I bought a jacket online sometime in the wee hours this morning, when pregnancy insomnia had me mindlessly scrolling fashion blogs and then Facebook.
I bought a jacket that I likely won’t wear for nearly a year—something about vegan leather moto jackets and summer in Austin doesn’t quite mesh.
I bought a jacket I didn’t really need because a random woman in a fashion blogger’s Facebook group looked really cute in it, and she happened to mention the brand in her caption.
As I was clicking purchase, the momentary shot of new-clothes-dopamine was tempered by a pang of regret that this blogger, who produces incredibly time-intensive, thoughtful, and high quality content, and who brings together hundreds of women in these community groups, will never ever get any kind of credit for this purchase. To my knowledge, it’s not a jacket she’s ever even discussed on her channels. There’s no affiliate or tracked link to follow. There’s no discount code to apply that identifies her as my source.
Her sponsors and advertisers won’t see my purchase—or undoubtedly, the hundreds or thousands of purchases just like it—as part of her sphere of influence, but it is.
I have so many discussions with clients about ROI. We talk, too, about content quality and follower counts and engagement rates, but at the end of the day, all those conversations are circling the real question at the heart of every sales call and every analytics report: ROI. It’s a frustrating problem, no matter what. We all want to be able to track, end to end, the entire universe of influence, and to be able to identify and measure with scientific precision what actions drove which sales.
Don’t get me wrong: few things make me happier than hearing a client share that our campaign achieved an X:1 ROI. I know that when they report those kinds of results, that that’s just the baseline impact of our work together, because that’s what they were able to track.
Those reports don’t count the prAna sweater I sold to my dermatologist, a full six months after we wrapped up a fall campaign. I watched her purchase my identical sweater on her office computer. I didn’t have a discount code to share with her, and I sure didn’t ask her to follow some (by then surely expired) custom link.
They don’t count the time a personal training client asked Tasha from Hip Healthy Chick about her Momentum Jewelry bracelet. Tasha took hers off, gave it to the client, and the client went on to purchase another. Untrackable.
It doesn’t count the time an woman in our community brought homemade protein powder energy balls to a friend’s house, and in that moment transformed her friend into a brand loyalist. Untrackable.
It doesn’t count all the people who have bought the same Sparkle Skirt Toni wears for many of her races—she recommends it to everyone on her running team and gets questions about it constantly. Untrackable.
It doesn’t count the number of coworkers in Vicki’s engineering office who have downloaded the C25K app on her recommendation. Untrackable.
It doesn’t count all the times the extended networks, the friends of friends, the anonymous online audience, make purchase decisions whose trail leads back, in indirect and surprising ways, to an influencer. Untrackable.
These are the examples we know about, and they barely scratch the surface of the kinds of interactions that we all have around products we use and love. It’s why we always encourage clients to think bigger picture: that demonstrable ROI is really fun to see happening, but it’s the cherry on top of a bigger picture: of showing up in organic conversations, being included in evergreen and authentic content, and gaining access to a network of purchasing decisions that, despite big brother’s ever-increasing encroachments on our lives and habits, are as yet invisible.
It strikes me as not uncanny that yet another form of invisible work is largely carried out by women, and that credit and reward for this kind of work are begrudgingly doled out, regarded suspiciously unless validated with black and white line items on a sales report.
Women drive 70-80% of purchasing decisions. Social media users are predominantly women. #MeToo has begun to prove the efficacy of whisper networks; it bears considering that those networks operate just as powerfully under other, less serious hashtags, too.
So: what are we do do about it? I have a lot more to say about this, but here’s the short version:
Brands: treat influencer marketing as marketing and brand building. It’s incredibly validating and fun when you can measure concrete results, but that focus is shortsighted at best. Building a brand and working with influencers is a long game. This is not to say every Jane Smith with a blog is a good investment of your time and resources, but that people who treat their work as professionals and who are passionate about your brand are doing more than you’ll ever be able to see or quantify.
Influencers: know your worth. There’s a tremendous lack of standards around compensation in our industry, and a huge variance in brands’ ability and willingness to invest in your services. Treat your job like a job; choose clients and opportunities for the right reasons; and include those softer measures—such as anecdotes of how your audience responded to your work—in reports back to clients in addition to more traditional metrics like traffic and engagement rates.
These are my initial thoughts, anyway. I used my early morning hours (up at 4am, WHY WHY WHY) to hash out this first draft of a topic that’s been percolating for me for a while now. And then I did a Gixo workout, and drank coffee, and enjoyed the early morning quiet even as I knew it would come back to haunt me later in the day, in the form of inevitable naps.