Social media users with a large number of followers are called “influencers”. The term derives from the inference that by virtue of their large following, these individuals have a considerable degree of clout to influence their followers’ buying decisions. Marketing through influencers has always been important for brands, though the channels used to leverage their influence have changed in recent years.
Definition: Influencer Marketing
Influencer marketing is any process that promotes or advertises a product, service, website, or brand by using the reach and mass appeal of influential individuals. This includes, but is not limited to marketing via sponsored content featured on the influencer’s social media profiles and their blogs, recommendations and reviews by the influencer, and promotions featuring the influencer talking favourably about the product or service.
Ads featuring influencers can be used across all forms of media, from TV to print, and streaming video to blogs. Most influencer-driven advertising involves payment in some way or the other to the influencer. Authors of popular blogs and Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and even LinkedIn users with thousands of followers will typically capitalise on their follower volumes via a combination of sponsored promotions and product placement in their posts.
Recommendations & Reviews
A mention from a trusted influencer can result in a boost in traffic and sales for the brand. Influencer marketing often involves brand owners sending free products, or invitations to access a service for free, with the hope that the recipients will share images or information about their experience using those products and services. Followers tend to trust these reviews as they expect them to be unbiased. Businesses, however, often pay a lot of money in addition to the freebies to get mentioned. The Advertising Standards Authority has clear guidelines on what is considered advertising by an influencer and what can pass as an organic mention.
Brands have taken to influencer marketing in recent years as a way to build awareness, especially among hard-to-reach audiences, youth, and young professionals. This has led to a number of up-and-coming influencers buying followers just to boost their apparent clout, thereby attracting more unwary advertisers and commanding higher fees. This has, in turn, led to increased wariness among brands, with some like Unilever declaring they will no longer work with any influencer who buys followers, and others like a boutique hotel in Dublin ridiculing influencers who demanded a free stay. And they’re not the only ones rethinking their strategy.
Advice for Brands
When considering an influencer marketing strategy, brands should spend a lot of time carefully vetting individuals. Questions to consider before paying or engaging with influencers should include:
- Does this individual reflect the brand’s values and ethics?
- Are followers actually engaging proportionately with all posts?
- Do people follow this influencer for the right reasons?
- Will being associated with this individual make customers trust your brand?
- How much will influencer marketing actually cost your business?
- Could that money be better spent elsewhere?