Influencer Marketing: how it works and how it has evolved

Our purchasing choices have always been influenced by the opinion of other people: in the past by word-of-mouth and by the advice of friends and acquaintances, today also by influencers. In a society where social networks are an integral part of our life, companies have rethought their communication and marketing strategies to promote their products and consolidate the brand.

The advent and spread of social media have radically changed the marketing strategies of brands and redefined the way in which they communicate, influence and involve their target audience. Our purchasing decisions have always been influenced by other people’s opinions. In addition to the advice of friends and acquaintances, today we are also influenced by some people of great popularity and reputation: the influencers. Influencer marketing is a marketing strategy that involves popular people on social platforms (bloggers, YouTubers, VIP…) who are paid by brands to promote and sponsor their products and services.

In recent years, companies have gained greater awareness of the power and potential of the web and, more and more often, are looking for innovative formats, relying on famous users with the aim of establishing a closer relationship with their potential customers. Thanks to their interactive nature, social media are the ideal tool to build this type of bond and to communicate a brand image that spreads consensus and trust towards the target audience.

Another reason that has made influencer marketing one of the most used and successful strategies is the time we spend on social networks: about 2 and a half hours a day.

For these reasons, experts say that influencer marketing is an innovative evolution of word-of-mouth as well as the best marketing strategy currently available.

Who are the influencers?

The term influencer is used to indicate users who are able to significantly influence the purchasing choices of other people through social networks, affecting the visibility of a brand or product. The influencer is a person who has, in real or virtual life, great popularity or is recognized as an authoritative and expert source on a certain topic. However, not all influencers are alike. Let’s see the main types:

Social broadcasters: celebrities with great popularity (artists, personalities from the world of entertainment and sport, …).

Their reputation, which has been built over the years outside the digital world, allows companies to reach a huge number of users even if this type of influencer often does not have the specific skills and knowledge to promote a particular product. For example, when Rihanna shared a selfie that portrays her listening to her new album Anti using a pair of golden headphones studded with Swarovski crystals by Dolce & Gabbana in January 2016, the $ 8,895 product sold out in just a few hours.

Mass influencer: users with a strong social presence and a large number of followers who are recognized as experts in a specific niche sector (lifestyle, fashion, tech, travel, beauty, etc.). Thanks to their competence on a certain topic or product, they are perceived as authoritative sources and are trusted by the community.

Potential influencers: medium and micro influencers fall into this category. Potential influencers have a strong influence on their community, although it is smaller than that of the above-mentioned categories. Their strength is to have been able to create a very solid relationship and to interact in a very direct and genuine way with the followers.

What are the advantages of influencer marketing?

Involvement

Most influencers have excellent communication and empathic abilities, which allow them to establish a strong relationship of trust with the public and stimulate human relationships. Let’s think about how many times an influencer has told certain episodes of his/her private life as if we were real acquaintances – if not friends. I did not choose randomly the words friends and acquaintances. As explained at the beginning of this article, before the advent of social media, our purchasing choices were largely influenced by the advice and opinions of those closest to us. This explains the ability of influencers to build authentic relationships and influence followers.

It is a non-invasive technique

Companies are realizing that investments in web advertising are more and more often not as fruitful as in the past. This is because new technologies that block pop-ups and advertisements are widespread and above all because none of us likes to be disturbed while reading an article or listening to our favourite playlist. Instead, we use social platforms mainly in our free time or when we want to relax for a few minutes. In that period of time, we are more predisposed to listening and seeing stories or posts that portray influencers while sponsoring a specific product.

Brand awareness

Among the objectives that can be achieved by implementing an influencer marketing strategy there is not only that of guiding user behaviour and their purchasing choices but also that of consolidating the brand identity, i.e. the way in which a company presents itself and its set of values. In addition, influencer marketing contributes to the improvement of the authoritativeness and credibility of a brand: partnerships with appropriately selected influencers allow to consolidate the presence of the company or reach new market segments.

Affordability

This new form of advertising is one of the least expensive marketing strategies. Unlike traditional advertising channels, companies have greater budget margins on the web: influencers with millions of followers certainly have very high costs, but a company can choose – based on its budget, needs and results it wants to achieve – to collaborate also with those who have a smaller number of followers.

Increasing website traffic

Attracting people to your website takes a lot of time and a targeted strategy. Furthermore, people who come to your website through organic searches are not always really interested in your products and services and after a few minutes (if not seconds) they will exit it. On the contrary, through influencers it is possible to generate more targeted and quality traffic because if users are really interested in what an influencer proposes through a sponsorship, they will visit the site to learn more or proceed with the purchase.

What are instead the disadvantages of influencer marketing?

Saturation

Social platforms are now saturated both in terms of content and influencers, and hit the big time for a brand on these platforms is difficult. By this, I do not mean that it is not worth trying this new business strategy but, starting from this knowledge, it is pivotal that companies pay attention to two factors:

The choice of the influencer

A brand must pay close attention to the choice of the influencer with which to build and plan an on-going and successful marketing strategy and with which to associate its product and image. This is because it’s not hard to find people who are willing to adopt controversial strategies, such as the purchase of followers or likes, in order to get a sponsorship deal.

If a company does not adequately study the choice of its “ambassador”, it could damage the image of its brand and products, rather than increasing sales.

Creative content

Since social platforms are increasingly saturated with content, brands and influencers must be able to create innovative content capable of catalysing the attention of users. Whether you are the one who suggests the content or whether it is created directly by the influencer, make sure to offer the audience the right amount of creativity.

In the picture below, you can see one of the most successful campaigns in terms of both reach and sales: the launching campaign of Samsung’s Note 7. The South Korean multinational has collaborated with CyreneQ, one of the most popular influencers on Snapchat, to highlight the potential and all the characteristics of the new smartphone through short artistic videos.

