Picture: 123RF/SKDESIGN
Picture: 123RF/SKDESIGN

A new local study has redefined exactly how social  and influencer marketing should be done. Though Facebook might offer the greatest reach, Instagram offers better engagement. However, if you’re wanting to promote an event, Twitter is your best bet. Surprisingly, those with the biggest budgets don’t always get the best return on investment and brands with the most social followers aren’t necessarily getting bang for their buck. 

Facebook, by far the largest social network, may dominate the consumer goods market, but the fact that Instagram has so many more influencers relative to its size means that brands get a better return on investment from the latter.

The research revealed that fans and followers aren’t everything and that engagement doesn’t equate to influence. In fact, some of the most effective influencers are ordinary people with relatively small followings.

The study, #OnlyConnect2018 – The Power of Brand Influencers  – was conducted on the social audiences of 50 SA brands operating in nine different categories on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and analyses the interactions and relationships these brands enjoy with their social audiences. The research, conducted by Arthur Goldstuck’s World Wide Worx together with smart marketing technology company Continuon, allows brands to measure the quality of their social media communities.

Using Continuon’s home-grown technology, which builds algorithms to analyse social networks and data, the research involved studying more than 100m data points from 5.25m unique engagers and 355,000 unique influencers. The research allows brands to identify real consumers in a brand’s community who can drive messages for the brand regardless of the size of their following or network.

The findings of this research, said Goldstuck, would upset traditional notions that marketers and brands have about social media, including how to use it and how to measure returns.

Speaking at a Heavy Chef event in Johannesburg to launch the study, he said the research allows brands to identify real consumers in a brand’s community who can drive messages for the brand regardless of the size of their following or network.

“We’ve learnt that the real influencers, rather than supposed celebrity influencers, can be harnessed and turned into advocates for brands. We’ve also learnt that only a small percentage of engagers are actually influencers. In the beverage category, for instance, which has the highest proportion of engagers, only a very small percentage are actually influencers. So, despite the fact that this category has massive engagement, brands are not getting much return on investment.”

The big take-out:

There’s more to influencer marketing than reach and followers. Brands should be leveraging authentic brand influencers in smaller communities for better return on investment.

Goldstuck said though engagement is important – and brands should look for big engagement numbers – this needs to translate into a high number of influencers, because the ultimate measure of success is influencers rather than engagement. “The top performers in each category outperform their competitors because they’re using smarter strategies,” he said.

He added that other sectors could learn from the nonprofit category, which scored very low on engagers versus influencers, primarily because they were authentic and pushing a cause rather than a commercial brand. Commercial brands need to remember that if authenticity is not included in the social strategy they could actually be damaging their brand, he said. “Authentic influencers are first prize,” he said.

Marketers have traditionally measured their social followings via the number of people who engage with their brand and the frequency with which they engage but, according to Goldstuck, in most instances the most influential influencers engage far more infrequently but have more influence compared with those who engage more frequently.

One of the biggest lessons from this research is that the old metrics for measuring social success don’t apply, said Continuon founder Bradley Elliott. Most significantly, not all influencers are created equal. He argued that until this research there had been a fundamental measurement flaw in assessing celebrities (with big reach) and micro-influencers (unknown people with much smaller reach) qualitatively and then measuring them quantitatively in terms of their reach.

Authentic brands with a strong social cachet, particularly if they are uniquely differentiated and respected, will do better at influence marketing, revealed the study. Similarly, mass market brands with a unique voice dominate engagement and influence on Facebook.

Other lessons from the study reveal that political and cause-related brands should look to dominate Twitter, particularly if they use political relevance intelligently to connect with their social audiences.

Humour allows even small brands to punch well above their weight in social marketing. According to the study, “Small brands can outsmart bigger brands if they have a distinctive voice and strategically employ clever, crowd-pleasing personas to engage.”