In 2017, Google reported a +325% increase in searches for ‘influencer marketing.’ The snapshot below looks specifically at the growth in the United Kingdom for this phrase, demonstrating how 2017 has been a pivotal year for influencer marketing, likely owed to the steady expansion of social networks, with Instagram’s user growth increasing to 700 million from 600 million last year.
This figure from Google Trends suggests two things. Firstly, more people are interested in influencer marketing and its possibilities than ever before. Secondly, it reflects the current agency marketplace, with dubbed ‘influencer agencies’ - who are partly or wholly dedicated to influencer marketing - cropping up at a rapid rate (716,000 results returned for the phrase ‘influencer marketing agency’). This second point is underlined by Influencer Marketing Hub, who found this year that 230 new platforms and influencer-focused agencies have emerged across the last 24 months, rising from 190 in 2015 to 420 in 2017.
The increase is particularly visible in the Fashion and Beauty sector, where nearly 60% of all brands have an influencer marketing strategy in place; an additional 21% are planning to create one. Of those that are already undertaking some form of influencer marketing, a quarter dedicate between 30% and 75% of their total budget to it. Overall, budgets for influencer marketing increased for 59% of companies engaged with influencer marketing in 2016.
Where did it all begin?
Despite its recent growth spurt, the foundations of influencer marketing were laid way before the dawn of the internet. Whilst, in these times, it was typically fictional mascots or celebrities used to endorse a product - a world away from the micro-influencers we know today - the premise was still the same. A reliable and influential person would offer their name and face to an item to encourage and entice others to buy into it.
In the pre-internet days, an influencer was simply someone who could influence the opinion, tastes and habits of others. The earliest example of this dates to around 1890, a time where brands would create their own influencers; fictional personalities that embodied values and messages, but that the average consumer could relate to. Take ‘Aunt Jemima’, for example. Created by the Davis Milling Company, Aunt Jemima was brought to life by hiring a woman named Nancy Green who adopted the persona in order to sell pancake mix and maple syrup to the unsuspecting public.
At the start of the 20th century, celebrities were being used to endorse products. Sporting stars Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb were endorsing tobacco brands and, at the same time, Coca-Cola were beginning to monopolise the fictional icon of Santa Claus.
1900’s UNTIL EARLY 2000s
Even U.S presidents of the 80s started to become celebrity endorsements, with the likes of Ronald Reagan being used as the face for Chesterfields Cigarettes. Tiger Woods would be caught flashing his Rolex watch to the press whilst Britney Spears sipped on a can of Pepsi. During this time, the rule was simple: the bigger the celebrity, the bigger the influencer.
MID 2000S UNTIL PRESENT
In 2004, blogging became mainstream. Come 2006, social media had spawned: Twitter was founded, Facebook became open for all, LinkedIn hit 20 million members and YouTube was purchased by Google for $1.65billion. Consumers were given a voice and the potential to speak up on their thoughts and opinions.
Consequently, this birthed the internet’s own influencers, who gained mass followings due to their authenticity and relatability with average consumers. The appeal of buying into a celebrity’s lifestyle was coupled with the ability to relate to and feel empathy towards a self-grown online star who leads a ‘normal’ life.
Influencers vs. Celebrities
The difference between celebrities and influencers is officially undetermined, however general opinion and understanding follows this boundary:
- Influencers: carry weight in a particular subject, self-built using social channels, fame from the internet, credible.
- Celebrity: bring exposure, usually built up from traditional channels, famous for something other than social, not necessarily running their own social accounts, brands tend to partner for personality.
Celebrities and influencers both offer different things to brands. Influencers tend to provide:
- A more specific audience. The social accounts of influencers tend to focus on a specific niche, e.g. travel, makeup or fashion. Therefore, the following of that account, albeit smaller than that of a celebrity's, are more engaged in that particular field.
- A more credible promotion. Celebrity endorsements are largely losing credibility in the marketplace, with consumers twigging on that their favourite celebrity probably doesn’t purchase and use affordable products. Influencers are closer to “real people” that are relatable due to their self-start nature.
