NEWS

THE POWER OF INFLUENCERS

Last month, we welcomed leading experts together for a panel discussion about the future of influencer marketing. Our findings? Despite the noise, reports of the industry’s death are greatly exaggerated…

At the moment, the words ‘influencer marketing’ are some of the most contentious in the industry. Often dismissed, there’s also a lot of talk in the media that the practice is facing a ‘death’ – or, at least, a moment of crisis. I think they’re missing out on the true power of influencers, one that’s going nowhere anytime soon.

When it comes to defining what it all means, there doesn’t seem to be much of a consensus. Depending on who you ask, you’ll get completely different responses; there’s a sense that some see it as a new type of media or something attempting to take over magazines. But for others, it’s not replacing anything. It’s a more authentic channel for the traditional world of paid advertising.

In my experience, influencer marketing’s strength lies in having a real person and voice behind a campaign rather than just a brand. It’s almost like interacting with your online best friend – you can relate to them and their audience.

This is happening on an increasingly micro level as well: there’s a misconception that influencers need to have over 1,000,000 or 100,000 followers to work with brands, but there’s a trend towards those with 10,000 or even 5,000 followers as long as their audience is genuinely engaged. While it’s usually standard to get between 2-3% engagement, these creators can get up to a 10% engagement rate with their community.

Besides the obvious draw of this significant increase in engagement, I think this shift goes back to the idea of authenticity.

Influencers are now not just bloggers or YouTubers – they’re bone fide content creators who understand their format inside out. And to get the most out of your relationship with them, you need to get them involved in the creative process from the start. It’s not enough to pay for one post and leave it at that; there needs to be strategic thought behind it to make sure the messaging aligns.

This was a key concern for the influencers on our panel, who have often been told exactly what to say and what to post. What some brands don’t realise is that this approach is very prescriptive and, importantly, those pieces of content don’t do well. Audiences immediately know what’s up! When creators come up with a creative idea and post in an authentic way, it lands better. Creative freedom performs well as the promotion is far more natural. It can be scary for a brand to give up control, but there needs to be more trust.

THIS CAN COME TO LIFE IN DIFFERENT WAYS, TOO.

There are the common, tactical things like simple social posts, but you can also partner in a way that gets the influencer involved in the process. We saw this with Emma Willis and Next, where she was originally tasked with curating an edit but due to the campaign being such a success, she’s since been asked to work collaboratively with Next’s designers to create her own collection. I think this is something that brands forget sometimes – that their collaborators are creative experts in their own right! Many are professional photographers and produce high-level content that you’d otherwise pay huge amounts for. They should be used in all possible ways extending outside of the social space.

I see this as something that will continue to help develop the industry itself, too. People like to bash Instagram – and it’s true that it can be a negative as well as positive space. While the platform is looking at removing likes, there’s not enough data to say whether this will work or not. Still, it’s a great move to combat the social pressures related to social media and return to the format that drew everyone in the first place: posting what you love, not just to get 10,000 likes. This return to authenticity is key and will only strengthen the channel; hopefully there’ll be more freedom to post things that you love and know it will resonate with your audience.

There’s understandable nervousness from a brand perspective about this change. Will this affect investment ways of working? Realistically, it will affect the industry to an extent – as of course we are used to looking at metrics to help decide strategy – but it will likely result in us look harder at the content, which is what Instagram is really about. It’s a place for visual inspiration and building communities, done in a way that’s completely different to Twitter or Pinterest. It should be a positive place, so it’s great to see Instagram work with influencers to help build a better community.

It’s clear why they have such power in this space.

Look at Zoe de Pass, who created the campaign #DressLikeAMum; her Instagram community works to empower women and better their lives. Karl Loko, similarly, uses his platform to talk to younger audiences, advise communities, and show the real side of his life. In both cases, they share honest views and give advice – not chase likes and comments on posts.

We also only need to look at the numbers to see that brands aren’t stopping their investment any time soon.

65%
£10B

of brands are now planning on increasing their influencer marketing budget

is expected to be the industry worth by 2020

AND IT’S ONLY GROWING IN SCALE, WITH CAMPAIGNS INVOLVING TV ADS AND DIGITAL OOH. NEW AUDIENCES ARE BEING REACHED OUTSIDE OF SOCIAL MEDIA.

In the meantime, it’s worth acknowledging there has been a lot of other change, particularly with the legal side of things. It’s clear that the industry is being taken much more seriously and there are more rules than ever before – but this has also caused a fair bit of confusion. The key thing here to consider is what counts as a ‘paid for’ ad. If it’s gifted, paid for, or has any level of involvement or control from the brand, it’s an ad and must be flagged accordingly. At the same time, brands also need to really understand what the implications can be. The behaviour of their chosen partners can reflect on the brand itself in return and the media is not very forgiving.

This can be a bit scary. But we’re actually seeing these rules positively shape the relationship between brand and influencer – with partnerships shifting towards longer-term collaborations rather than on an ad hoc basis. This means that campaigns can have a more authentic messaging and, in turn, a deeper impact on audiences.

Furthermore, a piece of content that has ‘ad’ in it doesn’t actually reduce its quality or meaning. In fact, 55% of consumers say that disclosure doesn’t diminish credibility as long as the partnership is genuine. If anything, both parties should be proud to highlight their collaboration – it shouldn’t be hidden.

There’s understandable nervousness from a brand perspective about this change. Will this affect investment ways of working? Realistically, it will affect the industry to an extent – as of course we are used to looking at metrics to help decide strategy – but it will likely result in us look harder at the content, which is what Instagram is really about. It’s a place for visual inspiration and building communities, done in a way that’s completely different to Twitter or Pinterest. It should be a positive place, so it’s great to see Instagram work with influencers to help build a better community.

Got your interest? Tune in to the latest episode of our ENGINE Presents podcast to hear more about the power of influencer marketing from a brand perspective, as Gemma gets chatty with Next’s Social Media Manager, Ellie Wilcox.

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