followers have 6.3 percent engagement
  3. It is less expensive for brands to partner with micro-influencers vs higher-tiered influencers.
  4. Generally speaking, a micro-influencers’ audience has a high level of confidence in them and see them as more authentic than celebrities.  Their followers view them more as trusted associates than superstars and hence more relatable.

In 2020, many discerning brands will seek influencer fit over followers.  By zeroing in on these “niches” or “tribes”, brands will get to know their audience better as micro-influencers have a strong relatable connection to their audience. There are many benefits of working with micro-influencers that not only include trust and engagement but a cost-effective opportunity to gain more knowledge about target consumers.

How to Incorporate Micro-Influencers into Your Influencer Campaign

When considering your influencer campaigns for 2020, incorporating micro-influencers might be a strategy to consider. We have experience working with both macro and micro-influencers and can help guide your strategy on what type of influencer to work with to best meet your goals.

Contact us – we’d love to have a conversation with you about your 2020 influencer marketing needs.

How Affiliate Marketing Extends Your Influencer Campaign

How Affiliate Marketing Extends Your Influencer Campaign

It’s mid-December and while it feels like the retail rush is behind us, we’re all relying on last minute holiday shopping. And as we start to wind down for the year, it’s time to start thinking about your influencer plans for the New Year.

Influencers at work
Influencers are always looking for new ways to diversify their income stream.

It’s also a fantastic time to make sure your affiliate marketing offers are on point – ensuring that your current influencer relationships are driving sales. And it’s also a great time to revitalize your previous influencer relationships as well.

What is affiliate marketing?

If you already have a successful affiliate marketing program in place. You can skip this section. But if you think you know what affiliate marketing it, it might be time to get some clarity.

Affiliate marketers generally consider their work to be commission-based sales. But a more progressive way of looking at it, especially as it relates to influencers, is to think of it as revenue sharing. Influencers promote your product or service and when their readers and followers click through to your site and make a purchase (generally any purchase), the influencer is given a percentage of the sale.

Affiliate marketing is recognized by the FTC and does require disclosure when influencers use affiliate marketing but there are more and more creative ways to include affiliate offers in addition to your traditional models of influencer campaigns.

How Programs Are Set Up and Managed

In order to implement an affiliate program, most brands sign up with an affiliate network as a brand partner. Some of the largest out there include Commission Junction, Rakuten, and ShareASale – an Awin company. Awin, itself, is also one of the largest affiliate networks, especially globally.

Affiliate networks manage most affiliate marketing programs.

Setting up the program means creating assets and offers that influencers or content creators might use when including an affiliate link for a brand. And offers generally include a specified cookie period and commission payout.

If all of that sounds confusing or you’re left wondering what a good cookie period looks like and what the commission payout should be, there are affiliate program management companies to help with that. These agencies are designed specifically to help you create and grow your affiliate program, as well as offer strategies for creating effective offers when working with influencers. 

Structuring an Affiliate Offer

Typically, you’ll have a standard affiliate offer for anyone applying to become a member of your affiliate program. Once they apply, you can approve (or not) and their affiliate links would fall under that standard offer.

Anne Parris, Affiliate Manager at Apogee, an affiliate program management agency, shared her insight for creating a good affiliate offer when working specifically with influencers.

1. Accelerated affiliate acceptance

At a minimum, you’ll want to offer an influencer an accelerated acceptance to your affiliate program. The normal acceptance process may involve their application being funneled through the affiliate network and then to your brand for review. Influencers like to know they can circumvent the process by being pre approved for the program.

2. Special affiliate offer

Brands often provide a special offer to influencers they’re working closely with as an incentive for promoting their own branded content (both sponsored and non-sponsored). A special offer typically involves a high commission rate (either permanently or for a specified period of time) and/or an extended cookie period.

3. Offer code 

As part of an affiliate program, brands can offer a coupon or offer code that makes it easy to share product links on social media. 

All of the above offers rely on one thing to make a program successful – conversion.

If an influencer is good at converting followers to shoppers, it’s a win-win situation. Sometimes, brands are simply better at selling their own product. They just need to get the followers to their site. Here’s where programs like Shop Your Likes are beneficial. This is a program designed for Instagram influencers to use on their “Swipe Up” Stories. 

