Influencer marketing is the go-to channel for brands across domains that look to enhance their consumer outreach and sales. From $8 billion in 2019, brands are set to spend up to $15 billion on influencer marketing by 2022, as per market estimates based on data by Mediakix.
But to spoil the influencer party, bots abound are upsetting brand budgets and engagement strategies.
Experts state that bots are indeed a bad force that brands should deal with effectively and immediately. Says Dennis Taraporewala, managing director, Criesse Communications, “Bots have quite an impact on brands because they can distort marketing calculations completely. They work on algorithms and artificial intelligence and make it difficult to differentiate the real from the fake.”
“With bots, brands stand to lose both money and reputation. To be caught being promoted by bots and having the same content posted by multiple handles or having international bots promoting the brand can cause serious loss of credibility,” says Sabyasachi Mitter, founder and managing director, Fulcro, an integrated digital marketing and communication agency.
In influencer marketing, Instagram dominates. As per Influencer Marketing Hub, 79% of brands leverage Instagram for influencer campaigns, while 46% leverage Facebook, 36% YouTube and 24% Twitter.
“And bots are rampant on social media, especially Instagram,” say experts.
Apaksh Gupta, founder & CEO of influencer marketing platform One Impression, says the key is to know what to look for when it comes to influencers. “Crucial is the engagement to follower ratio. For micro-influencers, brands should look for engagement rates of over 5%, and for large influencers of over 2% on average. Lower engagement rates can be a cause for concern. Another thing to watch out is the growth in follower numbers. Any significant unexplained spike in a short period of time is a red flag. Comment quality is also important. Look out for suspicious comments. Usage of hashtags like #likeforlike, #followforfollow can mean bots,” says Gupta.
Parinaz Driver, associate director of marketing, communications & eCommerce, Sofitel Mumbai BKC, says although bots are a challenge, the way to dodge this is to build long-term relationships with influencers who are truly enthusiastic about the brand and collaborate to secure specialised results.
Due to bots, brands lose precious money on influencers who don’t drive real engagement. A recent estimate by cybersecurity firm Cheq says that fake followers or bots can cost brands $1.3 billion in 2019, with the potential to reach $1.5 billion by next year.
Experts caution that it is time for brands to get out of the impressions and numbers game. Says Mitter, “Brands should get out of the game of numbers and the obsession with trends. Know each influencer and what they stand for and engage with those that matter through long-term associations. Brands should look at the true impact being delivered by the influencers instead of merely the count of tweets, posts, likes and comments. Credible influencers would continue being in demand as brands change the measure of campaign success from impressions, likes and shares to the real impact to the brand.”
Experts say that brands should start leveraging numerous other channels to ink engagements with their target consumers. “Brands can impact through Dark Social. In this, instead of using a large number of influencers the brand can push out its core communication through channels of publications, content creators and YouTubers. The effectiveness here is measurable in terms of the brand lift instead of mere likes and share counts,” says Mitter.
Taraporewala says it is time for engaging content. “There are many ways that brands can create the content that traditionally third parties were creating for them. Whether it is newsletters, design frameworks, 3 D holograms, or word-of-mouth or WhatsApp marketing – all these tools have now been added to the equation.”
According to Driver, video marketing and content personalisation are the tools that are expected to make it big in the future. “Strategic use of video on a business website translates to lower bounce rates, longer visit times, improved engagement and considerably better conversion rates. Web video marketing is and will continue to be a real game-changer.”.
Gupta feels as new platforms (like TikTok for example) continue to rise, distribution channels become common and consumption patterns take shape, it’s only right to say that digital is unpredictable, agile and fast-evolving. “One of those is voice-based marketing where the whole infrastructure being built by Amazon Alexa, Google Home, etc. will start getting leveraged in numerous ways. Virtual reality might become one of the mainstream ways for reaching and interactions with potential customers. I am also very certain that the offline advertising media such as billboards will become more digitally connected, both in terms of buying and ads management, allowing smaller spenders to use the medium as well as bringing in much more traceability.”