Evolving Influence: The role of the influencer is changing before our eyes

Photo courtesy of Sylvia Jade

Photo courtesy of Toronto influencer Sylvia Jade (Instagram: @hellosylviaa)

By Victoria Caruk
Manager, Social & Influencer Relations

If your brand doesn’t already have an influencer strategy, what’s taking so long?

One of the most significant shifts in the marketing world to take place over the past decade has been the rise of the social media influencer as a tastemaker and as a key ingredient in virtually every online marketing campaign.

What started out as an industry of bloggers and vloggers receiving free product in return for sharing content with their followers quickly grew into a pay-to-play transaction, and turned many ordinary people into online celebrities.

Because social media influencers are a relatively new phenomenon, marketers are still figuring out the rules of the game when it comes to how they fit into broader brand campaigns.

It’s tough to overstate the taste-making power of influencers. According to a 2015 study by Variety, the emotional attachment teenagers feel towards YouTube stars is seven times greater than celebrities from more traditional media, such as Hollywood or the music industry. Another study by TapInfluence & Nielsen Cataling Solutions found that influencer marketing content delivers 11x higher ROI than traditional forms of digital marketing.

At MSL, we have been working with influencers since before the actual term became the hottest marketing buzzword in the industry. And one thing we have quickly recognized is that the idea of the influencer exists in a constant state of evolution and flux.

But there are a few considerations that we keep in mind whenever we are working with our clients to design a strategy that involves influencers.

Keeping it authentic

Whenever a brand is looking to find an influencer to establish a relationship with, it’s imperative that the partnership feels authentic. Fans of the influencer need to believe that the person they are following truly believes in the product or service they are promoting, otherwise, the campaign can backfire spectacularly. You need to find the right fit.

Fans and followers are quick to recognize an inauthentic partnership when they see one, and they aren’t afraid to call it out in the comments. This type of negative reaction from fans makes the partnership redundant, as the influencer is now labelled a ‘sell-out’ and the brand is no longer relevant in the persuasion to purchase. The ultimate goal should always be to have the influencer speak truthfully about their experience and their affinity towards the brand, which will hopefully influence their fans to purchase and try it out for themselves.

Establishing a true partnership

Working with an influencer on branded content needs to be a true partnership where both sides work together to help raise one another up, to achieve their shared goals. Where many brand partnerships with influencers fail is when the relationship becomes transactional, and neither side looks at how what they are doing is in the best interest of the other party over the long term. Both sides should be looking to forge a lasting relationship.

For the brand, the goal is about getting its product in front of the right audience with intent to drive trial and purchase among potential consumers. For the influencer, the objective can vary from the amount of compensation or experience provided, to simply the ‘cool factor’ that comes from partnering with a well-known brand.

Having a good relationship with an influencer or agent, on behalf of your brand, can help to create a solid foundation built on trust and loyalty. Taking time to meet in person for lunch or a coffee can give the influencer a chance to be heard and to honestly share their experiences in a comfortable environment. These kinds of conversations can lead to valuable insights that can be used to develop new partnerships, evolve existing partnerships, or even help shape an upcoming campaign.

Identifying the right influencer

Influencers come in all shapes and sizes, and depending on the brand and the campaign, what is considered the ‘best’ fit can vary. For some brands, it’s important to work with the most notable influencer in a given area. But for others, it might make more sense to identify key micro-influencer partnerships.

A key factor in identifying your ideal influencer is knowing if the campaign includes a paid amplification strategy. This is, of course, ideal for the brand, giving it the ability to reach a very targeted audience of potential consumers. From an influencer perspective, a paid strategy ensures their content reaches a much wider audience, thus potentially increasing their fan-base in a short amount of time.

In fact, another shift stemming from the micro-influencer trend is the rise of the ‘nano influencer.’ A nano-influencer is essentially the consumer who shares their recommendations with their friends and family – it’s you and me sharing our thoughts with our friends on social media about a recent purchase.

According to Razorfish’s Marketing Funnel, 79% of people recognize that their friends and family have a ‘heavy’ influence on their purchasing decisions, which makes even the smallest brand ambassador an important part of the brand’s overall perception.

There are many variables and criteria that need to be established by a brand before it sets out to find the right influencer. Are you targeting a specific city? A group of people with a specific colour of hair? Perhaps the campaign is geared towards parents or first-time moms? All of these criteria need to be established before proceeding with any efforts to find the right influencer.

No one has a crystal ball to determine the next shift in influencer marketing, but as the industry evolves, creativity becomes critical. It’s up to both marketers and influencers to continue to push the boundaries and look for new ways to work together to ensure this kind of messaging remains relevant, authentic, and effective.

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