According to Adweek.com, influencer marketing is “the next big thing.” But, what is it, why is it happening, and how can your business benefit?
In influencer marketing, companies identify individuals who have influence over groups of people (potential buyers). These are individuals who are known and trusted, though not necessary “famous.” Companies develop relationships with the influencer in the hopes that they will use the product/service and in general present a positive image to their audience. This helps to create awareness, “buzz,” and sales of the product or service.
Forbes says it works and has reported on its “explosive growth.”
You might be thinking, “Oh, celebrity endorsements—Michael Jordan wearing Hanes underwear and drinking Gatorade, right?” Well, sort of.
The use of Jordan and other high-visibility personalities is a form of influencer marketing, but it falls more on the side of paid advertising. And these days, it’s not very favorable among consumers.
Is Paid Advertising Dead?
Traditional paid advertising is not dead … but to consumers, it’s as unwelcome as a dead cat at a wedding reception. Well, maybe not that unwelcome …
According to an April 2014 survey by YouGov.com, 50% of Americans who surveyed don’t trust paid advertisements at all.
This growing cynicism is due in part to the sheer amount of it that we are exposed to daily. It’s everywhere: On your TV, your radio, your smartphone, in your mail, and on your computer. There are video screens at the gas pump, fliers under your car’s windshield wiper and print ads on the walls in some establishments’ bathrooms.
More and more marketers and advertisers are trying to reach consumers. And consumers trust them less and less.
So, who do they trust?
People Believe Their Friends
According to an oft-cited Nielsen survey of 25,000 Internet consumers from 50 countries, people trust the opinions of their friends (90%) and “virtual strangers” (70%). So, when researching a purchase, they would be more influenced by customer reviews, such as what you find on Amazon and Yelp. Reviews, coupled with a friends’ ‘word of mouth’ about a product or service carries a lot more weight than what the company says about their own wares.
Word of mouth, which has been around for as long as there have been products and services for sale, is the basic mechanism of influencer marketing. Your best friend loved a certain movie? You’re more likely to watch it. Your neighbor bought a particular brand of grill and loves it? When you get ready to buy a grill, you will remember his enthusiasm for that brand and will search to buy the same one.
Influencer marketing seeks to capitalize on consumers’ belief in the credibility of word of mouth recommendation … and their inclination toward social media.
Social Media Has Changed Everything
Though e-commerce is alive and well on the Internet, the original intention of the Internet was never to advertise and sell stuff. It was a place for people—the military and then universities—to connect, share information and express opinions and ideas.
That is still what the Internet is about today. Social media works on those original Internet principles: people connecting, sharing information and expressing opinions and ideas.
Seventy-four percent of consumers rely on social media when researching a purchase, according to a survey by ODM Group.
So, brands have no choice but to reach consumers via social media. And since those consumers are tuning out paid advertising more and more, brands now market their products and services indirectly, via influencer marketing.
Who Are the Influencers?
Increasingly, many brands are trying to avoid anything that might be perceived as advertising. So, whereas they once used celebrities and popular bloggers to help build brand awareness and buzz, they now seek to create an organic word-of-mouth connection. To accomplish that, they search for people who have large followings on social media, or credible experts in that field.
In his book, The Tipping Point, journalist Malcolm Gladwell identifies a “maven” (his term for an influencer) as someone who has expertise in a particular subject or niche.
It is likely that many of today’s brand influencers are people you’ve never heard of:
- Nash Grier, 16, of Charlotte, North Carolina: He has 8.4 million followers on Vine, where he represents BMW and Home Depot.
- Zoe Sugg, 24, from the UK: She has 5.1 million YouTube followers and is an influencer for Maybelline, among others.
- Chris Ozer, 32, Brooklyn, NY: He’s got 550,000 followers on Instagram, where he’s a brand influencer for Johnnie Walker and others.
But, even with a large following and expertise, the public can sniff out a phony. So, for influencer marketing to work, it has to be honest and transparent—the product has to be appropriate to the influencer and the influencer has to actually like, want, and use the product.
How Do You Do It?
It’s not too difficult to launch an influencer marketing campaign, though it requires time and research. And, like the relationship between the influencer and their followers, the relationship between the company and the influencer also needs to be sincere and genuine.
- Set a realistic goal. Influencer marketing is generally used to increase the product/brand awareness and create buzz, rather than to increase sales.
- Look around on social media and find some potential influencers.
- Analyze their attitudes, messages, and any product or brand inclinations they display.
- Make contact via social media or other informal means. Choose influencers you like and admire and contact them on that basis, rather than pitching them on an endorsement. It’s got to be sincere, genuine, and organic.
Remember, as the company or brand, you are not seeking to appeal to the customer, but to the influencer. So keep in mind that they want to protect their relationship with their followers and maintain their own integrity. You not only have to like and admire them, but respect them as well.
A recent survey by Tomoson, a facilitator of company-influencer relationships, found that companies made $6.50 for every dollar they spent on influencer marketing—not too shabby. It’s already grown and will continue to.
So, influencer marketing is nothing new; it’s just a new spin on word-of-mouth for the social media age. Will advertisers using influencer marketing eventually cause consumers to distrust even word-of-mouth? Hopefully not.