Authenticity is the most overused word on the street right now.
Why is it that we feel the need to tell consumers that everything is authentic? Shouldn’t it just be authentic? And who chooses what is considered to be authentic?
There are many voices out there that have branded the entire influencer marketing industry as devoid of authenticity. The reason? Money. If an influencer is paid to work with a brand, their content can be deemed inauthentic. This is something that only seems to affect influencers, though. We’ve been in countless meetings across different categories where editorial content has been layered in with a media buy package. If these media outlets can remain unbiased, when advertisers are essentially paying the editor’s salary, why can’t influencers do the same?
If a celebrity spokesperson puts their face to a brand, should they be paid? Or is it only authentic if they do it for the love, and maybe a pair or two of shoes? Does Jennifer Aniston do Aveeno ads for an unlimited product supply?
Seems ridiculous, right?
Not according to a handful of brands and agencies who have either taken a firm stance on not paying influencers, or believe that it is acceptable to compensate said influencer with a couple of pairs of socks (true story).
Where celebrity spokespeople provide the aspirational brand validation, social influencers provide the attainable reference because they truly are the real-life appraisers for the products and services that their audience seeks.
These influencers are real people, and for many of them, this is their full-time job. They share intimate details of their lives with their audience and have been able to build an abundance of something that is a highly valued commodity in the media industry – trust. They also know that this level of trust is their currency, without which they cannot continue.
The real question to ask though, is why this career is frowned upon? This is particularly true in the media industry. Let’s take a step back and look at what they have been able to create for themselves: a career, a trusted audience, a creative outlet and a platform to share their passions. Shouldn’t we be celebrating them for the brilliant entrepreneurs that they are instead of discrediting them?
This doesn’t have to be a case of us vs. them between influencers and the media industry, though. They should be used to elevate one another. Countless YouTube stars generate more views than your average television program, and Instagrammers gain more followers than many magazines. Let’s look for the opportunity here and turn this into a space for collaboration over competition. We’re better together, after all.
Research conducted by Izea found that in 2015, 52% of marketers had a standalone budget for sponsored social, 10% of those having an annual budget of over $700k, up from 4% in 2014. There is no arguing that we are only just scratching the surface here, with spends in the digital space expected to take over spends across each of the traditional media markets (television, radio, print, out-of-home and cinema) by 2019 (PwC Entertainment and Media outlook, 2015). Basically, influencer marketing is not going anywhere anytime soon.
So how does influencer marketing actually work? And what are the key ingredients for a successful campaign?
It is so simple, yet often forgotten by brands and agencies alike. When the influencer is not in line with the brand, campaigns fail. The beauty of these influencers is that they share an abundance of information about their lives, their friends, their partners, their cats right there on the World Wide Web for us to see. So just as you would (hopefully) research a publication/journalist before pitching to them, research your influencers. Do some influencers buy followers? Absolutely. How can you tell? It’s right there in plain sight, when their followers don’t align with the level of engagement, something is clearly off. Do you have to work with them? No. As marketers, if we do our jobs right, the demand for these ‘influencers’ will become obsolete in no time.
Be clear and concise with what you want to achieve and make sure both parties are on the same page from the onset. Share the brand values with the influencer. If you want them to endorse and understand your product, take the time to educate them.
Give them the freedom to be creative
We understand that you have key messages that you want to communicate, and brand guidelines that you need to follow, but you’ve chosen this influencer for a reason. Their style/voice/tone appealed to you, so allow them the freedom to be their wonderful creative selves, and trust that they will deliver. Successful endorsements happen when the influencer is creating content that speaks best to their audience.
Maintain the relationship
An ongoing relationship is going to ensure you see an even better return on investment. Research shows that 89% of influencers verbally tell a friend about brands that sponsor them, 85% are more likely to purchase these brands and 83% will share addition posts about their sponsors outside of their contractual agreement (Izea, 2015).
The direction of comments and engagement provided by the followership is raw market research. If you are in a position to work with influencers across multiple posts, analyze why the top rated content did so well. Even simple learnings such as time of day, tone, positioning, or cultural affiliations can help further shape your overall marketing campaign and zero in on consumers’ needs.
Jess Hunichen and Emily Ward are the founders of Shine Influencers, a Toronto-based talent management agency for digital influencers that works with brands and agencies to engage influencers.