For a long time I’ve been wondering when Facebook would reach out and claim a slice of the huge and juicy influencer marketing money pie. With influencer marketing budgets growing at an astonishing rate year-on-year, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before the biggest social media platform in the world tried to take a cut.
Well, it looks like it might be happening right now.
The groundwork was laid in June, when Facebook announced its Business Partner feature. This allowed influencers to mark more obviously the fact that they were working with a brand. This seemed like a good way to help influencers stick to regulations from advertising authorities. That’s a very good thing; consumers need to be know when they’re watching paid-for opinion.
The functionality does still do that. But now it does something else, too.
The partner brand can boost the influencer’s content directly, without sharing the content on their own channel profile first.
This is an important change. Previously the only way to boost influencer content with paid support was for the brand’s own social media profile to share that post, and boost their own share (which loses the authenticity of the influencer’s post). Otherwise, the brand would have had to arrange for admin access to the influencer’s channel to activate paid spend (difficult, laborious and not always possible).
This technical development leads to two strategic changes.
Influencer marketing is about to get more expensive
At first glance, it seems like Facebook is simply making it easier for advertisers to run paid promotion for influencer marketing, but the worry from execs is that Facebook’s algorithm will gradually suppress influencer posts if brands don’t boost them.
We know that the organic reach of branded content on Facebook has declined precipitously in recent years, as a way of encouraging brands to spend money promoting their posts. It’s working; ad spend on Facebook is growing at a healthy rate and Facebook has recently seen some of its best profit reports ever.
The same could happen with influencer content. The regulators will (rightly) continue to insist that any paid influencer marketing content is labelled as such. On Instagram and Facebook, this should be done with the Business Partner feature. If I was Facebook, I’d gradually dial down the organic reach of any such tagged posts, and call on the partner brand to gain reach through paid spend.
Net effect? More of those marketing dollars end up with Facebook.
The final death of reach
I’ve long said that Reach shouldn’t be a primary criterion for selecting an influencer partner. This development is the final validation of that opinion. Since the mechanism for buying reach is now built directly into the platform, an influencer’s number of followers bears no relation to her audience reach. The partner brand can simply buy all the views they want or need, and they can do so in a targeted fashion.
Let’s say I’m a sportswear brand and I want to reach 35-50 year-old women. I used to have to find a sporty influencer with a big following in that demographic. No more. Now I can pick any user I want – even someone with just a couple of dozen followers – and boost their post as far as my paid budget will allow.
Where does this leave us?
Influencer selection and creative planning will be more critical than ever, to cut through.
Simply picking a social media star with a big following is now redundant. Instead, it will be more important than ever to do good discovery and casting work – to find an influencer who really works for your brand challenge, and to develop a creative approach with them that really brings the brand values to life.
A version of this article first appeared on LinkedIn