Influencer marketing is often thrown around as a “hot term” in advertising, but not many people understand the benefits, limitations, and future of this type of campaign. Influencer marketing is the grey area between an official advertisement and a subtle product mention. You can think of it as the “cool” crowd in high school. You walk down the hall and see the “it” girl – who, in this case, would be Selena Gomez on Instagram. She is talking about her new Louis Vuitton bag (I know why would a high schooler have this, just go with it). Instantly, you feel a connection; you follow and feel close to them, you know what bag they use, and you want it too.
Influencer marketing is a new channel that allows brands to connect with consumers directly, organically, and at scale. Nevertheless, this type of advertising has brought up concerns about transparency with consumers, and at times, skirts Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines. Social influencers are this generation’s “rock stars”, but in the future, they might need to adapt more authenticity and play by new rules.
When was the last time you actually clicked on a banner advertisement? You can’t remember, can you? Ad-blockers, the ability to skip video ads, and cable-cutters are leaving brands in flux. Brands now turn to social influencers; a-list celebrities, all the way down to niche thought and lifestyle leaders to sell their story. As you scroll through your instagram feed, you already follow them. You may not realize that some of their posts are selling you something.
The most powerful aspect is that using influencers is essentially native advertising. It’s estimated the average person sees over 5,000 advertisements a day, most of which are ignored. With native advertising, products and brands are part of the organic content a consumer is viewing. This means a more pleasurable experience for consumers and increased sales for brands. A recent study found that purchase intent is 53 percent higher for native advertisements.
The other main benefit is the follower reach afforded to brands by these influencers. Obviously, A-list celebrities have astronomical follower numbers. Selena Gomez, the most followed person on Instagram, has over 120 million followers. The more important fact of influencers’ reach is not pure numbers but securing targeted exposure to get the right kinds of users; those who are already interested and will actually pay attention.
Influencer marketing is not always a peach coloured paradise, despite the filter you may be using. Sometimes you get the #nofilter version.
If you have already heard of the debacle that was the “Fyre Festival”, stay with me while I summarize. A group of 400 Instagram influencers, including the likes of Jenner’s and Hadid’s, hyped up a Coachella-esque music festival. The beach-glamping event charged thousands to attend but attendees arrived to dirt fields, soggy tents, and middle-school cafeteria food. This was an embarrassing example of when influencers go bad. Yes, the event organizers should take most of the blame, but these a-list influencers were able to generate excitement about an event they knew nothing about. Hopefully the incident makes influencers think twice about posting a ‘gram of the next glossy event they hope to cash in on.
A secondary concern is celebrities not adhering to FTC guidelines for advertising on social platforms. On Instagram specifically, sponsored posts must be captioned with words like “sponsored by…” or use hashtags like #ad and #sponsored. Yet, a recent report of the 50 most followed celebrities found that 93 percent of their posts promoting a brand were not compliant with FTC guidelines. Celebs attempt to wiggle around rules using vague statements like “Thanks…” or #partner which are not clear enough according to the FTC. There is also the issue between the blurred line of paid and personal. If you’re wearing Lululemon yoga pants in a photo, does this count as an ad? What if you visit and tag your favourite coffee shop… run of the mill post or a hat-tip towards the brand? This issue is compounded with the fact there is no punishment (unless a harshly worded letter counts?)
New Instagram Tools
Does the person you’re following really like unsweetened herbal tea, or are they being paid to say they like it? Instagram hopes to solve the conundrum through a new branded content tool. In order for its community to be open and consistent, users will now see a “paid partnership with” subheading on influencer’s posts that are sponsored. No more wonky #sponsors and #ad tags. The tool also offers info on post performance, but is part of a limited rollout.
Influencer Marketing in Action
Prior to Beyonce’s baby bump photo, the most liked photo on Instagram was a Selena Gomez Coke advertisement. Crazy, I know. Various agencies place the worth of a Gomez Instagram post around $550,000. For one post! She is not alone, as the Kardashian clan and other a-listers can also reportedly charge hundreds of thousands of dollars for a post. DJ Khaled, the proclaimed “King of Snapchat”, is now more known for his Snaps than his music!
Remember though, it’s not just the big brands that can incorporate this type of strategy. Not everyone can afford the likes of a Selena Gomez, or Kylie Jenner, and that’s alright. You may not get their million users, but Instagram influencers with fewer than 1,000 followers actually garner a greater like ratio (and cost less). A popular technique for influencer marketing is using lots of influencers to spread the word, rather than one a-lister. Most importantly, the trend of influencers is not limited to mainstream markets like fashion and entertainment. Influencers can be found in niches everywhere; from yoga to mindfulness to fishing.
One of the more comedic influencer campaigns I’ve seen is Jolly Rancher’s #keepsucking campaign. The campaign paid 50 college-age influencers to use this hashtag, focusing on the fact that life can, well, suck sometimes. I like that a company is willing to go with a “negative”, and edgy approach to a campaign (and as a bitter college student, I love the #FinalsSuck hashtag).
It is fascinating how social media has made us all consider, tweak, and fine tune our “personal brands”. More so, who would have thought five years ago, a teenager would have one million instagram followers, and would now be negotiating and calling the shots with a big brand. These influencers own our attention, but must make sure they remain authentic to the personal brand we became infatuated with in the first place. Play by the rules and be transparent. As we continue the shift from social media to social marketplaces, who knows how marketing will change next?