Netflix’s recent Fyre Festival documentary is the first widely released examination of the huge power that social media influencers can have in brands’ public fate, either building them up or tearing them down, one post at a time.
Even if you haven’t seen Fyre, there’s no doubt you’ve noticed the growing swarm of social media influencers appearing across your smartphone feeds within the last few years. We live in an influencer society, where social media influencers have become the new celebrities of our age.
The rise of influencer marketing is the internet age’s version of celebrity endorsements. Today more than ever, it’s easier – even commonplace – for everyday people to become overnight idols simply by sharing filtered versions of their lives through the likes of Instagram and YouTube. And where there are captivated audiences, brands follow closely behind, looking for opportunities to reach specific these audiences by associating themselves with someone whose opinion they want to hear.
This article looks at the ways in which influencer marketing shapes the public’s perception of brands, with a focus on the key elements that brands should consider when choosing an influencer to work with.
Reach vs. engagement
When it comes to influencers, bigger is not necessarily better. A study by tapinfluence.com which looked at the engagement levels across influencer profiles from micro influencers (5-25k followers) to celebrities (+7m followers) found that as total reach grows, engagement rates decline.
Don’t be persuaded to go with whoever has the largest number of followers. Influencers who have a larger following are also more likely to promote products/brands on a more regular basis, which means the trust factor is somewhat lost as their followers are constantly flooded with sponsored content. This reduces authenticity, lowering the value of the content and brand message being served.
This is not to say that the use of macro influencers is ineffective; it simply suggests that when choosing the right fit for your brand, your primary focus should be on selecting an influencer whose values align with those of your brand, and whose online presence houses a loyal (not just large) user following.
Trust & authenticity
One of the reasons why influencer marketing works well is because there’s an already established trust factor for the target user. The user feels as though they’re being served content that they have chosen to view, which allows a bigger opportunity for the brand to target the right people in the moments that matter.
Many influencers not only post their perfectly curated content online, but also bring a casual approach to the table by sharing more private aspects of their everyday lives. This creates a sense of realness, where influencers are seen to be more relatable, and therefore the content being delivered feels more personalised and credible to the user.
Most successful online influencers focus their content around a specific niche or theme, through which they then attract a highly relevant audience following. As a brand, it’s important to do your research and ensure that you’re selecting an influencer with a truly authentic online presence.
This is how you’re going to be able to achieve the delivery of valuable vs. standardised content that gets lost in the depths of the great, big, online world. When doing your research, be conscious of engagement consistency across the influencer’s profile.
If an influencer has consistent engagement across their organic posts, as well as sponsored posts, then it’s fair to assume their followers have a stable sense of trust in the influencer’s opinion. Assess the likes, read the comments, and understand how the audience interacts.
Above anything else, an influencer’s image is the number one element that can shape the perception of a brand. Influencers can be authentic and have a loyal following, but this alone is not enough if their image doesn’t align with your brand image.
This may seem obvious, as we know aesthetic appeal is important for business. However, the extent to which this is relevant to influencer marketing is a whole new ball game. Social media influencers become successful, first and foremost, based on the visual appeal of their profile. Instagram is a photo-first platform, where people choose to interpret information visually rather than through written content.
Humans are visual creatures. Any photo we see online today is likely to have been edited with a filter. We’re hooked on filters and photo editing apps because whether we like to admit it or not, everyone is susceptible (to some degree) to attractiveness bias. This means that humans naturally link positive associations with those who are good looking, and in the influencer marketing world, these positive associations can be transferred over to brands.
This is why we see Kendall Jenner posing for Chanel and Britney Spears promoting Pepsi. Some businesses even go so far as to pay public figures to stay away from their brand to avoid a negative brand image – Abercrombie & Fitch paid off Jersey Shore reality star Michael Sorrentino to stop him from wearing their clothes. Looks matter – so look closely, and be selective.
Influencer marketing is a great way to raise brand awareness and drive conversions if used correctly. It’s critical to have a solid understanding of how to select an influencer who is the right fit for your brand, based on engagement, authenticity and image.
By knowing how these elements work together to shape the perception of your brand in the eyes of consumers, you’ll be well equipped to leverage influencers in your marketing campaigns well into the future.