The question is – what is an influencer?
For the purposes of this discussion, we’re not talking a politician or business leader; it’s more about sports stars or TV celebrities, and their ‘influence’ on social media channels. Equally, it could be a blogger with a particular area of expertise who may be able to reach a specific target audience: an influencer is anyone who is able to influence decisions, particularly in relation to purchasing.
The rise of these influencers is a phenomenon supercharged by our collective interest in other people’s lives. It’s moved from print to online, and from Twitter and Facebook to the likes of Instagram and TikTok – and whatever app follows them.
Not surprisingly, influencers and their advisers have made the most of the commercial opportunities available, eager to associate their own brands with lucrative contracts. They want to make hay while the sun shines on their often short-lived public appeal.
It is easy to see one major marketing motivation for signing-up influencers. If 18-to-24-year-olds are your target, their daily online time rose from 4hrs 21mins in November 2019 to 5hrs 3mins in April 2020 – and if their products are offered online, and budgets permit, many organisations would consider paying for influencer endorsement.
The challenge is matching your brand with the right influencers – and the measurable audience they can bring. At the same time, it is crucial to ensure they operate within the national advertising guidelines by declaring their payment for the posting.
Not surprisingly, it doesn’t always go as well as expected.
The Government paid social media influencers – mainly reality TV stars – to promote the NHS Track and Trace system, with the intention of reaching a young audience.
The key message was that Covid-19 testing is “Free, quick and vital to stopping the spread” – and the Government paid Love Island stars to broadcast the message on their social channels.
From a positive perspective the initiative reached more than seven million people as part of a wider campaign using TV, radio, print and other channels.
Unfortunately, the recruited influencers then went completely off-message in their real lives. They posted images of themselves and friends not socially-distancing and acting in ways that were contrary to the clear advice of the wider Covid-19 campaign of: Stay alert, Control the virus, Save lives. All that time and effort – and investment – was quickly undermined.
As we all know, being a celebrity in the media spotlight is not always a positive experience and many fall spectacularly from grace. The challenge for marketers is selecting carefully and not having their brand tarnished when their chosen influencers fly too close to the Sun – or the Mirror or Daily Mail.
Rather than go for the high-profile celebrity influencer, many businesses prefer a more targeted approach to promote their specific business, whether it’s a hotel, restaurant or wedding venue, with many bloggers having a considerable online presence. But while a blogger may offer thousands of eyes, rather than millions for many high-level social media influencers, always ask yourself: what percentage of them are in the market for what I’m selling? If the blogger can’t reassure you, then don’t buy – caveat emptor.
The lesson is: if you’re going to recruit social media influencers to help tell your story you need to vet them intelligently. Can you measure their true impact against your own marketing objectives? Can you ensure their behaviour will be consistent during the campaign and beyond to avoid undermining your brand and investment?
If not, tread carefully. There are other ways to market your business.
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