By Arthur Altounian
Consumer trust in Asia Pacific has shifted from a few celebrity favorites to an army of key opinion leaders (KOLs) on social media. The rise of e-commerce as well as a change in behavior and expectations among the region’s young and mobile-focused consumers, who are driving economies, have contributed to the substantial growth of the influencer marketing industry. A 2019 whitepaper by R3 Worldwide stated that Southeast Asia’s influencer marketing industry was worth $638 million, and is predicted to quadruple within five years to reach $2.59 billion by 2024.
Influencer marketing became a juggernaut because it enabled brands an organic-seeming way to engage target audiences and build trust through individuals who cultivated a certain level of influence online. Brands embraced this more cost-effective approach that offered a higher ROI than traditional media buying.
However, the rapid rise in social media influencers has been accompanied by a spate of scandals in which brands have called out fraudulent practices such as artificially inflating followers and engagement to secure higher rates or free products. INCA estimates that 15% of all influencer ad spend is consumed by fraudulent activities. A 2019 global study by HypeAuditor on behalf of A Good Company found that Indonesia and India were top markets for this activity with a combined 58 million fake user accounts. Not surprising as those are two of the major markets in the region but fraud affects all countries worldwide. While influencer marketing and fraud are not new, its prevalence in the region has created concerns about brand safety. This is pushing advertisers to identify better methods to mitigate the risks of working with content creators effectively.
Do Not Take Influencers at Face Value!
Today, brands generally select influencers informed by their networks through a manual process that focuses solely on follower and engagement figures. These methods do not account for practices that include purchasing followers that are bot accounts or ‘engagement pods’ in which groups of real influencers conspire to regularly interact with each other’s posts. Common signs of fraud include unexplainable spikes or dips in follower count, irregular like-to-follower ratios and sudden drops in engagement rates. Yet, the dramatic increase in brand partnerships with influencers over the last few years has made it much more difficult to detect these signs of fraud.
AI-driven solutions are helping advertisers confirm the authenticity, credibility and suitability of influencers for brands and address influencer fraud. For instance, some solutions leverage data-driven metrics to assess an influencer’s profile, content, authentic followers, engagement, competitors, audience sentiment, and audience demographics. These technologies have automated key indicators of influence to enable brands to feel more confident in their partnerships. Relying on data-driven insights enables brands to optimize marketing campaigns to achieve a return on investment (ROI).
Overall, influencer marketing remains a great channel for brands to engage with their audiences in a very authentic and creative way throughout the customer journey. It delivers significant ROI and a complimentary solution to media, creative and PR activities. For brands venturing into this area of marketing, dig deeper during vetting stages to identify the right talent. Then, focus on creating great content and engaging creatives as well as a distribution strategy that helps ads reach broader audiences and maximize results. These strategies should consider the entire sales funnel with particular attention paid to e-commerce and social commerce. Most importantly, brands must work with partners and agencies who are accountable, committed to delivering tangible results and transparent about their data, processes, and tools.
By Arthur Altounian is the APAC Client Development Director at INCA