As a blogger, and a curious woman, I also am a researcher on social media trends.
On my blog, I’ve worked with many brands both big and small, from Allbirds to Estee Lauder. In my day job, working in the finance industry as a policy advisor, research is the basis of what I do and make my assumptions on. With an audience of almost 20,000 social media and 286,000 on my blog, I like to think I have a good handle on what works and what doesn’t in the world of ‘influencer marketing’. I apply the same rigorous standards I would to my policy work when examining the variables in what makes something popular online, especially on Instagram.
Baring all this in mind, I want to respond to a recent survey MoneyHub undertook (as reported by The Spinoff) claiming to determine which influencers and celebrities in New Zealand were most influential and controversially least influential on Instagram. The Spinoff took this and then created a very crude and somewhat cruel ranking of 5 most and 5 least influential people.
Applying a more nuanced and experienced view of influencer marketing, in my opinion the survey is highly flawed and even harmful in that it drives negative perceptions and misconceptions about influencers, the industry and what these people should be ‘used for’. Yes, I will agree that disclosure of ads is lousy in New Zealand and the Advertising Standards Authority needs to take more affirmative action (also Taika, poor show not disclosing those Samsung ads!). However, many of the people in the report are entrepreneurial, creative talent. Yes, some are not. But to rank them reinforces the dumbing down of this new form of creative storytelling (at best) and digital salespeople (at worst).
Here’s the reasons you can’t base influence on Year 5 math alone:
(1) Lumping Everyone Together is Misrepresentative – Assumption: Every Influencer is the basically same – they just hold stuff up and tell you to buy it
While not stated, the MoneyHub survey starts with the assumption that content creators are effectively media buy space – if you have the money, you should buy the person who gives you the most ‘influence.’
Fact: Influence is about really about a creative connecting to their relevant specific audience and each audience is different. A good content creator knows how to connect and inspire their specific audience.
We all know it, don’t we? The word ‘influencer’ has always been a poor choice to cover the immensely complex phenomenon of those online personalities, enormous, big, small, tiny, and minuscule, who have an impact on the behaviour of their audience.
The difficulty is that New Zealand influencers are often lumped together in a way that doesn’t happen as much in the US and UK. Whether you’re on Shortland Street or writing a blog about quilting, everyone is lumped in one boring pile. That’s because the way of looking at content creators is frequently seen as being simply cheaper media buy space.
I challenge this concept because some of these creators are creating really interesting content, which is useful for their audience and have a niche. Their followers like them because the person is considered them an expert in what they do. It doesn’t take into account that an Instagram might not be someone’s whole shtick: Personally, my blogging is at the heart of what I do. Instagram is only a small part of my appeal to brands. Someone like Shaaanxo’s YouTube is her most vibrant platform. How does that make her in any way ‘the least’ influential influencer? If she continues to make content that appeals to her audience that shows them how to do a smokey eye, fantastic! Looking at someone as media-buy is reductive and fails to take into account their whole set of skills and talent.
This is not to say that’s some popular people are dialing in their content, creating stale imagery: They pose with a product, write a few lines underneath and you have to ask yourself what it says and what is it doing. Part of the problem is that in New Zealand we don’t have great role-modelling for interesting or good content. Hopefully we can change that as the industry matures.
I love looking to Kiwi Emily Writes from New Zealand who has a loyal following of mums who are inspired by her funny and honest blogs. Her collaborations make complete sense. She recently promoted a net-safe product for her family and it was a good match. With people such as this, you know what they stand for and who you’ll get, audience-wise, when you work with them. Her authenticity shines through. Brands should be wary of ‘influencers’ who say yes to absolutely everything: as they say, if you’re talking to everybody, you’re talking to nobody.
(2) The Methodology: Assumption – Likes divided by overall following shows influence, right?
MoneyHub’s mythology was recording the number of likes an influencer received on posts dated 1 August 2018 to 31 October 2018. It then contrasted this to said influencer’s total number of Instagram followers as of 10 November 2018 to give it a number indicating average engagement per post, or ‘like ratio’. “Currently, there are a range of metrics to measure Instagram traction,” says Christopher Walsh, MoneyHub senior researcher. “We believe that analysing the ‘likes’ received over three months for every post from an individual account is an accurate measure of social media power.
Fact – No like (or comment or follower) is alike - fraud is everywhere
This is grinds my gears. It is in no way accurate. Not even slightly.
The follower divided by engagement ratio alone has long been de-bunked as a very unreliable way to measure influence. Before you give me my tinfoil hat, let’s consider the variables.
The first it assumes that all of the likes and followers on Instagram are genuine. That makes sense if you’re a normal person who has no interest in making money from the platform, or getting freebies.
If you find yourself scratching your head, it might be time to check out www.socialblade.com where it is possible to see how many people followed a content creator during a certain week or month. While it is difficult to prove, spikes in follower numbers (such as losing ten followers a day over a week and then gaining 400 in a single day) indicate usually that foul play may have been involved.
