What is influencer marketing and should you be using it?

Celebrity endorsements are nothing new. They have long been used to sell products and continue to be a popular choice for big name brands. But in a world where social media has become part of daily life for many people, marketers are increasingly shunning the ‘traditional’ celebrity endorsement and opting to use so-called ‘influencers’ to promote their brands instead.

Social media has broken down the barriers between celebrities and their fans. While before they were elevated to god-like status, now they can be reached directly, at any time. In a world where even the President of the United States manages his own Twitter account, star status just doesn’t have the same potency in 2017.

In contrast, lower level influencers such as bloggers have proven higher engagement rates, particularly with their young, usually female, audiences. They can connect with them in a way ‘off-limits’ big names cannot, enabling the brands that sponsor them to tap into niche circles.

The diet market is a classic example. Instagram has a thriving community of weight loss bloggers posting multiple times a day, sharing recommendations for food ideas with their followers. One popular user has 166k followers and averages anything from 2,000-10,000 likes per post. The vast majority of her content is unsponsored but occasionally she will post about a product a brand has sent her. It works because she has built an engaged, receptive audience who trust her not to recommend anything she doesn’t truly believe in.

If this is influencer marketing at its best, how does it look at its worst?

Blogging has become a legitimate career choice and sponsored content is commonplace, usually carefully disguised as a blog post with an accompanying styled photoshoot. Opportunities can be lucrative for top influencers and their followers are wising up to this. No one wants to feel like they’re being taken advantage of, and endorsing every product under the sun is a sure fire way to turn off your audience.

Disclosure is another major issue. UK rules on this continue to be a grey area but strictly speaking, if content has been paid for and controlled by a brand then it’s an advertisement and that should be clear to audiences. Influencers are continuing to get around these rules by using euphemisms like ‘brand ambassador’ and including the hashtag #ad on Instagram posts. Several high profile UK bloggers have attracted criticism for failing to disclose gifted goods and services, in particular hotel stays and restaurant meals.

As an agency, we err on the side of caution when it comes to influencer marketing. It certainly has its place when carefully used but what’s more important to us is building long lasting reputations for our brands. Ultimately the message is clear: proceed with caution and choose your influencers wisely.