Instead of rewarding influencers for sales conversions, their payout is based solely on traffic referral. 

Benefits of Implementing Affiliate Offers in Your Influencer Strategy

Every influencer campaign is planned, executed, and measured for results. You may have short term KPIs but using affiliate marketing, in addition to your compensation strategy, can give your influencer campaigns more longevity.

Not only do strong affiliate offers give influencers more incentive to promote their posts (especially blog posts) beyond the social requirements of a campaign, but it gives them incentive to continue to promote the content long after the campaign ends.

Affiliate marketing can extend the life of your influencer campaign.
Affiliate marketing can extend the life of your influencer campaign.

For example, one strategy might include reaching out to an influencer who created a holiday post for you last year and providing a strong affiliate offer to encourage them to continue to promote the content this year in a timely way.

For Instagram-only campaigns, influencers can easily reshare their sponsored Instagram posts  to their Instagram stories with a swipe up affiliate link. 

How to Incorporate Affiliate Marketing into Your Influencer Campaign

When considering your influencers campaigns for the New Year or looking for ways to revitalize well-performing content from previous campaigns, affiliate marketing might be a strategy to consider incorporating into your influencer campaign strategy.

We can work with you when setting up the parameters for the campaign. Affiliate offers can become “bonus compensation” for influencers who choose to take advantage. And strong offers can be part of a hybrid campaign. Hybrid campaigns can include traditional sponsored content, ensuring you have control over the messaging but also include an affiliate offer. This, in turn, can result in overall lower compensation on the front end because the influencer can make up for it on the back end. And your total payout is now tied more closely to conversions.

We’d love to have a conversation with you about affiliate marketing and how it might be right for your influencer campaigns.

The Many Layers of Influencer Diversity

The Many Layers of Influencer Diversity

Read any article on influencer diversity and you’re likely to read thoughts on hiring more women of color in the fashion and beauty industry. Perhaps it’s because it’s often the part of the industry that receives the greatest optics.

But read between the lines and you’ll quickly discover that the demand for diversity isn’t about seeing more black faces on a mostly white press trip to an exotic locale. It’s about consumers seeing and relating to people that look like and represent them. Understanding what diversity really means to these consumers is what will help brands broaden their marketing initiatives to become more inclusive.

Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash

How Consumers Define Diversity

Influencer diversity isn’t merely about skin color, although that can often be the most visible aspect to an audience. It’s also about ethnicity, body size and type, age, and even less visible characteristics like sexual orientation.  

Zippy Sandler, who’s been blogging for many years at Champagne Living, recently expressed her dismay at how brands continue to miss the mark when creating a campaign for Baby Boomers:

“I hate it when brands don’t get it. I just applied for an Instagram campaign. They are looking to feature baby boomers and assume that we’re not on influencer platforms. They were basically looking for Millennials to feature their grandparents about living a life with passion.

HELLO! I’m right here and YES I’m on Instagram and not only that…I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, my blog and OMG even TikTok. This is the epitome of #ageism…using a millennial to tell a baby boomer’s story.”

Zippy Sandler, Blogger

More and more, audiences and influencers are becoming vocal online and holding brands to task that continue to show the status quo. It’s time for brands to ask how they can be more representative of all perspectives.

But Our Audience is White!

A few weeks ago, an influencer agency reached out to prospective influencers to work on a home decor campaign. They presented their campaign criteria by listing the desired target audience, using descriptors like:

  • Women ages 25-54 with an HHI of $50k-$150k
  • Prominently Caucasian living in suburban areas

While the discussion surrounding this campaign led many people to believe that the internal marketing dialogue was inadvertently posted as influencer criteria, the resulting conversation got to the heart of inclusion in influencer marketing.

As influencer Kris McDonald of Little Tech Girl, who initially brought the issue to light, tweeted:

McDonald, who is African-American, actually has a predominantly white audience. But even if she didn’t, the numbers suggest that a more narrow target audience, such as this example, may be neglecting a significant portion of marketing dollars.

