The past year has seen a fairly significant shift in most brands and agencies’ approach to influencer marketing, with a firm move away from ‘finger-in-the-air’ creator selection - where creators are selected because they look the part - to one that’s more firmly informed by data on who a creator’s audience is and how well their content performs.
Don't get me wrong: the ‘finger-in-the-air’ approach still happens with alarming regularity and you can easily find a whole host of brand/creator collaborations that appear to have been chosen by tombola - but, in general, more and more folks in the industry appear to be opting for a data-led approach (or, at least, are paying very loud lip service to the idea).
It’s pleasing to see, especially for someone who has been banging on about data - and the lack of its analysis and application in the industry - since the early days (of about three years ago). However, as the race to gather together and use ever more data intensifies, the oh so crucial human element of this industry is being neglected and its importance overlooked.
Regardless of how far we’ve come, this industry is still insanely light on data (when compared to other branches of marketing); but, even so, no matter how much data we get our hands-on, it alone will never reveal the whole picture of who brands should be working with, why, and how.
Data should always be seen as the puzzle pieces that go into building a strategy for an influencer marketing campaign - and human insight is what is needed to piece those together, in the right pattern. This industry is - and will always be - a blend of science and art: what, who, and how people are influenced is not something that can be perfectly codified, as a lot of the relevant information doesn’t exist in a digital form (not to mention the fact that the industry, social media, and people are, of course, all every changing).
Selecting the right strategy for any influencer marketing campaign requires a blend of data and human insight, as the pieces of the puzzle are assessed, brought together, and often given a good dose of gut feeling to find the best fit. Defining what that blend should be will never really be possible, as the quantity and quality of both elements will differ by brand, by industry, by social network, and over time.
What definitely can be determined is that data will always be required and every effort should be made to gather as much as possible. However, data is the means, never the ends, for building a strategy; and an overreliance on data, at the expense of human insight, usually results in a poor creative and strategic approach to a campaign, that will succeed only by luck.
No matter how much data is pulled together, a solid amount of human insight will always be needed to scrutinise that data, ensure it’s a legitimate representation of the truth (or as close to it as possible), and determine its place in the puzzle.