Has influencer marketing had its time?
Is the new-found celebrity status of influencers undermining the authenticity of their output? Are consumers growing tired of being sold to at every turn? What's clear is that digital marketers need to stay alert to the changing cultural capital of the term 'influencer' in 2018.
It won’t be news to anybody that influencers were a big deal in 2017. They were everywhere: fronting big campaigns for e-commerce retailers and beauty brands, launching their own clothing lines, collaborating with travel, fitness and food companies, and integrating it all into seamless streams of content that struck a serious cord with consumers.
Influencers wielded an immense amount of power when they first came on the scene: not least because - unlike big budget ad campaigns featuring well known celebs with obvious marketing collateral – they were considered ‘real people’ with real views, that sat somewhere between the everyman and the informed arbiter of taste and opinion.
Fast forward to today, and influencers are fully fledged celebrities in their own right: and don’t get me wrong, they’ve earnt it. Many of these internet savvy entrepreneurs have quit the 9 ‘til 5 to forge careers for themselves online, but does their elevated status as respected publishers, celebs and marketing tools dampen the authenticity of their output? Does their success, celebrity and rate card undermine their utility as objective reviewers, tweeters and bloggers?
My point is not that these influencers should work for free, of course. As with any job, when somebody produces content to promote a brand they deserve to be paid for it. But is this exchange damaging the clout that such collaborations have? The quality of the content is now so high, that an influencer’s endorsement of a product or service doesn’t always make it seem attainable; it can achieve the opposite.
This is perhaps exacerbated by the fact that consumers are now very aware when something they are looking at is an #ad or #spon. This transparency is fair and necessary, but I wonder how much this impacts the extent to which consumers feel they can invest in what they are looking at. It is perhaps the beauty and the curse of the best influencers that their paid for content is so rich and creative that the sell is hardly noticeable; but as consumers wise up to this, will they start to tire of the ads? With so many influencers out there, and so much content being thrown at us daily, this doesn’t seem like a totally unrealistic prediction.
To come at it from the business angle – an influencer’s services can be expensive. Gone are the days of freebies and favours: influencers now know their worth. But this means that big influencer budgets are becoming the privilege of big hitting brands, rather than the SMEs looking for innovative routes into the hearts and feeds of their target audiences. Algorithms oust good organic content in favour of ads and big follower counts and god knows what else, in a confusing and seemingly sporadic manner. Taking a punt on smaller influencers therefore seems pointless. From a small business’ perspective, as they weigh up costs and the potential ROI, it must be tempting to think either go big or go home.
So how can digital marketers and PR practitioners navigate this minefield of authenticity, transparency, engagement rates and ROI, to come up with influencer campaigns and strategies that will benefit both parties? Or should we just scrap it altogether?
To be clear, I don’t really think influencer marketing is dead, but I do think digital marketers need to be open about what that term encompasses; and explore all the options when seeking out individuals to represent and market their brand. They should be selective in seeking out people whose aesthetic and principles align closely with their brand’s; and should aim to deliver rich and well-integrated content in any given campaign, rather than simply paying for unsubstantiated advocacy in the odd tweet or Facebook post.
Any individual with a voice, social reach and high levels of engagement has social influence in 2018. Marketers therefore need to make sure they can adapt to what the term ‘influencer’ means as its definition and its cultural capital changes and develops this year. Respect an influencer’s talent and integrity, don’t expect to get work for free, but do have a long hard think about what the collaboration will do for your brand or client in the long run before committing. Bide your time if necessary. Invest in campaigns and individuals that will help you build authenticity and receive genuine engagement this year; and aim for quality over quantity when it comes to those game-changing influencer endorsements.