Blogging is hard.

I know there’s a lot of screaming recrimination out there at the moment about influencer marketing. It’s one of those channels that, like SEO, seems to be pronounced dead with more regularity than a teen urban fantasy protagonist, but just won’t go away. The pandemic has only exacerbated an existing challenge for influencers to drop the marketer’s mask and become more genuine lest their followers give up on them entirely and (gasp) go back to making their own decisions as consumers rather than relying on a local photoshop expert to do it for them.

…wow, that came out cynical, didn’t it?

The influencer marketing industry was estimated (as of last December, admittedly before all this COVID business) to be on track for a worth of $15 billion by 2022. In 2019 it was worth $8 billion, which is nothing to sneeze at, and hard not to cock an eyebrow about given the social sphere’s also-growing love of content like this emphasising the shenanigans that go on in the field, especially on Instagram. Of course mainstream celebs have been photoshopping and airbrushing since the terms were invented, but these are influencers, right, and their appeal is supposed to be that they’re real people like us?


An agency I worked for back in the day did influencer work before the term was really mainstream, back in the days when it was something agencies did to gain offsite equity for SEO clients. Send a blogger some free chocolate and they’ll write up cool recipes as well as giving you a juicy backlink to your chocolate-selling client’s URL of choice. Then the bloggers got the idea of also sharing their cool reviews and recipes or what-have-you with their social following, and then some people started doing the social sharing without the blog part, and…well, here we are, with something like 79% of brands engaging influencers primarily on Instagram. The days of the blogger-influencer would seem to be on the wane.

Of course a lot of this can be tracked down to Google’s clampdown on gifts-for-links all the way back in 2016, not to mention the new disclosure policies (eventually) issued by regulating bodies such as the ASA, which have since been expanded and clarified to include the full range of “social influencers” as well as those working with brand partners on blogs and vlogs, and then the big G introduced rel=sponsored to shake things up all over again.

So do I still advocate working with bloggers if you’re a consumer brand? Why, hell yes I do! So do I still advocate working with bloggers if you’re a consumer brand? Why, hell yes I do! There are still loads of great, active bloggers out there with fantastically engaged audiences, and tons of benefits that having a good content placement with them can still offer in 2020, not least:

  • Brand awareness growth (people hearing of your brand and going to look for it)
  • Potential direct acquisition (blog-specific offer codes are a good way of tracking this; if your margins or LTV concerns make discounting non-viable, try a free gift type offer instead)
  • Social reach: not only will some bloggers throw in shares on their social channels if you’re doing a campaign with them, but they (and their followers) will often re-share blog content over longer time periods
  • SERP occupation for brand footprint: despite what Trustpilot might tell you, it is still very possible to establish “[brand] review” presence through bloggers and vloggers (unboxing reviews on YouTube are still huge and show no sign of going away any time soon) which can help in the long-term winning of customers and advocates
  • Knock-on SEO-type benefits from the whole brand weighting thing along with co-occurrence, a phenomenon being explored semi-mainstream as far back as 2013 (and don’t @ me about blue-sky SEO approaches because I’ve seen this work in the real world and it is honestly really cool)

That’s a pretty nice shopping list of benefits, but what about non-blogger influencers? Must admit I’ve always been more sceptical of this; Instagram posts in particular tend to fly by and get lost in the social churn very rapidly, essentially removing a lot of the longer-term brand and SEO impacts that I’ve previously considered the bread-and-butter benefits. So when it came time to run an influencer trial for a lovely D2C subscription startup brand I’ve been working with, I suggested leaning into a split of on-blog/vlog content vs Instagrammers, podcasters and the like.

Now I won’t for a moment take one iota of credit for the success of the campaign as a whole; I was involved purely in an advisory and analysis capacity while all the ideation, creative and outreach was done by the fantastic in-house team. What I will say is that I’ve never been more gobsmackingly delighted to have my views on non-permanent placement outreach proven wrong.

The problem in a way had been my own outdated thinking; other than the more nebulous idea of long-term brand growth benefits it had never before occurred to me to look at organic growth trajectory as a semi-immediate side effect. I had been trapped in something almost akin to last-click thinking, trying to measure immediate benefits while sort of resigning myself to the non-measurability of longer term impacts until many months after the campaign was done. That’s life in organic, innit?

This time, however, I was keen to find something more robust, so after doing a bit of research and taking inspiration from some old paid media case studies, of all things, I taught myself how to do regression analysis so that I could essentially forecast the organic traffic growth of the brand on its pre-campaign trajectory and then compare it to the actual figures. Being able to see into a (modelled) alternate universe of “what if we hadn’t done this” was astonishingly revelatory and really knocked the socks off the idea that social influencers can’t move the needle meaningfully. Here are some of the stand-out stats based on the uplifts from the modelled data:

  • 56% improvement in brand impressions as a result of the campaign
  • 17% improvement in organic sessions
  • Organic CVR jumped by 64%; not only were more people visiting the site, but they were much more bought into the brand and much keener to sign up
  • Instagram drove last click transactions for the first time, because the influencers chosen by the internal team were so well-suited that just putting the brand in front of their audiences resulted in immediate conversions
  • Blended CPA for the campaign including engagement fees ended up being around 30% lower than the overall blended CPA for the site at the time

We also saw some incidental visibility uplifts as a result of the blogger placements we got (aha!) and the general brand boost. Although the effects of the campaign wore off about two weeks after the last post went live and traffic settled back onto previous trajectory (still positive, I might add, just not as positive!) because consumers have short memories, seeing this kind of dual data reality was an absolute revelation for me. It also shut me the heck up about Instagram not adding any immediately measurable value, which pleased the internal marketing manager immensely!

So what can we take away from this?

  • Every brand and audience is different; testing budgets for growth teams are a must and don’t be afraid to go outside your perceived comfort zone because if you never do you could miss out on marketing gold
  • Don’t write off any channels through “last click” thinking, but do be sure to have some kind of methodology in place to ensure that you can get a good idea of impact
  • Audience engagement is far superior to following; the brand tried a mixture of “scales” and actually the least valuable (including in terms of useful brand uplift!) to them was the person with the most followers
  • Personalised outreach is always a winner; the best value influencers from the campaign so loved the relationship they had with the brand that they reshared content multiple times beyond contract and want to do more in the future too, further proving the old adage that all the best marketing is fundamentally H2H (“human to human”)!

Bloggers (and vloggers) still have a role to play and their content’s much longer shelf life still offers additional benefits even over the significant uplifts you can infer using this kind of analysis for short-lived channels like Instagram, but for me this campaign really shattered my perceptions of the real value of purely social content.

It’s also the first thing I’ve been able to find the time (or words) to blog about since November last year, because one of the real suckers of running a consultancy is finding time to market yourself when you’re having too much fun doing the juicy stuff for your clients.

That’s why I still say that blogging is hard, especially if you’re doing it for a living. But, thankfully, with a half-decent bit of data analysis on board, these days measuring the impact of influencer marketing on your brand’s growth doesn’t need to be such a headache. If you’re interested in finding out more about how to do it, give me a shout.