Influencer marketing automation refers to the use of software or artificial intelligence (AI) to “automate” the manual work behind influencer selection, outreach, communication, campaign optimization, and eventually even the creative strategy behind sponsored influencer content.
The promise of influencer marketing automation is to not only make influencer marketing easier but to improve both the performance and scale of influencer promotions. However, influencer marketing has a unique set of challenges when it comes to being fully automated, as the method relies heavily on the human touch.
To better understand the implications of influencer marketing automation, we consider other applications of marketing automation.
Marketing automation involves the use of technology to “automate” various aspects of marketing, including workflows, email sends, social media posts, and programmatic advertising. Automation is what enables marketers to email thousands of people with personalized messages, set up auto-responders and lead nurture campaigns, and schedule social media posts in advance.
In order to “automate” a task, marketers input specific parameters, data points, or triggers, which enable the software to interpret and execute a marketing process automatically (without human judgment or action needed). In other words, the human element occurs when the marketer makes these decisions at scale to be later executed automatically without human supervision.
A Basic Marketing Automation Example
A simple example of marketing automation: when a user fills out a web form to subscribe to an email newsletter. Using a marketing automation platform, a marketer would set up a workflow that prescribes the following logic: if a user submits their email address in a form on the newsletter subscription landing page, then the weekly newsletter will be sent to that user’s email address each week.
When it comes to automation in advertising, data is used to improve click-through and conversions. In Google Ads, for example, marketers set a budget, target keywords, and several versions of ad copy. From there, Google optimizes the performance of the campaign by running a series of tests. The more data the algorithm gathers, the better it can serve the right ads, to the right person, at the right time.
The Rise And Fall Of Programmatic
This type of automation was incredibly successful in the ad tech industry starting around 2008. Automation runs through ad exchanges enabled advertisers to serve programmatic banner advertisements on a one-to-one level (meaning advertisers could set audience targets to individual users as opposed to groups of users). When it was done well, programmatic advertising fed data into complex algorithms to serve display advertisements at the right time, with the right product, to the right person. As the algorithms improved, marketers could scale up personalized advertisements at an incredible rate.
However, as more consumers installed ad blockers and grew weary of “creepy” banner ads, the programmatic industry struggled to remain afloat. In spite of the promise of automation, it turns out near-perfect personalization wasn’t exactly what consumers wanted.
The Challenges Of Influencer Marketing Automation
As with most marketing processes, marketers hope to automate some of the more time-consuming processes behind influencer marketing that bog down the execution, learnings, and optimization of entire influencer marketing strategies. While 80% of marketers find influencer marketing effective, it remains challenging to scale due to the very “human” nature of launching an influencer campaign.
Can you imagine letting an AI software program take control of your brand’s intricately designed influencer marketing campaign with full assurance that it will stand out in a crowded space without any hiccups? Marketers have a hard time letting go of ownership when it comes to influencer marketing because so many moving parts need to be addressed by human eyes.
Influencer marketing involves vetting hundreds or thousands of influencers, reaching out to them, setting up contracts, collaborating on a creative strategy, and in some cases, dealing with talent management. Compared to the “set it and forget it” nature of Google Ads, email nurture campaigns, and display advertising, launching a single sponsored post requires a ton of hands-on labor from both the sponsoring brand and the influencer.
Influencer Platforms Introduced To The Market
These challenges led to the rise of influencer marketing platforms, which rose to prominence around 2015 to streamline the process of influencer identification, outreach, communication, and payments.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the promise of platforms was to be “ad tech for influencer deals”—but many industry experts feared that this plug-and-play approach would lead to bad user experience and negative perceptions towards influencers and influencer marketing overall.
While it’s safe to say that platforms haven’t ruined influencer marketing, there is no question that paying for a one-off brand mention or random influencer shoutout is unlikely to bring as much success as a thoughtful, strategic partnership. Brands who invest in strong creative collaboration and sponsored content that connects spot-on with the influencer’s audience will almost always win outright compared to artificially devised campaigns.
AI simply lacks the strategic resources that humans have access to through years of experience and lessons learned. Influencer marketing’s inner workings have yet to be comprehensively unraveled by automation, so AI can only be used when the stakes aren’t high with contextual judgment. Mediakix ran an influencer experiment in which we secured brand sponsorships on an influencer marketing platform using a fake influencer, proving the real possibility of critical decisions being botched by automated software.
