Value added: The influencer marketing debate

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Whilst the word ‘influencer’ is nothing new, but as one look at our blog posts from the last year will prove to anyone, the connotations associated with the phrase have change dramatically.
According to a report published by Nielsen, consumer faith in advertising was at an all-time low back in January this year. For the public, the opinion of people they know was the most valid- 83% trusted this when it came to making purchasing decisions. This was followed by content on Branded Websites- 70%; and then Consumer Opinion Posted Online- 66%. In comparison, paid advertising of any form managed no higher than a 63% trust rating, bottoming out at 42% for online banner ads. The result has been a rise in influencer marketing, channeling the faith we have in those we think we know- celebrities, for example. But what if these are no longer the best option?

David vs Goliath

More recently, there has been a separation between ‘macro’ and ‘micro’ influencers. The former being household name stars, sports personalities, and high profile public figures that often have a huge reach to offer brands- pulling in fans and followers in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. The latter would be more likely to boast 10-90,000 on their Facebook, Instagram or Twitter accounts, sometimes even less. Yet some people argue these influencers may be the most useful.
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This is because micro influencers will usually cost far less money to work with, making them ideal for smaller brands. They also tend to be more specific- they work within an industry and are viewed as experts in a particular field. This also means their reach will be more targeted, and some evidence shows engagement is actually higher than with macro accounts. Instagram, for example, averages at 8% likes for images on profiles with fewer than 1,000 followers, double that of those pulling in between 1,000 and 10,000. Many see this as a result of the public, particularly millennials, viewing those with less followers as genuine peers rather than aspirational figures.
David-vs-Goliath

Misplaced trust

Earlier this month, we ran a story looking at the Fyre Festival debacle, whereby ticket holders to the luxury event were left stranded, and in some cases baggage-less, after organisers managed to get everything wrong and pulled the plug before the bath was even remotely full. Influencers- including several models- were used in marketing campaigns as the party drew closer in a bid to sell more tickets, with a class action law suite subsequently filed pertaining to this being false advertising.
Elsewhere, we have seen several YouTube stars fall foul of the Advertising Standards Agency for not admitting to receiving payment and freebies in return for coverage. By recommending products to their legions of followers that they don’t actually believe in, the risk is that all influencers, and the brands they associate with, will be seen as untrustworthy. The individuals are willing to do anything to earn a few bucks (or indeed a few thousand), the firms desperate to increase profits even if it means breaking the law.
[Tweet “Has #influencermarketing seen better days? @SmokingGun asks the questions…”]

Where from here?

It’s vitally important that lines are not blurred between commercials, opinions, and sponsored content. The hashtags #ad and #spon have been spawned as a way for influencers to clarify if something they say has been paid for by a company, and yet use of this is still very much dependent on the integrity of the individual. It’s a fine line, and one that sadly continues to be crossed.
Really it depends on the individual company, and the individual campaign. Luxury brands, for example, are beginning to embrace influencers like never before, and for several reasons. Almost 2/3s of luxe companies admit to running influencer-based campaigns, with 46% of those saying this has only been the case for the last year or so, and 28% using it for 24 months, or thereabouts.
This is uptake is for a number of reasons, the first of which revolves around the realisation that influencers who are not celebrities- so those with mid level social follower numbers, or micro influencers- offer authenticity. People see themselves in these individuals, and respond to what they share.
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Social media also makes luxury accessible to everyone, even those who may be put off from going into a luxury bricks and mortar store. When social media comes with ecommerce options this obviously offers a potential boost to ROI too. And, finally, content-led campaigns are now viewed by more than 71% of luxury firms as critical to a product launch. 74% also say influencers play a vital role, not least as they create some of that content, from an external social account- feeding back into the idea of authenticity.

Ultimately, brands need to consider several factors when it comes to deciding to engage with influencer marketing, we’ll leave you with the most important:

*How likely is the influencer to experience a reputational problem?
*How genuine and transparent is the campaign?
*What is the cost per eyeball for using the influencer, and does this really beat alternative options?
*How responsive are the brand’s customers to influencers, and which type of influencers will they respond to the most favourably?
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