Contributed by: Bryce Ward
Social media used to be much simpler – people logged on to watch adorable cat videos and “poke” their friends. This type of content still has a place in social media, today, but as new types of content began to surface and gain popularity, social media became a source for much more than just belly laughs. Now, people log onto platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for staying up to date with anything from breaking news to the latest fashion trends. And as the type of content shifted from entertainment to information, the people creating the content became increasingly important.
One important result from the shift to a more creator-focused platform was the rise of the social media influencer. Social media influencers do exactly what their name suggests: they influence their social media followers and endorse products and services. This influence and trust is something that is usually attained organically by consistently providing quality content. Whether it be a successful athlete who promotes a product that they believe has helped contribute to their success or a person who swears by a dietary plan that helped them get back in shape, the relationship between the influencer and products is inseparable.
Because of this, businesses have begun to capitalize on the credibility of influencers in order to market their products. This strategy is set up for success: It not only allows businesses to target specific audiences that best fit the intended demographic of their products, but by partnering with influencers, they can simultaneously reach their desired audiences through an already credible and respected source. However, there’s a fine line between capitalizing on pre-existing credibility and taking advantage of it.
We’re all familiar with the way that businesses leverage the credibility of celebrities by having them endorse their products. Sometimes, the celebrities have never even used the product they’re endorsing. Other times, they’ve used the product but are hardly credible sources to be endorsing it. And, every once in a while, a celebrity has not only used the product, but is qualified to endorse it. Social media influencing is no different.
The preferred scenario of endorsement marketing is when the endorser not only has a credible opinion of the product, but when he or she genuinely likes and uses the product. Celebrity endorsements are less likely to fit the preferred scenario because they don’t need to be. In other words, Shaquille O’Neale doesn’t have to be an expert on car insurance for his endorsement of The General to be effective. This is because celebrities typically do not build their credibility based on the product they’re endorsing, but for some other reason (e.g., Shaq being a dominant basketball player).
Social media influencers, on the other hand, tend to do just the opposite. Usually, the product which they endorse is directly related to what they’re known for. Fitness buffs, for example, build their social media followings largely because of their physiques. Naturally, they’re not going to use their platform to endorse Oreo cookies – it just wouldn’t make sense. They will, however, use their platform to endorse certain supplements. This, alone, makes social media influencing a more logical way to endorse than the typical celebrity endorsement. Celebrity endorsements can fit the preferred scenario of endorsements (for example, Shaq’s endorsement of Icy Hot), but the incentive for a celebrity to do so is much weaker than for social media influencers. However, like a celebrity endorsement, influencing is still susceptible to exploitation.
As influence marketing becomes more popular, the likelihood that consumer trust in influencers will be exploited only increases – unfortunately, this is unavoidable. Some influencers will leverage their influence to the highest bidder, compromising their credibility in whatever field they built their following; but consumers aren’t naïve. As soon as followers catch wind that an influencer’s endorsements are not genuine or that the products being endorsed are low quality, the credibility of that influencer goes out the window. Despite this loophole in endorsement marketing, the benefits of influencing, both for the consumer and the producer, still outweigh its downsides.
Most businesses can’t afford to have Shaq endorse their product, but any business can afford a social media influencer. The cost of influencing varies depending on the level of the influencer’s reach and follower response, from an influencer with 100 followers to one with multiple thousands of followers. Because of this, there’s an influencer for every business or entrepreneur.
Furthermore, influencing allows businesses to tap into very specific markets that conventional marketing strategies struggle to access. Due to the unique and personalized nature of social media following, people from anywhere in the world can be following the same person based on shared interests, interests that can be easily marketed to. This sort of targeting helps niche businesses, especially, thrive.
Don’t forget that consumers, too, can benefit from influence marketing because it puts them in touch with a wider array of products and services – from small startups to companies that are household names – that they’d otherwise not know of. Influencers who takes their credibility seriously can help their followers lose weight, improve their mental health, and achieve any number of other aspirations, all due to the personalized nature of influence marketing.
Influence marketing, whether we like it or not, is here to stay. So long as there are people on social media with influence over their followers, there will be influencers. There’s no doubt that it has its issues, but instead of harping on the loopholes inherent in endorsement marketing, we should embrace the benefits of influence marketing for both the consumer and the producer. Not only is it a more affordable means of marketing, its ability to be personalized to the most minute audience aligns seamlessly with the structure of social media and paves the way for more meaningful and impactful marketing.