An ad agency is trying to 'standardize the Wild West of social media' after a year of brand safety blow-ups

YouTubeFelix Kjellberg, better known as PewDiePie, is one of the world’s most popular YouTubers.
  • The ad-buying firm OMD has partnered with the data tech firm Influential to develop a way to grade social-media influencers.
  • The idea behind I-Score is to help prospective advertisers figure out which digital creators will best represent them – and not put them in a compromising position.
  • The partnership is the latest move by ad agencies looking to get out in front of the ongoing digital brand safety issue.

Advertisers now have a new way to screen social-media stars.

The ad-buying giant OMD has teamed up with the social-influencer tech startup Influential to develop I-Score, a measuring system designed to help marketers sift through the vast pool of digital creators.

The idea is to help marketers figure out what digital talent they should partner with and which might not be a fit.

I-Score is meant to serve as a digital equivalent to the Q Score, long used to gauge the likeability and popularity of Hollywood stars.

The I-Scores comes at a particular crucial time for marketers. After a series of embarrassing incidents this year, including multiple ads ending up next to objectionable videos, advertisers are scrutinizing every dollar they spend in digital media.

At the same time, advertisers increasingly find it hard to reach young consumers without using digital talent. Yet that can be a minefield as was shown earlier this year when several brands found themselves tied to videos produced by PewDiePie.

One of the world’s most popular YouTube stars, Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg was discovered making a series of Nazi-related jokes. Many YouTube stars regularly use rough language or humour that some marketers may not be so comfortable with.

Theoretically, using I-Score, OMD’s clients can reach out to influencers who avoid swear words, for example.

“A question we get a lot is, ‘Is this person not safe for work?'” said Kerry Perse, head of social media for OMD.

Beyond helping ensure brand safety, I-Score’s big selling point, according to Perse, is that it can help brands find influencers who are good at making content featuring advertisers’ messages that people also actually want to consume.

For example, a game-loving influencer may have devoted fans watching every clip of him breaking down the latest “Call of Duty” game. But that same creator may make a video on behalf of a paying advertiser like Pepsi, and it falls flat.

“Clients are always asking about which influencers to work with,” said Perse. The place they start is with influencers who have the biggest overall following, but that tells only part of the story.

“This score helps determine the quality of the influencer itself, so we can guide our clients,” said Perse. “They want to know, ‘Do people engage with sponsored stuff as much as organic posts?'”

Of course Influential is hardly the only company out there promising to help ad buyers sift through the vast world of digital talent who have built big followings on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and other places.

Some companies operate more like hands-on talent agencies, others more like tech-driven Yellow Pages, and others promise a level of automation to social-media advertising.

Many of these middlemen say they can score influencers using a compilation of data. And of course there’s no telling when a normally mild-mannered social influencer might decide to go rogue and produce a controversial post.

In this case, Influential doesn’t promise to be totally comprehensive in terms of covering the entire universe of digital creators. In fact, the influencers featured on the platform are there by invitation only, and the company doesn’t recommend individual influencers to marketers, said Ryan Detert, Influential’s CEO. The way they use the data is up to them.

To figure out which influencers are performing well, I-Score relies on publicly available social data (such as shares and YouTube views) and Influential’s proprietary machine-learning tool, which borrows some artificial-intelligence technology from IBM Watson.

“We try to standardize the Wild West of social media,” said Detert.

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