Even if someone is no longer using these means, but has in the past, that doesn’t eliminate the ill-gotten gains they’ve received and spoils of their fraud. Buying likes, followers, and engagement is fraud. While I would never name names or make allegations, some of the names on the list of the MoneyHub survey caused me to raise an eyebrow.
I always tell people to ask themselves, what does that person actually do? What are they actually good at? If they can’t easily articulate this, they shouldn’t use that person for their supposed influence. For instance, David Farrier is wildly popular because he is hilarious and a very talented film maker. Easy.
And as an aside, MoneyHubs survey doesn’t take into account the ‘legal’ means through which you can increase likes or engagement on Instagram such as boosting a post monetarily. MoneyHub does not leave any margin for such variables using the assumptions all of the likes and engagement on Instagram is achieved in the same way – which is not an assumption that can be supported by evidence – making its conclusions rather unhelpful.
(3) People who have bad engagement rankings with their content on their feed are no longer relevant. Assumption – If you’re good, everyone sees what you do, and Instagram Stories don’t matter
Back in the good old days, people could grow quickly organically on Instagram, and it was in the platforms best interests to promote certain people so that others would join to see what they were doing. We used to see a lot more of our friends, and no ads at all. Things were pure and good. Engagement was always organic, so a like was a like. Simple.
MoneyHub used this as the basis of their survey. People who get more engagement are more interesting right? Well, this is true, but only up to a certain point…
Fact – It’s Instagram’s world: we just live in it.
MoneyHub act like the landscape has changed because of the influencers; but arguably it has more to do with Instagram changing as a platform, which can’t be measured or quantified. No one can control what is happening behind the scenes at Instagram, and those that claim to be able to manipulate or ‘game’ the algorithm are liars or trying to sell you illegal followers, bots or engagement.
Once everything you posted was seen by your followers. Today, only a certain proportion of your following sees what you do. 30,000 Instagram followers isn’t 30,000 eager eyeballs, ready to take in every inch of your latest picture.
Even once you strip away all the people who didn’t see your post due to the algorithm hiding it, the numbers you’re left with of those who did see it includes a huge degree of variation in audience attention levels. Seeing does not equal impact. If a tree falls in the woods, is posted on Instagram and there was no one there to see it on the feed…did it really fall? In addition, bigger influencers naturally get less engagement as they grow. This explains why Shaaanxo doesn’t reach all her 1.5 million followers, as reported in the survey.
In addition, MoneyHub only discussed Instagram feed posts: more people are watching Instagram Stories than scrolling on the feed in 2019. The survey didn’t even acknowledge Instagram Stories, which is a major area where creators are now connecting to their audiences these days, using features like direct link click throughs.
We are simply not living in 2014 anymore and marketeers working with online creatives need to understand that. I’ve said it once a and I’ll say it again: at this stage it has taken me 3 years of working my butt off with a full time job to establish my amazing audience: it would cost you thousands in Facebook ads, photographers, copywriters, strategists and stylists to do what I am doing commercially. Don’t try and think it’s easy.
My conclusion is that The MoneyHub survey did not adequately take into account the extensive impact the Instagram algorithm has had and how it has recently dramatically changed in promoting some content and hiding others content, which strongly affects engagement, or Instagram Stories as a rising tool of influence and storytelling.
To truly understand the phenomenon of influencers, we have to shift our focus away from seeing the numbers as a definitive measure of influence, towards seeing the numbers as merely a representation of the total size of a curve of influence, which includes Instagram Stories.
Relevance is key to influence
If a brand wants to work with a person who has a platform, the first question they should ask themselves is: ‘Does this content make sense in the context of who this person is and who their audience is likely to be?’ There is absolutely no point in promoting colouring in pencils through a famous Kiwi actor, even if he is highly influential, because his audience is not interested in art. That brand should go and through the immense and talented scene of Instagram artists (for instance, Kelly Thompson) who work in coloured pencils. By finding a person who has a relevant talent and can creatively tell a story about a product to an audience who cares about what they have to say, the brand will likely communicate effectively with a relevant market of potential customers. The MoneyHub survey entirely neglects looking at the different categories and shades of content creators that sit within the New Zealand influencer scene.
I always think of the example of an automobile company wanting to advertise via influencer marketing: they can choose between someone really big, like a celebrity or famous YouTuber or a smaller person with a following of 500 who runs a channel about vintage car restoration. A good brand manager will see that by using a smaller yet better aligned content creator, with authentic and relevant interest and an audience who consider them an expert will result in better results for everyone.
There are many content creators and they have different interest niches in New Zealand. Plenty got into it 3 to ten years ago, not for money (which didn’t exist back then) but for the creative online outlet, perhaps while working boring jobs, helping them stay sane by having a safe place to express who they really are online. They’ve staying up late at night, working multiple jobs and are constantly learning or reinvesting in their tools. The aim is to share their work. That is the heart of why some of these people got to have ‘X’ number of followers in the first place: their innate, un-mutable desire to create and connect.