Forbes cites a recent Nielsen report in their article, If You Want Black Audiences, Give Them A Seat at the Table that speaks prominently to the power of minority spending: 

“The benefit of properly engaging with multicultural audiences isn’t vague or elusive: With black spending power projected to reach $1.4 trillion by 2020, this demographic will be setting and influencing trends in everything from technology and media to politics and pop culture.”

A report by the University of Georgia suggests that the same holds true for other minority groups in the United States, including Hispanics, Asian Americans, and Native Americans. 

The changing face of consumerism is a reality and brands should be changing their marketing appropriately. 

Inviting People to the Table – Success Stories in Influencer Diversity

Blogger Shawanda Mason-Moore, who is African-American, posted her own take on diversity in influencer marketing by reiterating that “diversity and inclusion aren’t about everyone getting what they want. It’s about everyone getting to voice what they want.”

Hearing the right voices starts by inviting the right people to the table.

Influencer press trips are where you’ll often get a good snapshot of how brands are working with influencers. There has been a myriad of articles posted that lambast brands showcasing all white faces. Others are grateful to be included in opportunities but are painfully aware when they are the “token” influencer to fill a diversity spot. 

It’s a step in the right direction but diversity for diversity’s sake doesn’t work. At a Communications Week event last year, Darren Wesley Martin, Jr., founder and chairman of Brooklyn-based agency Streamlined Media & Communications, suggested that rather than investing in diverse influencers for brand optics, influencers and their agency representatives must “be authentic to the brand [they]’re serving.”

Both Kohl’s and REI have undertaken recent influencer initiatives that embrace diversity and they’ve done it in a way that’s authentic to their brand.

Kohl’s partnered with actress and fashion blogger, Cara Santana, for her new line of approachable fashion, Cara Santana x Apt 9, a 37 piece size-inclusive collection.  In addition to designing the collection, she was actively involved in the marketing by hand-selecting every model for the ad campaign to showcase diversity across body types, sexual orientation, ethnic backgrounds, religions, and lifestyles. 

“If we looked at ads and saw a genuine reflection of what women look like, then we wouldn’t be comparing ourselves, we’d be identifying. That’s what I wanted this collection to do.” 

Cara Santana

REI, the outdoor outfitter, is also taking bold strides both in terms of company policy, product strategy, and social media presence. With their Force of Nature initiative, they’re focusing on leveling the playing field for women of all shapes and sizes. The brand now chooses influencer diversity in terms of color, body shape, gender, ability and more.  

When brands aren’t moving fast enough in the right direction, influencers often take matters into their own hands. 

Valerie Eguavoen of the blog, On A Curve, started a movement online with her Instagram account, YouBelongNow, to help creators advocate for socio-political justice. And model/designer Candice Huffine launched her own line of size-inclusive activewear after finding that the market fell short.

Diversity and inclusivity are opportunities for both brands and influencers to innovate in this space.

Cautionary Tales for Influencer Diversity

Sometimes inclusivity can feel like a double-edged sword. Influencers want to be invited to the table but they don’t want to be invited simply to check a box. That’s why brand authenticity is so important. When the authenticity is lacking the message falls flat. 

Take Urban Outfitters, for example. In 2017, they launched an ad campaign entitled “Class of 2017” and partnered with a diverse group of influencers, including body-positive activist, Barbie Ferreira. The company came under fire for the inclusion as their clothing line did not carry a size larger than 12. Ferreira was essentially being used to sell clothes that weren’t accessible to her.

In this way, companies are using “body positivity as a useful marketing tool and the true essence of the movement appears to have become lost in attempts to simultaneously make a profit and appear to be doing social good.”

This is why brands need to think about inclusivity from the start of their campaign strategy and not just an add-on to campaign messaging.  

Why Diversity in Influencer Marketing Can Be Hard

Brands usually approach influencer campaigns with very specific influencer criteria in mind. Typically, they’re looking for a target audience that’s aligned with their market research. Depending on the type of campaign, they may also want to segment by things like gender, age, and geographic location, in addition to follower count and engagement rate.

More often than not, there’s also a goal to include a diverse pool of targets for their campaign. But finding the diverse pool that also meets their criteria can be challenging if not impossible at times.

Sometimes, you just can’t have everything. 

When applying all of the desired criteria, you may inevitably end up with a homogeneous mix of influencers. In order to actively include more diverse influencers, you may have to adjust some of the target criteria to broaden your pool.

