An ‘influencer’ can be defined as someone with the power to influence another person to purchase a particular product or service, or think and act in a certain way. Usually armed with knowledge and expertise in one or more subject areas, the use of influencers is growing thanks to their authentic voices and huge potential for brands.
Before social media, influencer marketing came in the form of celebrity endorsements, and whilst we still see this type of marketing, it has evolved into partnerships with ordinary people who have simply found their niche and have embraced it.
Influencer marketing has grown exponentially in recent years, as such, stricter rules and regulations have been put in place to protect consumers. But how much growth have we seen?
We’ve come a long, long way.
Many influencers originally started out as bloggers back when blogging first became a ‘thing’ in 2009/2010. The function was exactly the same then as it is now - regular people were photographing themselves wearing the latest looks and shared it with their followers in the hope of getting likes and comments. Brands spotted this opportunity and began paying bloggers to wear their products and encourage their followers to purchase as a result.
Ten years on, it’s moved from only being longer-form content to shorter, snappier pieces of social content, tagged appropriately so that consumers can easily find and purchase products. Brands still work with influencers to create blog content that provides consumers with deeper detail, but the ‘quick wins’ come in the form of content that is simpler to produce.
Influencers are comfortably making a living from partnering with brands, and for the younger generation, it’s actually a career choice when thinking about the future. Many influencers have evolved from simply trying to sell stuff and are actually attempting to make a change in the world and champion issues that matter to them e.g. mental health and body positivity. This only adds to their influence because they show that they’re human and that they’ve got their own opinion on topical issues, rather than just mindlessly writing what brands tell them to.
But whilst influencers are generally considered authentic, trust issues are still hanging around with undisclosed ads still being posted and the use of fake followers/bots. In 2018, one in eight influencers admitted to buying fake followers in the UK. That’s one in eight too many for my liking. Fake followers are damaging. Buying them is dishonest. Influencers buy fake followers to boost their numbers and encourage brands to trust them and work with them. Oh, THE IRONY.
So with all of that in mind, what’s next?
The future’s bright.
Some people are still sceptical about influencers and whether or not they actually add value. The thing brands need to remember, is that for the most part, influencers are also the consumer – they are usually the target demographic and so, know how to market products in the way that would influence them to buy something. Too often brands can be blinded by their vision and force their views on an influencer rather than tapping into their knowledge to create an impactful piece of content.
Brands used to only want to work with influencers that had a heap of followers as they assumed they’d reach more people, therefore meaning a larger sales potential. As we’ve established, anyone can buy fake followers, so brands were often spending money marketing to robots. And not the intelligent kind, unfortunately.
Lesser known ‘micro-influencers’ (influencers with 2,000 – 50,000 followers) are becoming increasingly popular for brands to collaborate with as they have a targeted audience, meaning they are more likely to successfully drive sales. Nano influencers (influencers with less than 2,000 followers) are also on the rise given they charge less for collaborations and tend to drive higher engagement rates.
Although it is becoming rarer, there is still the opportunity for brands to secure earned coverage with influencers, where creative use of product gifting is used to generate coverage without payment. With no obligation on the influencer’s part to discuss the product, this tactic reinforces the authenticity that they are known for.
Looking to the future, we think brands will focus less on whoand more on how. Brands should be thinking about how they can use influencers as part of a strategic marketing approach. The partnership still needs to be the right fit of course, but in order for influencers to stay relevant within the industry, the content they produce should be less superficial and should focus on creating real connections and meaningful experiences with consumers.
Indie brands have successfully used influencers to grow their business with a ‘marketing first, product second’ attitude. Look at Gymshark for example. Refusing to sell from third-party retailers, they have retained cult status within the fitness wear sector thanks to a clever influencer strategy.
Their overall approach to marketing has been smart: use influencers to raise awareness of their brand and build a community of loyal followers by sharing images of real people and their bodies. There can be a tendency for consumers to feel that the influencer lifestyle is unrealistic so this approach gives consumers a more honest view of fitness and helps to take away the unattainable body image that fitness models often portray.
Influencers have the potential to reap big rewards for brands for a relatively low cost and have had a big impact on the marketing industry so far. We’ll be keeping a close eye on what’s next…
Fran Ward is the social media and content manager at Brass.