Why influencers will make you question everything

Updated: Jan 18

In this weeks article, we’ll be discussing influencers. It’s been a hot topic of late. Whether it be their crazy antics, diva demands or in-group feuding, influencers have an impact on the choices that consumers make. We’ll discuss who they are, how they use their influence, how to develop a strategy that will optimise your business’s involvement with them and some pitfalls you may want to consider. To find out more, just keep reading.

Who are they and what do they actually do?

Influencers are in the media pretty regularly and not always for good reasons. Whether it be feuds with each other, ill-advised stunts or vlogs or discriminatory content they often get attention and publicity. But who are they and what do they actually do? Influencers are “independent third party endorsers who shape audience attitudes through blogs, tweets, and the use of other social media” (Freberg, Graham, McGaughey & Freberg, 2011, p. 90). Many startups and brands will attest to the facts that “working with influencers and bloggers is core to building credibility with their target audience” (Sliwinski,2016,p.8).

How do they influence

The influence they wield is through identification influence. That is to say that consumers want to be “associated with and be like the [influencer]; the [consumer] would want to purchase the exact same brand as the [influencer], and not just any brand in that same category” (Shalev & Morwitz, 2012, p. 970). This influence is based on the audience reach they have (i.e. the potential number of individuals that will be exposed to the influencers posts), the affinity the influencer has to the brand they are promoting and the strength of the relationship between the influencer and their audience (Ďuračková cited in Kádeková & Holienčinová, 2018, p. 96).

Types of Influencer

According to Kádeková & Holienčinová (2018, p. 92), there are four types of influencer: the blogger, vlogger, celebrity and Instagrammer.

1. Blogger – they have either developed their own website or are the owner of a website where they share their thoughts on a variety of topics. They do this by posting content e.g. photos, videos or articles that they’ve created themselves. This content is most often displayed chronologically and will be tagged so that users can search for specific content chronologically or alphabetically. Once published this content will often get reposted on their social media profiles (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc) (Kádeková & Holienčinová, 2018, p. 92)

2. YouTuber (vlogger) – they have a channel on YouTube where they share their thoughts and opinions on diverse subjects. They often interact with their audience via the community tab of their channels and might engage their audience by posting polls or asking questions to generate content ideas in order to better engage their audience. The most popular channels often revolve around beauty, drama, gaming or music. (Kádeková & Holienčinová, 2018, p. 92)

3. Celebrity – these are often actors, singers, models, athletes, but also could be a reality tv star or someone with an unusual talent. They are well known but could just as easily be someone who hasn’t actually achieved much of worth/merit! They may have thousands or millions of followers who love to hear about their accomplishments, exploits, crazy antics or On Facebook, Instagram or YouTube, these celebrities have a number of followers to share their ‘truths’. (Kádeková & Holienčinová, 2018, p. 92)

4. Instagrammer – these are individuals who through their compelling and consistent visual content obtain a lot of support. They may post photos or stories (i.e. short videos) with a specific them or aesthetic that appeals to their audience and will often use relevant hashtags to attract more followers to their account. (Kádeková & Holienčinová, 2018, p. 92)

Categories of Influencers

Influencers can be further classified by the size of the audience they have. Depending on the size of the audience they have they may be considered, nano, micro, mid-tier or macro-influencers.

  1. Nano Influencers – 1K to 5K followers

  2. Micro-Influencers – 5K to 20K followers

  3. Mid-tier Influencers – 20K to 100K followers

  4. Macro Influencers – 100K to 1M followers

An influencer may be in a different category depending on the specific social media platform. For example, be a micro-influencer on Pinterest but not qualify as a nano influencer on Instagram or vice versa. Their overall reach may be larger or smaller then what it may appear at first glance. Also, to consider is the fact that not all followers are genuine followers. But more on that later.

Strategy and Optimisation

Before you start looking for influencers to work with you first have to decide the process you will go through in order to achieve success. Key to this will be strategy and optimisation. Without this, you risk having a “paint splatter” approach to your influencer marketing that may end up being expensive and ineffective.

Social media measurement process

The five-step process of social media measurement that is suggested is as follows:

  1. Concept – Ask yourself what you are trying to achieve? How will you know when you are successful?

  2. Definition – What is your strategy for achieving your goals? How will you achieve the best results?

  3. Design – What tactics are you going to use? How ill you be able to measure your results?

  4. Deployment – Think about how will you implement and accurately measure your performance.

  5. Optimisation – Think about the context of the content (i.e. what are you trying to say), objectives of posting the content (i.e. on budget, effective, etc), aim of communicating (i.e. develop your business’s reputation or visibility), the actual content produced (i.e. is it consistent, does it inform or educate, etc), resources required (i.e. whether it be budget or dedicated staff to work on influencer marketing), the planning and creation of content (i.e. regular or irregular basis), and finally monitoring (i.e. reach, engagement, visitors, leads, sales, etc).