Already, users can quickly detect fake followers, inflated engagement, and inauthentic sponsorships that don’t align with the influencer’s true interests, so imagine how users would react when robotic influencer marketing campaigns simply miss the mark? Automated influencer activations will lead to poor user experiences and threaten the entire ethos of influencer marketing.
Overall, the significance of the human component doesn’t bode well for influencer marketing automation. Automating actions that are normally performed with human discretion can’t seamlessly be reassigned to AI. And if brands and marketers become too reliant on automation, they’ll inevitably grow out of touch with the root of influencer marketing—real human connections.
When brands launch influencer marketing campaigns, they can employ the help of influencer marketing platforms or influencer marketing agencies. Influencer marketing platforms are generally two-sided digital marketplaces where marketers can find influencers to collaborate with on an influencer campaign. Influencer marketing agencies offer managed services to help brands partner with influencers to execute influencer sponsorships. Between the two options, there are pros and cons that marketers should factor into their strategy.
On the one hand, platforms have seen tremendous growth in the era of automation. A flurry of influencer marketing platforms cropped up to provide ad tech for influencer deals, but this plug-and-play approach ran into issues (i.e. poor user experience, no quality assurance, surprisingly time intensive), unlike traditional advertising. As brands turned their attention to the shiny new automated software capabilities, human elements fell to the wayside.
The irony here is that influencer marketing is based upon the premise that influencers are successful because they’re real humans, with real connections to other humans. Platforms remove an important human portion of influencer marketing, sometimes resulting in campaigns falling short of user expectations.
That said, influencer marketing platforms aren’t completely inept. In fact, they often succeed in improving campaign efficiency so that marketers can dedicate more resources to the overall strategy. This suggests that platforms are best used in conjunction with relationship-based influencer marketing.
Agencies specialize in managing influencer marketing campaigns end-to-end from research to negotiation to communication to deployment to measurement and beyond. Due to their unique position within the influencer marketing industry as true experts, agencies offer more proficiency and sophistication that are unmatched by their platform counterparts.
As the influencer marketing industry landscape continues to evolve, agencies will also grow to support the needs and expectations of brands, influencers, and consumers. At their core, influencer marketing agencies will utilize human expertise to ensure campaigns are in line with their human audience, which inevitably takes more time. With high effort, marketers can expect high output.
Agency potential will increase over time with the caveat that the more time marketers spend performing tedious tasks, the less time they can dedicate to their larger influencer marketing strategy. By strictly relying on agency services, the human elements ring true while the ability to streamline time-consuming tasks falters.
Influencer marketing platforms also have the potential to grow with the industry, but it depends on platforms’ abilities to emulate and emphasize the human ingredients required for impactful influencer marketing campaigns: transparency and communication. With automation, performance is only as good as what you put into it. If it’s purely automated, the results may very well come across as such—humanless.
The burning question remains: will full-fledged influencer marketing automation prevail?
The answer is not absolute in either direction. Rather, it lies in implementing the right amount of influencer marketing automation without losing human insights—a happy medium, if you will.
To strike a balance that works for your brand’s purposes, it’s important to consider some of the challenges of influencer marketing and platform automation:
We surveyed marketing professionals to find out if they think influencer marketing can be automated. A whopping 96% answered that they don’t think influencer marketing can be fully automated, leaving a negligible 4% saying influencer marketing can be completely managed through automated platforms.
A separate survey shows that two-thirds of U.S. marketing professionals are comfortable with AI technology automating their campaigns compared to only 23% being comfortable with fully automated campaign execution at all stages.
While these answers aren’t the be-all and end-all, influencer marketing experts provide a solid stance within an industry that has undergone a constant transformation and will continue to reshape as technologies and strategies evolve. It’s safe to say that influencer marketing will remain human to its core.
Ultimately, marketers can launch a robust influencer marketing campaign by finding a healthy balance between efficient influencer marketing automation and strategic human judgment.
After all, influencer content succeeds because it rings true to their loyal audience. An influencer’s unique personality, voice, and style is what makes fans love them—how could something like that be captured solely by an algorithm or automated at scale?
Influencer marketing automation has its place in the marketing ecosystem, but it’s highly unlikely that any single brand will convert their influencer marketing strategy to be fully automated. Not to mention, influencers will likely never entirely embrace automation to the point that they set cruise control and let automated platforms execute what should be highly personalized and authentic campaigns.
The power of technology is real, no doubt, but in order to elicit a meaningful response from humans, human insights and decisions must form the backbone of an impactful influencer marketing strategy.