That’s where agency expertise comes into play.

How An Agency Helps with Influencer Diversity

An agency not only has access to a detailed database of influencers that meet your criteria but they can also look beyond the database to find influencers that might not ordinarily show up on your radar. 

We’ve been working with influencers for over 10 years and have continued to build relationships and referrals to help find the right targets for a campaign. 

As in the scenario above, we’ve worked with brands that had difficulty finding a diverse pool of talent that met their target criteria. We‘ve been able to present influencer options that brought diversity to the mix while still satisfying the overall needs of the campaign. 

One of our recent campaigns, Hyundai #BetterByHyundai, we felt really captured the essence of influencer diversity. They sought to find influencers that not only fit their internal brand guidelines but were also diverse. Their photos beautifully captured the mantra Better By Hyundai. Check out the amazing content from Chelsea KauaiGarrett KingCourtney Quinn, and Laura Scott MD

#BetterByHyundai

We’re working to help the influencer marketing ecosystem be more representative of all genders, races, sexualities, and perspectives. We look to help brands work with a diverse group of people, not for the sake of being inclusive but from an understanding of why diversity matters.

The Rise of the TikTok Influencer

The Rise of the TikTok Influencer

The Social Platform for Gen Z and How It Could Help Your Influencer Strategy

Photo credit: Aleksei – stock.adobe.com

The Origin Story of TikTok

TikTok, the video app that’s increasing in popularity in staggeringly large numbers, was actually launched in 2016, but not in its current form. Owned by Chinese company, ByteDance, and operating under the name Douyin in China, the app got a makeover when it acquired Musical.ly in 2017 from a startup based in Shanghai. (Rumor puts the pricetag at close to $1 billion).

By August of 2018, the original app was merged with Musical.ly and launched globally as the rebranded app, TikTok, combining key features of both apps.

It’s been called a successor to Vine, the now defunct six-second video app owned by Twitter, and features a combination of comedy shorts (similar to Vine) and lip syncing (similar to musical.ly). And the outlook appears to be good. TikTok is being downloaded at a dizzyingly fast pace as users consume and share content poised to go viral.

TikTok app in the App Store for iPhone
TikTok app in the App Store for iPhone

What makes TikTok so appealing to some is that it’s considered the anti-Instagram. Gone are the highly curated feeds with overt product promotions. Instead, users can create and share 15 or 60 second videos directly from their phone, easily add music and effects, and share across multiple platforms. 

TikTok: Outlook is Good

If you’re concerned about whether or not TikTok is here to stay, you only have to look in the competitor space to see what the future may hold. 

Facebook’s own Mark Zuckerberg has been talking to his team about how to combat the rise of TikTok. He’s been quoted as saying, “it’s married short-form, immersive video with browse. So it’s almost like the Explore Tab that we have on Instagram… I kind of think about TikTok as if it were Explore for stories, and that were the whole app. And then you had creators who were specifically working on making that stuff.”

But according to the same article in which he was quoted, he’s got it all wrong. TikTok “isn’t about you or what you’re doing. It’s about entertaining your audience. It’s not spontaneous chronicling of your real life.”

On some level, he and his team know that they need to reach beyond Instagram and Facebook to stay competitive, which is why they’re continuing to promote their own app, Lasso. Besides the U.S., Lasso is only available in Mexico, where it’s picking up steam but has yet to show the numbers that TikTok has.

TikTik alternatives

In a similar vein, Google is looking to acquire a similar app called Firework, a free app that allows users to share 30 second videos with anyone. Valued currently at over $100 million, it could be a wise investment for Google. But if talks fail, the Chinese social media app, Weibo, might look to step in as well.

Who’s Using TikTok?

TikTok has been downloaded 1 billion times with 60% of those downloads occurring in 2018. That means it was downloaded more than Instagram last year and was downloaded more times in September 2018 than Facebook, YouTube, and Snapchat.

Although TikTok doesn’t release their demographic data, speculation puts 41% of the user base between 16 and 24. Yes, it skews young. And it’s also said to have a distinct female slant. 

That puts this social platform firmly in the hands of Gen Z. It’s an audience that is looking for more creative outlets where they can freely express themselves unfiltered.