- A more creative endorsement. As influencers typically specialise in one area, they know the audience well; knowing already which type of content works the best in gaining traction.
An example of influencer ‘bellejorden’ (152k followers) who is a beauty & style blogger managed by The Blogger Agent. Belle largely posts about beauty products (being a makeup artist at MAC Cosmetics) and affordable fashion (Boohoo, Pretty Little Thing), meaning that this Coffee Scrub ad is relevant to her followers and the niche they’re interested in.
Although influencers have a smaller audience than celebrities (thousands rather than millions), their following is more specific and engaged, leading to a ‘quality over quantity’ debate.
To quote Seth Godin, people can ‘smell the agenda of a leader.’ This has never been more true when it comes to influencer marketing. To maintain fiercely loyal fans, you must love and believe in what you’re endorsing.
Types of Influencers
Firstly, influencers can exist on various channels. Typically, an influencer with a strong following is popular amongst all their social media profiles, however, they might have a strong reach on one specifically: YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter or Facebook.
In addition to these varying channels, influencers can also be categorised into these 4 (non-binding) groups:
- Micro-influencers (5K-50K followers): a smaller but more loyal audience, typically popular on one specific channel, such as Instagram. Find out more about them here.
- Mid-tier influencers (50K-100K followers): a slightly larger audience who are still engaged, typically focussing on one area such as travel or fashion.
- Top-tier influencers (100K+ followers): a step below a celebrity, someone who is popular amongst a variety of channels such as Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat.
- Celebrities (perceived more as brand ambassadors): traditionally famous for a mainstream career, expensive to work with but broadly followed across all channels.
You can attain the same or larger reach when spread across a handful of micro-influencers for a fraction of the cost, while adding a more diverse, yet targeted audience.
Influencers can move between these tiers. An example of someone who has gone through each stage is Zoella, a YouTube blogger turned novelist who now has television appearances, music collaborations and her own line of beauty products.
What isn't an influencer?
Someone’s influence becomes invalid if:
- Their followers are fake and bought
- They simply use hashtags (#fashion) to increase exposure, resulting in unengaged and meaningless interaction
- They do not make an attempt to interact or engage with fans.
Not all ‘influencers’ are influential, largely because:
An increasing issue in social media is the availability of purchasing fake followers. Many users, who wish to be paid to receive and endorse products, can easily buy hundreds of thousands of followers for a small price, making them appear on the surface as influencers.
With influencer marketing, it’s largely quality over quantity. If someone boasts 100,000 followers, but on average receives 500 likes and comments per post, that indicates that only a small number of users are actually engaged and interested in the content they post.
Successful influencers should predominantly focus on a niche market to increase thought leadership over their audience. The content published to their channels should be meaningful and reflect their specialist area - content that falls out of their every-day posts appears as a blatant advertisement and won’t resonate with the audience. Working with relevant brands (e.g. a beauty blogger publishing about new makeup tools) can make the content subtle enough to be believed by the audience and fit in with the influencer’s aesthetic.
LACK OF INTERACTION
Influencers who don’t respond or interact with their followers lose that opportunity to build trust and loyalty. People who simply push content but don’t ‘favourite’ or respond to people’s comments can appear sterile. Engagement with followers and fans encourages credibility and trust, thus increasing the effectiveness of this influencer.
OVERUSE OF BRAND MESSAGING
Whilst it’s important to push a brand you’re working with, too many clinical images and generic captions will compromise the reliability of the influencer. Audiences want to know what the person thought of a product; their own personal experiences, rather than a marketing spiel.
Influencer marketing is continuing to become more prominent in modern advertising methods. Being able to decipher a micro-influencer from a mid-tier influencers, or knowing which celebrities most effectively represent your product offering, can drastically improve the likelihood of your marketing success. Relevancy and authenticity is an integral part of speaking your customer’s language, so be sure to take the time to truly determine what personality your audience is more likely to buy into.
Have you successfully harnessed the power of influencer marketing in your company’s marketing? Do you have any questions or qualms about what it offers? Tweet us, @FastWebMedia, and let us know!