‘The barrier to entry is zero’: Confessions of a social marketing exec on the crowded influencer marketing market

This article is part of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor to get an unvarnished look at the people, processes and problems inside the industry. More from the series →

The influencer marketing landscape increasingly looks like the ad network landscape circa 2012 when countless companies claimed to sell ads across a lot of the same sites. In the latest in our Confessions series, where we grant anonymity for honesty, an executive at a social marketing company that sells influencer marketing to advertisers said that influencer networks, ad agencies and talent management firms often claim to represent the same talent, which can hurt the influencers’ reputation with advertisers. This conversation has been edited and condensed.

What’s a big challenge you face in influencer marketing?
The influencer marketing business as a whole is challenged. The barrier to entry is zero. Everybody who’s ever held a camera and knows an influencer thinks they can be in this business. Granted, there are different ways people are approaching it. But we all are approaching the market oftentimes with the same pitch, the same talent, the same data. It’s a race to the bottom.

Are there ways to put up walls so five different companies can’t all be offering the exact same talent?
There will be litigation, I assume, when people have some form of exclusivity. The deals probably aren’t big enough yet.

Are the brand-safety issues that flared up with creators on YouTube last year factoring into any of this?
It’s moved more stuff to Instagram, which feels like it’s easier to execute because it’s a lot of pictures, even though there’s videos. Pictures seem controllable. At Cannes, there was a huge discussion about YouTube content creators being pains in the ass.

What were the specific complaints?
There’s a lot of unprofessionalism. Here’s what happens: A creator has a thousand people selling you. Some only care about their data tool. Some are agencies and really don’t give a fuck about you; they care about the next assignment from “insert brand name.” But you let them all act equally as your proxy in the market and end up with two fundamental problems. Your pricing is ridiculous; on one deck, you’re at $100,000, on another deck, you’re at $20,000. And you have third parties talking on your behalf that may not have the skills or the relationships to navigate any of it.

Why doesn’t that translate to Instagram?
Part of it is the way Instagram is sold. Either you really overpay for a Kardashian or insert top-tier talent, which is a bespoke transaction with lots of representation and tends to be less muddy. Or it’s anyone under 500,000 [followers]; just stick them on a list, and they don’t really matter at the end of the day. It’s content by the ton.

It’s that binary?
I think actually the mid-tier — we do a lot of analysis for beauty brands that are buying heavily across YouTube and Instagram. We’re seeing the efficiency on both platforms in that mid-tier, 250,000 to 1 million, only because so many people have invaded the micro-influencer market.

So the industry’s arriving at a Goldilocks balance of people with 250,000 to 1 million followers?
For today. Nothing is static.

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