With the easy-to-use features for creating videos directly in the app, TikTok has allowed a new crop of influencers to rise to the top with a platform known for virality.

How Influencers Are Using TikTok

As with most social media platforms, influence correlates strongly to popularity. But popularity on TikTok can often come from unexpected places.

For example, The Bailey Bakery, owned and operated by Leanne Bailey, is a custom cookie decorating business in Kentucky. She started posting Tasty-style videos on TikTok of her cookie decorating skills, set to popular music.

She quickly rose to over 1 million followers and brands came calling. She now has over 4 million followers and posts sponsored videos once a week.

For other influencers, they’re motivated by entertaining audiences through dance, comedy, or other creative outlets. And as a result, they can be rewarded by their audience with an in-app virtual currency. 

Others, still, are capitalizing on their brand with merchandising that they can promote through the app. Keep in mind that most followers are more interested in merchandise to support an influencer or join a trend, rather than purchase a promoted product.

The prediction is clear, though. TikTok is rising in popularity and influencer marketing is poised to be huge in this space.

How Brands are Using TikTok

The most obvious question with any new social platform is whether or not your business should be on it. The best way to answer that question is to look at your audience.

If your target audience tends to skew younger, they’re likely to be embracing a new form of media and demand a new form of advertising and marketing. Some brands have recognized this, embraced TikTok and have had astounding results.

Chipotle, for example, took a leap of faith when they followed in the footsteps of one of their employees, who created the Chipotle #lidflip challenge. Soon, Chipotle was embracing the lid flip and creating videos, like the #GuacDance, for their nearly 90,000 followers. 

Other brands have dipped their toes in the water by hiring influencers to create short form videos in their own creative style. Guess partnered with fashion influencers for an #InMyDenim campaign and brands like Coca-Cola, Universal Pictures, Sony Pictures and Google have worked with popular TikTok users to raise brand awareness.

Influencer Marketing on TikTok

If the audience on TikTok is aligned with your brand’s target audience, working with influencers could be a necessity for your marketing strategy. 

Although TikTok has recently launched an advertising platform (we were warned it was coming), the nature of the platform indicates that inclusion in creator content would have a greater reception from users.

Working with a TikTok influencer may be completely different from working with influencers on other platforms so be prepared to adjust your strategy accordingly. These influencers rely on innovation and creativity to keep TikTok fans interested and engaged and brands need to be ready to embrace that.

Start by reviewing TikTok’s own Mission Statement:

“TikTok is the leading destination for short-form mobile video. Our mission is to inspire creativity and bring joy.”

If inspiration, creativity, joy, humor, and entertainment aren’t words you frequently associate with your brand, TikTok might not be right for you. But if it is, you’ll probably need to prepare yourself to give up a little creative control.

Brands that have successfully worked with TikTok influencers have learned that incorporating their messaging organically into creator content means giving more creative control to the influencer. These creators think outside the box and your best bet is to let them.

As on any platform, influencer marketing is best when there is a clear strategy and purpose behind integrating TikTok into a specific campaign. Influencer marketing agencies can help find influencers that align with your target audience and can help manage the details of campaign logistics..

Measuring metrics for TikTok is still evolving but tracking followers as well as likes, comments, reposts or shares and rate of full play are engagement metrics that can be tracked by creators. Without an open API, these metrics cannot be tracked by outside parties like brands and agencies.  Ideally, there will be an option to make this easier and more brand-friendly in the future. The jury is still out on benchmarking engagement rates to determine what is above average.  

Read more about TikTok stats here.

How We’ve Worked with TikTok Influencers

Blissful Media Group has been supporting TikTok for the past year by coordinating partnerships with various influencers on YouTube and Instagram to help introduce the app to a variety of new audiences.

Popular influencers from DIY to comedy to reaction-themed channels and profiles have been collaborating with TikTok to drive growth for the app, build brand awareness by creating exclusive TikTok content, and encourage downloads of the app with their audiences.

TikTok trending categories
TikTok trending categories and playlists on the Discover page

If you’re looking to hear more about TikTok and whether an influencer strategy incorporating this platform might be right for your brand, we’d love to hear from you.