The age of the influencer

 

A few weekends ago, my sister mentioned something to me that has lingered in my mind. “Every influencer on Instagram is doing the same thing” – It got me thinking about the many fashion, beauty and foodie influencers I follow and I couldn’t help but get an eery sense of familiarity from them all. In a time of self-appreciation, the promotion of individuality and authenticity, it appears that we have shot through in the opposite direction all for the sake of instant gratification.

 

Que in the age of the influencer…

Influencer marketing has indeed evolved over the past decade. From the mommy bloggers creating a brand new industry in the late 2000’s, to the Insta-famous street style stars that popped up a few years later and brace your Instagram feeds via their carefully curated content, to present day teens achieving fame via YouTube beauty videos, the world of influencers continues to grow and change before our screen-weary eyes.

I get it, we all want to have our opinions matter to someone. Which is why beauty bloggers review products, fashion bloggers review outfits, foodie bloggers review food and mommy bloggers review baby items but at what point do we just stop conforming to this new norm of themed Instagram feeds and just start being ourselves?

Before I get into the details, let’s first start with a few definitions the digital analyst in me thinks everyone ought to know;

  • Mega-influencer: ie: the Kim Kardashian’s of the world. These are key voices in your industry. Unlike micro-influencers, they have huge followings (usually 100k+ followers) and their livelihood revolves around their online presence or being famous in some way. Mega-influencers are paid to post content so brands can get access to their well-aligned and already-engaged audiences. This is an example of true paid promotion in the influencer marketing world.
  • Micro-influencer: These are typical consumers who are active on social media but don’t necessarily have a large following. They post about products that brands send to them for review as part of a brands overall marketing strategy but are not paid to do so.  Micro-influencers could be anyone, from previous customers to advocates with humble social media followings. TINT defines them as social media users with less than 50k followers.

Now that we have hashed out the details, let’s see, where are we now?

 

The Digital Marketing Landscape…

As with any industry that gets too big too soon, there’s that inevitable inflection point. CMOs and social media marketers of the future will think back to the days where we “threw too much money at them” which is why influencer budgets are now being scrutinized, KPIs determined by data-informed decisions and all the stops being pulled out to ensure the right amount of money is spent targeting hyper-specific audiences.

 

Let’s do the math

An influencer that has less than 5,000 followers has an average engagement rate of 9.6{7b66f5b8f9cce5198cdc7f2d96338c3c9bbce7bf1ebd58c7794d60da2dc43006}. Once that follower count grows above 5,000 followers, that average engagement rate drops to 3.3{7b66f5b8f9cce5198cdc7f2d96338c3c9bbce7bf1ebd58c7794d60da2dc43006} and continues to drastically decrease as one’s follower base increases. There’s also an acute awareness across the industry that so many of these incredibly sought after, high reaching influencers have likely bought thousands of followers. And no one wants to put budgets towards bots. As marketers are getting savvy to the idea of prioritizing engagement overreach, it’s becoming more appealing to focus in on smaller, more niche communities that actually can influence beyond just paid attempts.

 

So what’s my point? I have several;

  • You don’t have to be an influencer. Just because you have an Instagram profile does not mean you need to conform to the norms of what the mass is doing. Part of what makes Instagram such an amazing platform is that it was born out of the premise that you could house all your favourite memories on one seamless, easy to use interface. Use it for that…please.
  • If you so really want to be an influencer then I beg of you, again, do not conform. The expectation of having a themed feed with carefully curated and staged imagery is something we have seen far too much of. If you need to showcase a product you are using, then show it to us when you just buy it – at the store, or when you are actually using it. This bed of rose petals next to a faux fur white blanket on which a mac book and DSLR camera rests, needs to end. We can see it is staged and it looks like the thousands of other images we have seen. Give people something to remember and often you can do that when you don’t stage it.
  • Stop with the term “content” – you are not a marketing agency so don’t put that kind of unwanted and frankly stressful pressure on yourself. By labeling it as a content you assume the notion that posting is just your job. No…do it because you love it, do it because you truly value a product and love it, do it because this product actually made a significant impact on your life, not because you NEED to. We are in a time of our life whereby user-generated content is gold for brands and their marketing strategies but if you start to see it the way they do, then you lose the essence of what an influencer truly is.
  • What do numbers of followers mean in an age where buying likes and follows and YouTube video watches is easier than ever? Social media works harder and harder to monetize, encouraging people to pay for their content to be seen and to gain followers, likes and views. So, how can we tell if the 80k followers this influencer claims to have are even real, or relevant to the brand she offers to promote? For all we know, these could be fake followers, bots, people who happened to be interested in one specific piece of content and therefore followed her, but who are not interested in all of her other content… numbers mean nothing.
  • What does “coverage” even mean in a culture of multiple social media and new trends born daily? Does an Instagram post count for more or less than a Facebook post? Does a snap story count more or less than an Instagram story? Does a YouTube video count more or less than a Vimeo one or a Live Facebook session? The promise of exposure, while very much alluring to brands, has to be carefully checked, monitored and measured. The bottom line is, after all, profit.
  • Speaking of measuring and monitoring — how can you really tell that new business was generated by a particular collaboration with a specific influencer? I know — affiliate links, special discount codes. The means are clear. But are they accurate? And do people fall for them? Affiliate links are something most people nowadays can spot and often shy away from (as they do from “promotional content”). Laws all over the world require that people use the word “Advertisement” or state when content is “sponsored” or “in collaboration with”, which makes the consumer doubt the authenticity of the recommendation. After all, if someone is offered free products or services, it is highly unlikely that they will then write badly or not recommend said products or services.

So the above is merely just a few tips from a business and digital analyst, to you the Marketer, Influencer and Brand. I am in no way telling you that what you are doing is wrong, if it works for you then go forth and do you. But if you do feel stuck and in a space of non-engagement, it may be time to consider a change in strategy.

In a world of mirrored behaviour…go the other way and be remembered for it.