When it comes to influencers, I've a lot of time for those who have built up a large following over time as a result of their regular, creative and unique content. But I'm unlikely to press the follow button for reality TV stars that suddenly find themselves with hundreds of thousands of followers overnight, start calling themselves ‘social influencers’ and promote weight loss tea without declaring it as an ad.
Are the follower numbers genuine?
This focus on figures – from brands and the influencers themselves – became even more apparent when the bot scandal was uncovered last year when some Instagram users were found to have grown their account artificially by paying for followers, likes and comments.
Astronomical numbers that had brands falling over themselves to ensure their product was featured in pixels which could reach thousands if not millions of eyeballs turned out to be falsely inflated. As a result, the luxurious holidays, fancy days out and designer products were reaching fake followers. Perhaps this negative connotation, and the realisation that numbers aren't everything, is why brands are putting less influence on influencers this year.
According to this year’s Content Marketing Survey, while 38% of brands are currently using influencers in their content strategy, none see them as a main focus for 2018. Key influencer platforms Instagram and YouTube are also low down the priority list for brands when it comes to distributing content.
Recently, when I asked an assistant brand manager for his thoughts on influencers, he told me: “Agencies would argue that you can't put a price on awareness, but, for most businesses, we are judged on customers, not engagements on social media. As consumers become more savvy, they can see through influencer content and using #ad, the majority of followers are very aware of paid-for sponsored content. If you want measurable results, micro influencers seem to drive stronger results for a fraction of the price and they have followers that actually care about a specific topic. Save the money and start small.”
Micro influencers wielding more power?
Brands are realising that, while the number may be smaller, the audience for a micro influencer can often be far more engaged than those with bigger figures. They are part of a community and actually far more loyal. The interaction is two ways - and that pays.
Full-time blogger Vix Meldrew, who has more than 11k followers on Instagram herself, told me recently: “A few years ago, an influencer with 50k followers could post about their new favourite mascara and their followers would rush to get it. Now people are wisening up and seeing 15 influencers with 50k+ followers all recommending the same mascara and they can see that it's clearly part of a campaign.”
She added: “Consumers trust influencers that are open and honest about how they work with brands. If they can see that their favourite influencer is working with a brand that they love, have spoken about before and genuinely use themselves - they are more likely to want to buy from that brand too.
"However, if an influencer who has previously not mentioned a brand or has actively been anti-them, starts to work with that brand - they're duping their followers and their audience will eventually catch on.”
Working with a micro influencer is estimated to be almost seven times more effective than working with those that have a large following. So, perhaps it is time to discount the numbers and start considering the people behind them? Here are some tips to help you get started:
Work with the right influencers: Do your research and get to know individual influencers. It will be far more lucrative if you work with one that believes in your product and would promote it even if they weren't being paid to do so. If the fit is wrong from the start, you are setting yourself up to fail.
Create lasting relationships: Once you have found the right influencer, stick with them to create a meaningful relationship.
Remember, size isn't important: Micro influencers have a far more targeted following. This is clear from the ratio of likes and comments to followers. What is important is that they are engaging and interacting with their audience, not obsessing over numbers.
Give influencers freedom to be creative: If you dictate how the influencer promotes the product then it will feel forced and unnatural. Allow them to create the content that their followers want and expect from them. This is particular important if you are working with several on the same campaign, as you want each piece of content to be unique.
Be transparent: It is incredibly obvious when influencers are working with a brand so be transparent. People are annoyed when it is hidden, not when it isn't. This is all part of creating a lasting relationship and will help to build trust with their followers.
While influencers might not be the most important part of brands content strategies this year they still hold a lot of power on social platforms and won’t be going anywhere any time soon. Once marketers realise the power of micro influencers, there’s every reason to think we’ll see influencers become a bigger priority next year.
Ellie Roddy is a content editor at Zazzle Media