Lack of authenticity

When advertising a product, the influencer must not focus solely on achieving the final result of the campaign, i.e. the sale of that particular product. Crossing the line between naturalness and inauthenticity usually does not lead to good results: if a product is recommended in a spontaneous and reliable way, the promotion will be perceived as authentic and truthful. On the contrary, if it is presented too artificially, it will not be successful.

All that glitters is not gold

As previously written, the choice of an influencer is fundamental for the success of a marketing strategy. At the same time, the influencer must also choose whether to accept the work proposed by a brand because from that moment their images will inevitably be linked.

Therefore, to avoid incurring in problems that could ruin the reputation of both the brand and of the influencer, both parties should be able to count on mutual trust: on the one hand, the influencer must undertake to recommend a specific product in an authentic and natural way, not misleading users and therefore not putting the brand in a bad light. On the other, the company must also establish a clear and transparent communication with the person they have chosen as their spokesperson.

The Fyre Festival case

The now infamous Fyre Festival is an excellent example of the power that influencer marketing has in our society, but also of the consequences of a misleading (and in this specific case fraudulent) management of this powerful medium.

Organized by American entrepreneur Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule, Fyre Festival presented itself as the new and even more exclusive Coachella. It was supposed to be a musical event that should have been held over two weekends in spring 2017 on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma. Day tickets cost from $ 500 to $ 1,500; while VIP packages, which included airline tickets and luxury tent accommodations, were sold for $ 12,000.

The Festival had a huge appeal since the start of the media campaign thanks to the innovative marketing strategy developed by the communication agency Jerry Media. The promotion involved around 400 celebrities and some of the most famous influencers in the world – including supermodels Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski – who simultaneously published an orange card on Instagram accompanied by the hashtag #FyreFestival. The campaign obtained over 300 million views in 24 hours.

This campaign has been much more efficient than traditional advertising because on social networks there is a tendency to reduce the boundary between fiction and reality that we are aware of when we watch an advertisement on traditional media: in general, we tend to consider what influencers, and users in general, show on social networks as part of their real life.

If the post is not reported as promotional content through the hashtags #ad or #sponsored – violating the rules of advertising transparency established by the Federal Trade Commission – this boundary is further reduced, prompting users to trust even more what’s being posted.

In the case of the Fyre Festival, none of the idyllic promises made on social media – from tents to starry food – became reality: the festival proved to be a complete disaster, as well as a real scam, documented on social media by the same people who had purchased the tickets.

If on one hand the Fyre Festival influencer marketing campaign allows us to understand the sounding board that this strategy can generate in this historical moment in which social media are an integral part of our lives, on the other, it shows the dangers and the damages at the image level (and not only) that can derive from incorrect and misleading behaviours.

Kendall Jenner, who was paid $ 275,000 for the promotion of the festival at the time, had to pay $ 90,000 after being sued by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York. The accusation? Not having revealed to her followers that she was being paid to sponsor Fyre Festival, leading them to believe that at the festival “would be filled with famous models on an ‘exotic private island with first-class culinary experiences and a luxury atmosphere.’

Responsibility and correctness, pursued by both the brand and the influencer, must never be missing.

A new reality: influencer marketing post Covid-19

In recent months we have faced one of the most difficult historical periods, during which a large part of the population was forced to stay home because of the lockdown imposed by the global Coronavirus pandemic. This radical change in our routine has translated into a change in digital habits and therefore also in terms of use of social media. The influencer marketing sector was also affected.

According to Socialbakers, a global social media marketing company, Covid-19 has caused a reduction in corporate budgets to be allocated to #ad on social networks. Statistics show that in April 2020 the number of partnerships between influencers and companies has decreased by over 30% compared to April of the previous year. Although this decrease had already occurred since November 2019, the pandemic has further contributed to the decrease in influencer advertising campaigns.

Furthermore, there has been a radical change in terms of user interests and behaviours. Companies and influencers have found themselves responding to new needs in line with the particular moment that the world is experiencing. Here’s how users’ interests have changed over the past few months.

As you can see in the tables below, while posts related to insurance, recipes and health care have been very successful, those related to parties, events, fashion and holidays gathered fewer interest during the pandemic.

For the more curious…

Who are the influencers who received the highest effectiveness score?

In the first quarter of 2020, the main influencers who have collaborated with several companies on Instagram are saraxjoy, Christine Philippa | Self Love, and aka Léna Situations.

The majority of the most successful influencers were the so-called middle influencers, i.e. those who have a number of followers between 50k and 150k. In this historical moment, these people have been perceived by users as more relatable and closer to the real public than those who have a higher number of followers.

©socialbakers

What are the most mentioned brands?

Among the companies that have made most collaborations with influencers in recent months are iDeal Of Sweden (manufacturer of mobile covers), Walmart (retail company), Netflix US (streaming platform to watch TV series, films and documentaries) and Daniel Wellington (watch, accessory and jewelry brand).

©socialbakers

After analysing the logic of influence marketing and the difference between the various influencers, would you ever adopt this type of strategy, entrusting an influencer with the promotion of your brand? If so, would you choose a social broadcaster or mass influencer? Tell us your opinion in the comments 👇 and contact us to discover our digital communication services!

Published by

Ilaria

Since I was a child, my school career has been driven by a passion for what I wanted to do when I was grown up. So I graduated in modern languages and cultures at the University of Pavia and now I'm studying journalism and communication at the University of Bergamo. Today I do what I like most: I work in the technical publishing industry dedicating myself in particular to social media and digital marketing at Eos Mktg&Communication, the publishing house of the international ipcm® magazines. If I had to describe myself in three words according to my hobbies and interests, I would say: globetrotter, shopaholic and motorsport-addicted.

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