Figure 2 Social media measurement process (Killekar, Shah & Kolge, 2012,p. 36)

Strategy: Optimizing influencer outreach

So, let’s delve deeper into one of these, strategy. To ensure the best outcomes strategy is critical because it’s what will drive all your efforts. For this, we suggest the strategy set out by Booth & Matic. Booth & Matic (2011, p. 189-190) as set out below:

Authenticity in the Age of Virtual Influencers

As much as consumers might like, admire or aspire to be an influencer it does not negate the need for these influencers to be perceived as trustworthy, honest and unbiased. However, it’s inevitable that consumers may ask themselves how authentic influencers are being and how truthful they are being when they potentially they have the potential to make financial or material gains from promoting specific products or services over others. Let’s delve deeper into the subject of authenticity, shall we?

Strategy of Passion vs Strategy of Transparency

We will explore two strategies of authenticity management as per the figure below. Firstly the strategy of passion, the brand-influencer collaboration must be balanced, must allow the influencer to have creative control and it must be clear that the brand and its products/services are genuinely appreciated and actually being used (Audrezeta, de Kerviler & Guidry Moulard, n.d., p.7). Secondly, the strategy of transparency, the brand-influencer collaboration (i.e. financial or material gains included) must be unambiguously stated and the appearance and reactions of the influencer to the products/services must be real (i.e. neither over-the-top negative or positive) (Audrezeta, de Kerviler & Guidry Moulard, n.d., p.7).

Figure 4 Four paths in the authenticity management framework (Audrezeta, de Kerviler & Guidry Moulard, n.d., p.8)

The four paths of authenticity

The degree to which the influencer follows a strategy of passion and transparency will determine the path of authenticity they will take. These four paths are fairytale, fake, absolute and disembodied.

Path of fairytale authenticity: the message here “I want to express my intrinsic passion for the brand/product/service in a less than transparent way”

Path of absolute authenticity: the message here “I want to express my intrinsic passion for the brand/product/service in a highly transparent way”

Path of disembodied authenticity: the message here “I want to be highly transparent but I don’t want to express my intrinsic passion for the brand/product/service”

Path of fake authenticity: the message here is “I don’t want to express my affiliation with the brand/product/service and I don’t want to express my passion for the brand/product/service”

Virtual influencers

With all this talk about being authentic or being real what happens when we encounter influencers like Laila Blue, Blawko, Lil Miquela (the first influencer you saw at the top of this article), Imma (the second influencer you saw at the top of this article), Bermuda (the forth influencer you saw at the top of this article) or Shudu Gram & Koffi Gram (the fifth & sixth influencers you saw at the top of this article)? These influencers have hundreds of thousands if not millions of followers and so have a reach that is considerable. Yet can consumers really consider them authentic given that they are virtual? That is to say, they are CGI (computer-generated images) developed and nurtured in a studio. How can they “genuinely promote a product if they cannot see, touch or use it?” (Kádeková, & Holienčinová, 2018, p. 104). Even flesh and blood influencers are having their reviews and recommendations pulled into question and viewed as “entirely artificial and based upon mimicking trends alone, which does not sit well against a backdrop of increasing importance and awareness [fake and] honest advertisements” (Kádeková, & Holienčinová, 2018, p. 104). While some may say it’s great to have more ethnically diverse influencers in the media one might just as easily ask why not find flesh and blood influencers who are ethnically diverse (e.g. Ajak Deng, Anok Yai, Aweng Chuol, Adut Akech, Duckie Thot, Nikki Perkins, etc. rather than Shudu). Why take work and therefore income away from flesh and blood individuals who would no doubt be more than happy to further increase the visibility of consumers who identify with them?

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In this weeks article, we’ve discussed the hot topic of influencers. We’ve seen how the words and actions of influencers can have an impact on the choices that your target may make. We’ve discussed who they are, how they use their influence, how to develop a strategy that will optimise your business’s involvement with them and some pitfalls you may want to consider. Hopefully, this article has given you some no b.s. insight into influencers and influencer marketing so that you can make some informed choices for your business.

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