The search by brand marketers for consumer engagement has led to the continued growth and funding of the social media influencer that has made millionaires of some vloggers and online celebrities the world over.
However, as these seemingly normal people have grown their fame, demand by brands for their audiences has similarly grown and the rules and regulations around their ability to promote products became a problem for marketing regulators. And in that time some have developed that relationship to become the face and voice of individual brands they truly connect with. Examples are endless, from Cole LaBrant and Mackenzie Davis to Maia Mitchell, who have used different platforms and shared their own life skills and insights to develop personal fan bases. And as Facebook changes its newsfeed algorithm to drive more personalised content to the fore, over media content, those organic relationships will become more coveted by advertisers.
According to research by blog discovery website Bloglovin’ 32% of marketers saw influencer campaigns as being essential to their strategies, with 41% admitting to seeing more success from their influencer campaigns over their traditional advertising.
“Brands are learning,” states Peter Willems, head of marketing activities and sponsorship for world footballing body, Uefa, while speaking on a panel organized by FCB Inferno about influencers and his experience of working with them through the launch of a new project alongside freestyle soccer skills channel, F2.
“Brands are more and more trying to put the objective first. We believe in data but we struggle a little bit with specific target groups, especially youngsters, and therefore one of the objectives of working with F2 was to grow our database within that specific target group. We believe at the moment that influencers can help us there.” he continues to explain, adding that sharing the objective with the influencers who are involved in the collaboration is now crucial too.
Willems also cites the comparison over the share prices of Adidas and main rival Nike as examples of how powerful the use of influencers can be in delivering sales, with Adidas having spent years now working with online personalities to achieve global growth and product awareness.
"For me, the biggest problem has to be how you measure success, which is still in its infancy to show what it can bring and what it can do," Willems continues.
That problem around measuring return on investment is definitely to be an issue that brands entering this burgeoning sector face, agrees Laura Visick, head of social for FCB Inferno.
"There are soft and hard metrics that we can put in place such as reach and engagement which can be given to the influencers themselves to benchmark against their own content and to identify how things are resonating. One of the most important things is upfront identifying what the objective is and articulating what success looks like to ensure that everyone is on board.. there are a huge number of ways to work with influencers," she explains of the clearly maturing marketing strategy, where one celebrity tweet is not seen as success in itself.
"The ASOS model is a good one. They are building a group of influencers that are engaging with and advocating the brand all of the time, and there are a few campaigns that we are seeing coming through that the moment that are very similar. They are building a group of ambassadors who are engaging with the brand and creating a very authentic relationship rather than a 'one-hit-wonder'," she continues, adding that that course helps create more robust measurements.
Using tools to help monitor and achieve return on investment is an obvious route. Verena Papik, director of marketing EMEA of Musical.ly, says it is important for brands to understand why each tool is being used and used to meet specific set goals and objectives.
She also advises that brands and influencers set objectives that see both succeed together.
"When brands and influencers really collaborate together, and they include a tool like Musical.ly, it is to add value to each other. Everyone is getting lost in setting goals and achieving data numbers, numbers of posts; but in reality is actually about adding value to each other," she explains. "For a long term relationship you definitely have to understand what benefit the other party can actually bring to this partnership."
Influencer, Bangs Carey-Campbell, fitness editor at Elle Magazine and blogger, advises that brands recognise the importance of not just paying online celebrities to pose with one-off products but to agree an ongoing strategy and to really follow through on the partnership for the most successful collaborations. She also advises that influencers understand the brand's perspective rather than forcing their own ways of working fully, too.
"It's about finding that middle ground when creating content. Especially if you are being paid to do that. You do have to understand from a brand's perspective that they have a certain job description and certain markers that they have to achieve even if they are not 100% clear on them. It can be tough from the creative's point of view as you have a way that you like to produce your content, but that's why the brand got in touch with you. It can be tough to find that middle ground but as a creator, if that is the direction that you want to take your brand in, and you want to be more involved with other brands, you have got to be willing to meet in the middle somewhere. It's not compromising your material. It's finding a way to work together and find a way to be flexible," she relays but later offers a reminder to brands that they are working and partnering with individual people, and not to forget that and treat them as a soulless commodity.
There is a long way still to go for the brand and influencer model, and the bubble has far from burst judging by the growing numbers offering their services and audiences to brands, however another piece of advice that all contributors agreed with was that influencers were more successful if they offered authentic insights and had achieved success in the fields their audiences held interests in. Otherwise it was likely that such influence would be fleeting and of little long-term commercial value in tandem.
The views of each of the contributors came from a panel organised by FCB Inferno.