This is the age of information overload – content consumption is at its peak, and we are constantly bombarded by advertisers trying to monetize all available channels, be it Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or Google search.
With the advent of Web 2.0, content creation and publishing monopolies were broken, and anyone could become a content creator. Video distribution and blogging platforms truly transformed content distribution, negatively impacting the circulation of traditional print media and even online newspapers and magazines.
While advertisers benefited from this disruption initially (they had access to a larger number of publishers with varied audiences and competitive pricing), the information overload eventually impaired the effectiveness of advertising as audiences became selectively attentive and banner blindness became a phenomenon.
These challenges required the use of more creative ways to market and promote products and services, and one of the most successful methods has been influencer marketing.
Influencer Marketing – marketing via influencers
With the diminishing credibility of traditional advertising among consumers, making it seem increasingly costly and ineffective to marketers, brands are now seeking out high-profile web influencers who can effectively market products and have the power to shape their audiences’ purchase decisions.
What is an influencer
Influencer marketing is the evolution of celebrity endorsements – however, unlike celebrities, an influencer can be anyone, anywhere. An influencer is an individual who has the ability to impact the perceptions and buying behavior of their audience by promoting or endorsing a particular product/service. Influencers have a large and engaged following on web and social media, presenting a prime target audience for marketers, and have credibility/authority and a position/talent in a particular industry or niche.
With the rise in the popularity of web celebrities and influencers, advertisers (either disillusioned by cost-ineffective traditional advertising models or looking to try new channels) are tapping influencers for their marketing potential. In exchange, advertisers provide influencers the opportunity to monetize their content and efforts, making it a win-win situation for everyone.
Web 2.0 and the rise of the influencer
The internet did not always have platforms like Twitter and YouTube – these came with Web 2.0, which introduced support for dynamic applications (as opposed to static HTML pages) and consequently promoted mass content creation and distribution.
A natural consequence of this content disruption was the rise of influencers. Celebrities have traditionally been among the most influential personalities, thanks to the widespread popularity of their mediums (film and TV). However, Web 2.0 has resulted in the emergence of an entirely new breed of celebrities who have gone on to build massive fan followings.
A prime example of such an influencer is PewDiePie, whose original video content propelled him to global YouTube fame, netting him over 95 million subscribers in the process. Apart from his YouTube following, the influencer also boasts over 17 million followers on both Twitter and Instagram.
Similarly, Ninja (Richard Tyler Blevins) is a Twitch streamer who broadcasts his video game playthroughs and is popular for his Fornite gameplays. He has over 20 million YouTube subscribers, nearly 14 million Instagram followers, and a relatively modest 4.8 million-strong Twitter following.
Qualities of a successful influencer
A large social media following is only one prerequisite for an influencer. The social following gives him/her reach, but the influencer also needs to have ‘influence’ over followers to be able to shape their behavior (i.e. encourage them to consume, like and share more content, and in the future, possibly make purchase decisions).
Hence, according to Forbes, influencers need to bring a combination of three key factors to the table for maximum impact and commercial success: reach (the number of people they can reach with a particular message), contextual credibility (the authority they have in their industry/niche), and salesmanship (their power to effectively communicate and convince).
Today, there are influencers in nearly every major niche, from video games to health and fitness, fashion, food, beauty and more. As platforms like Instagram expand, and newer platforms such as Snapchat and Tik Tok emerge, the number of influencers also grows as they compete with each other for ‘likes’, ‘views’, ‘comments’, ‘shares’ and the number of subscribers.
Influencer marketing can work wonders for advertisers
Influencer marketing is a byproduct of the influence web celebrities have over their followers. For instance, Electronic Arts paid Twitch streamer Ninja to play a new video game called Apex Legends, simply because his audience is extremely receptive to his content. Having Ninja play the new game significantly boosted Apex Legends’ downloads, signups, and consequently, overall user base.
Similarly, Instagram influencers regularly promote makeup, fashion and cooking products via daily posts to millions of avid followers, shaping their buying preferences and purchase decisions. For example, a deal with teeth whitening product creators HiSmile saw media personality and makeup mogul Kylie Jenner putting up a promotional post on Instagram which received more than 1.6 million likes and 253,567 comments from among her 136 million followers.
The reason why advertisers are flocking to influencers is the fact that consumers are now dismissive of most obvious forms of advertising, and instead prefer to follow their friends, family and favorite celebrities for product and service recommendations. Research indicates that an increasing number of millennials are installing and using ad-blockers on their devices.
This shift is partly due to concerns about misleading advertising and lack of trust, and partly due to the subsequent channeling of that trust towards close relations and respected web celebrities, who vouch for brands or products.
Advantages of influencer marketing over traditional marketing
When compared with traditional marketing, influencer marketing offers several advantages. These include a more direct connection with your target audience (the influencer has already laid the groundwork for that), leveraging social proof (the influencer already has social credit), and the ability to work with flexible, small-starting budgets (most influencers are accommodating in terms of payouts and deals).
Another key advantage of influencer marketing is the ability to scale quickly – if a brand finds traction on social media via influencers, it can easily increase spending to either increase the volume of influencers promoting its products or reach out to a select few high-value influencers with massive followings.
