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The Power of Influencers

Although the days of celebrity endorsements are not gone yet, and probably never will be, the tide is starting to turn. These days, social media influencers hold a lot of the power. Why? It’s pretty simple, they offer better ROI, and deliver a sense of authenticity and trustworthiness. Back in the day before the dawn of social media, when a company wanted an individual to promote its product and brand, a celebrity or an iconic figure was usually the first choice. And although they were (and still are) stupidly expensive, it was still one of the best methods to gain trust from customers and promote your brand. Nowadays, most people are pretty clued up and realise that in most cases celebrities endorse a product for money, rather than promoting a product they believe in. Enter social media influencers.

In the mid 2000’s, social media channels arrived and the game started changing. YouTube went live in 2005 and with it arrived a new kind of celebrity. Anyone from your next-door neighbor to your high-school teacher could become a viral sensation, picking up a fleet of subscribers and followers overnight. It didn’t take long for marketers to realise there is a whole new avenue for advertising and when Instagram went live in 2010, the power of influencers went into overdrive.

Similar to YouTube, Instagram saw everyday people acquire fame and followers for a variety of reasons, whether it be their travel destinations, lavish lifestyle, fashion sense, art, hobby, you name it. For whatever reason, everyday people were starting to collect followers just for being themselves. This presented advertisers with a unique opportunity to promote their brand in a less invasive, more authentic way. By employing these new social media platforms, advertisers were now able to employ one of the oldest tricks in the book, word of mouth.

Influencers with large numbers of followers on Instagram, Facebook, Blogs, YouTube and twitter, largely gained them by being themselves and delivering a certain type of narrative that was relatable to large groups of people. Marketers quickly realised this and as a result, started paying influencers to mention, recommend and/or place their product in a post/video. This was largely done under the radar and many influencers were not being forthcoming about the fact they were advertising a product.

This practice is still somewhat unchecked, although certain countries like the US have regulation in place that state an influencer needs to declare when a post is paid for by an advertiser. Enforcing these regulations however, is easier said than done. The borderless nature of the internet and the sheer number of influencers out there, means it’s not an easy task to keep track of them all. Meanwhile, social media channels also have their own regulation and facilities in place to allow an influencer to state if a post is sponsored or not. As expected though, these regulations are not as strictly enforced as government regulations and the responsibility largely remains in the hands of the influencer.

Fast forward to 2019 and this landscape has now become so competitive that brands and advertisers are resorting to dirty tactics in hopes of boosting their sales. Recently, a worrying trend is starting to surface where influencers are actually getting paid to give bad reviews, particularly in the beauty industry. Naturally, this practice has also brought the authenticity of influencers into question. Marlena Stell, who started as an influencer and now has her own makeup brand, came out publicly to out this practice whilst also criticising the inflated rates (sometimes upwards of 70k for a single post) of influencers today, some who now have professional agencies managing them. These revelations have divided the influencer community with some voicing their frustration and others denying the practice all together.

That being said, influencer marketing is not going anywhere. A 2018 study by Linqia found 39% of marketers planned on increasing their influencer marketing budget the following year, 92% of marketers found influencer marketing to be effective, 67% of marketers advised they spent at list 25k per an influencer marketing program and 46% run at list 2-5 influencer campaigns per year.

Another study published on Clickz predicts influencer marketing is going to be a $10 billion industry by 2020. It also found 94% of marketers believe authenticity and transparency are key to influencer marketing success, 22% of 18-34 year-olds made a purchase due to an influencer campaign and 84% think better measurements of ROI will be key to the success and growth of the industry.

It's abundantly clear, what has been traditionally viewed as a PR tactic, is quickly maturing into one of the most popular strategies by marketers today with one main caveat - ROI is still proving difficult to track and as such, engagement is the number one measurement for success. If influencer marketing is to become the dominant form of marketing in the future, better ways of measuring ROI will have to be implemented.

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