Op-Ed: How Technology Can Help Brands Navigate the New Rules of Authenticity in Influencer Marketing

July 2, 2021

This article originally appeared in MediaPost and is authored by our SVP of Sales & Marketing, Tina Scala.

“Authenticity” is one of the most painfully overused buzzwords in our industry. And unfortunately overuse often comes at the sacrifice of meaning and value. Despite this, authenticity has never been more significant to our jobs in marketing today, and more importantly, to our relationships – our relationships with one another, with brands and businesses, and with our own communities of influential people in our lives. Over the last year, we’ve all dealt with our own very personal experiences of the global pandemic, but what we likely share is a feeling of craving what’s “real” more than we ever have before. And we’re also a lot more critical in evaluating what doesn’t feel real, or what doesn’t seem to fit within our lives or values. 

This “awakening” in consumers couldn’t be more relevant to the conversation around influencer marketing, an industry that has seen an undeniable surge over the last 12 months –  68% of marketers plan to use influencer marketing for paid or unpaid campaigns this year, with this number expected to increase in 2022 to 72.5%. But as it has grown with such speed and force, influencer marketing’s ability to create meaningful, authentic relationships between brands, creators and influencers, and consumers has been challenged. From mismatched brand partnerships to the ever-more complex issue of fraud, there are a number of reasons that along the incredible growth path, doubts have also been cast.

In May, my colleague and Chief Technology Officer at Koalifyed, Charles Hu, joined in a conversation with longtime industry veteran and Chief Communications Officer of P&G Beauty, Grooming & Health, Kelly Vanasse, to honestly and openly address both the challenges and opportunities brands face in influencer marketing today. At the heart of the discussion was how influencers not only have the capacity to command mass attention, but they can drive real intention – meaning, a sustained relationship with a brand, brand advocacy, purchase loyalty, or whatever result a business deems most important.  

To drive intention, authenticity must be a focus. And, technology can serve a crucial role in helping brands understand and act on the new rules of authenticity that exist today.

Here’s how:

Winning the Battle Against Bots

As digital has rapidly accelerated through COVID-19, there’s been an unprecedented rise in the amount of bot activity on the internet and across social media. This has created major problems for marketers and influencers alike – in 2020, 68% of marketers reported that they had experienced influencer fraud according to Influencer Marketing Hub’s annual benchmark report.

Fraud is an area of vulnerability for even the most diligent influencer or brand – bots attach without influencers knowing – and it therefore undermines the principles of authenticity, transparency and trusting relationships that are vital to making the ecosystem work.

A year ago, there may have been technologies that could help monitor bot activity and begin to separate bots from real followers. But today, technology – and artificial intelligence, more specifically – can learn to identify even the most sophisticated human-like bot behavior by looking not just at one bot follower, but at their followers and their followers’ followers. This type of sophistication is needed in order for brands to truly understand the value of their marketing dollar when reaching audiences through influencers. And better yet, it can also help brands and influencers quantify how engaged different pockets of their real audiences are, which gives all stakeholders a better chance to make an authentic message land.

Putting Relationship Building at the Center:

Authenticity accounts for 92% of trust in a brand. In influencer marketing, authenticity starts in the relationship that gets built between brands and their creator and influencer partners. While influencer marketing still required a highly personal and human approach, technology can actually help make the most of the relationships – from working more collaboratively on campaigns, to sharing feedback in real-time, to transparently tracking campaign results.

This is a far better place to be than the archaic methods of sending documents back and forth, working in countless spreadsheets, or going through thousands of emails, because more time is spent on developing a meaningful relationship and true business partnership with a creator. When the relationships get put at the center, consumers can see and feel it – because it helps create AUTHETNIC content and stories that consumers want and can buy into.

Ensuring Transparency Goes Both Ways

As brands and marketers, it’s our job to forge meaningful relationships with creators and influencers, enabling them to represent their truest, most authentic selves to their audiences. Trusted partnerships develop when there is transparency in the relationship from the start.

Beyond bot detection, there are a lot of other areas of influencer marketing that keep brands and influencers up at night – contracts, proof of performance – and the word that makes us all cringe, compliance. However, compliance ultimately exists to make sure all stakeholders are aligned on the expectations of the relationship. And when work relies heavily on collaboration between people rather than automation or robots, it becomes even more important. Technology can help alleviate any compliance risks and ensure everyone has access to the information they need at any point of an influencer campaign.  

With the new capabilities of technology at our fingertips, we can deliver better brand experiences that follow the new rules of authenticity today. And we can continue to iterate and learn by combining the best technology has to offer with the best we as humans also have to offer.