In some cases, depending on an influencer’s reach, brands may even opt for direct collaborations, as is the case with makeup brand Morphe Cosmetics, which collaborated with YouTube beauty personality Jaclyn Hill. The resulting Morphe x Jaclyn Hill eyeshadow palette proved to be immensely popular, selling out multiple times before Morphe made it a permanent product, with more than a million palettes sold in 2017 alone.
Another example of a successful collaboration is that of sportswear brand Adidas with famous rapper Kanye West, which has resulted in an exclusive sneaker lineup called Adidas Yeezy. Yeezys have since risen to global fame and achieved record-breaking sales, all because of the influence West ultimately wields over his followers.
(Even though Kanye West is technically more of a celebrity than an influencer, the example shows that brands are looking to leverage social reach, image, and influence to sell products.)
The right influencer can propel a product to massive sales, and advertisers are beginning to truly appreciate the impact of influencer marketing.
According to a report by Business Insider, global influencer marketing ad spend is on track to reach $5-$10 billion in 2022. Statista, meanwhile, reports that the global market for influencer marketing on Instagram alone is “expected to grow from 1.3 billion U.S. dollars in 2018 to nearly twice that amount by 2020”, while “the number of brand sponsored influencer posts on the social platform is also expected to double, surpassing six billion in 2020”.
However, keep in mind that with influencer marketing, it’s all about honesty and authenticity. As a brand looking to leverage the power of influencers, you can either opt for sponsored advertising (paying an influencer to promote your product), or even better, create a meaningful relationship with a suitable influencer by marketing your product/service to them and providing them exclusive access to news, updates, and new products.
In this way, your chosen influencers can help you achieve your marketing goals organically, and also benefit from the information and value you provide to grow their own brand.
How to become an influencer
Most content creators today harbor the ultimate goal of becoming an influencer, particularly given how many web celebrities have made full-time careers out of marketing partnerships.
The simplest way to become an influencer is to build an organic following on a social medium such as YouTube or Instagram. Organic is the key word here, because numbers alone will not get you far. The success of an influencer is measured by his/her audience’s meaningful engagement and receptiveness, as well as the brand and reputation he/she manages to cultivate in a particular niche over time.
Naturally, becoming an influencer is a time-consuming pursuit, often requiring hundreds of hours of unpaid and consistent content creation and distribution on select social media channels to build a ‘following’ top brands may want to leverage. However, all top influencers share some common traits, such as their ability to perform an activity really well (be it gaming, cooking, singing/playing an instrument, or applying makeup, etc.), entertain, command respect for their authority/credibility, evoke emotion and ultimately, shape behavior.
How to choose an influencer
Partnering with the right influencer can work wonders for any brand; however, given the sheer number of web celebrities out there (which is growing every day), choosing one can be challenging.
A key consideration for selecting the right influencer is the compatibility between your brand and an influencer’s main content niche. For instance, if you are a footwear brand, you can’t opt for food and cooking niche influencers.
Moreover, you also need to consider an influencer’s audience and its composition, in relation to your brand’s target audience. If you sell makeup products for young women, for instance, a video gaming influencer (even a female one), may not be the best choice.
The platform an influencer uses is also important, because it often defines audience traits and interests. For instance, an Instagram influencer is likely to be able to promote visual products more effectively than a Facebook influencer (who may do better with services).
Finally, the quality of an influencer’s audience will also have a major impact on your campaign’s performance. Given how easy it is to buy followers, you should always vet an influencer and his/her usual content stream (and audience engagement) prior to selection.
Types of influencers
In addition to these key considerations, successful influencer marketing also requires a brand to have an understanding of the different types of influencers, in order to ensure an effective selection process. Different types of influences will yield different results. According to The Business of Fashion, influencers can be divided into 4 types, based on follower count and the marketing objectives a brand is aiming to achieve:
- Macro/Mainstream influencers: These are ‘mini celebrities’, with 500,000+ followers. The main digital marketing objective they fulfill is raising awareness about a brand and its product/service.
- Mid-tier influencers: These are influencers with 100,000 to 500,000 followers, and they are best suited to helping brands fulfill the objective of storytelling.
- Micro influencers: These are influencers with 10,000-100,000 followers, and they can help fulfill the objective of audience engagement.
- Nano influencers: These are influencers with 1,000-10,000 followers, and they are best for helping marketers achieve the objective of conversion.
Ethical considerations in influencer marketing
As an influencer, you naturally hold sway over your audience, but this great power comes with greater responsibility. Your influence is a direct result of your audience’s trust in you and your judgment – when you promote a product, they naturally associate the level of quality they have come to expect of you with the product you endorse.
This means you, as an influencer, have an ethical duty to take your audience’s best interests under consideration before promoting any product or service.
Similarly, if you are paid for an endorsement, it is only ethical to make that known to your audience, because there is a marked difference between an organic recommendation and a sponsored promotion.
Eventually, if you ignore such ethical considerations, your audience will begin to lose trust and ultimately your value as an influencer will also suffer and diminish.