Under the influence

17% of 11-16 year olds want to be a social media influencer when they grow up. While adults roll their eyes in response, at least a few of those grownups work in marketing and are merrily lobbing money at influencers like its going out of fashion.

Globally advertisers are expected to spend $8bn on influencers, up from $480m only 4 years ago. On the face of it, getting someone famous to endorse your brand is hardly a new tactic. If George III had a twitter account int he 1760’s he’d have been pushing Wedgewood & Son ceramics, but instead they used the royal crest to drive sales. Fast forward two centuries to the mid-nineteen eighties and Nike was benefiting from its association with Michael Jordan.

Food is the biggest single interest area on Instagram and according to YouGov research, 31% of UK shoppers actively use social media for recipes and product recommendations

Nowadays, although 78% of people think influencers are affected by brand payments, around 40% of Twitter users claim to have made a purchase as a direct result of an influencer. Brand tweets are thought to increase a user’s propensity to purchase by 2.7x – increasing to over 5x when a user is exposed to tweets from both brand and an influencer.
However “influencers” is a somewhat opaque field of marketing communications with its fair share of critics.
Concern about bot farms and fake accounts is widespread. For example, it’s rumoured that half the social media accounts following the 2019 Love Island ‘celebrities’ are fake. Dr Robert Cavazos (University of Baltimore) estimates that at least 15% of marketing money spent on influencer marketing is wasted.
At the first “Influencer Fraudnomics Summit” in New York a few weeks ago, there was recognition of the important role that influencers can play in a brand’s marketing mix alongside much discussion about how fraud can be reduced and credibility restored.

Casey DePalma McCartney is developing Unilever’s commitments to help eradicate fraudulent activity and increase transparency in influencer marketing

“The scale and scope of influencer marketing is growing apace and holds increasing importance in the marketing mix as a way for brands to reach consumers, given influencers’ deep and direct connections with their audiences. At the same time, bad practices or dishonest business models have the potential to erode trust in the whole ecosystem.” – Casey DePalma McCartney, Unilever

Brands are actively looking for ways to validate the follow-ships of influencers. For example, Haagen-Dazs, Superdry and Amazon are reported to be working with Like-Wise, a tool set up earlier this year to detect discrepancies in engagement. Using data from bot farms to build a database of profiles generating fake engagement, it cross-references these with hundred of thousands of influencers pages, flagging suspicious activity.
Although mega influencers like Kendall Jenner, The Rock, Selena Gomez and Christiano Ronaldo have in excess of 100m followers each, marketers are increasingly skeptical – not only about how many followers are real – but how engaged those audiences really are.

From mega to midsize influencers: Marta Pozzan, with around 400k followers on Instagram, has paid partnerships with Elle and Dior among others.

Another mid-sized example: Allie Lerner is a yoga enthusiast who promotes yoga clothing maker Spiritual Gangster
Increasing focus is being placed on using so-called “micro-influencers”. Operating with perhaps 5,000-20,000 followers, they typically have more engaged and interactive followings because their areas of interest are more specialist. In theory this helps brands reach more interested audiences (albeit in smaller pockets) and with more impact. To overcome the issue of reach, many brands are working with multiple micro-influencers at the same time. Whilst more effective at getting consumer engagement, managing a campaign across hundreds of influencers takes a lot of time and effort.

The yogurt brand FAGE Total worked with 10 influencers, paying them to make and post visual content for their Instagram accounts, also include recipes in their blogs.

McDonalds ran an in store event in the US called Bacon Hour, when customers could add bacon to anything on the menu. They paid food influencers to create and post fun bacon-based content and achieved an engagement engagement rate of nearly 6%.

The area of influencers is a rapidly evolving space that should offer brands great ways to reach and influence consumers in an increasingly fragmented media environment. However, it’s interesting to observe that some senior marketers that were once shouting about committing arbitrary percentages of spend to digital, are now much quieter. Some others are even publicly saying the investment pendulum has swung too far.

The whole area of social media influencers is still in relative infancy. For marketers in consumer packaged goods, especially those concerned about being too speculative with budgets, it might be an area to tread more cautiously – at least until there is more consensus about their efficacy and effectiveness.

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