Social Media

Why you need more than an influencer

Fi Bendall /

Influencer marketing is one of the biggest trends in marketing right now.

Last year, businesses around the world spent billions on engaging social media stars to try to position and sell their brand message. Estimates put spending at around $US1.6 billion for influencer marketing campaigns on Instagram alone. More brands are now jumping on the bandwagon and using influencer marketing as part of their strategy mix.

In some ways, influencer marketing is the digital, online-focused child of celebrity endorsement, which has been around in one form or another at least a couple of hundred years. The example of Josiah Wedgwood and his pottery works is among the most commonly cited early uses of celebrity endorsement and even influencer marketing.

Wedgwood was the founder of his eponymously named company, which has become renowned around the world for its fine china and porcelain wares. One of Wedgwood’s admirers was the Queen consort Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who gave official permission in 1765 for Wedgwood to call a tea set he had made for her “Queen’s Ware”. However, Wedgwood enrolled more than just royals to help market his brand:

“…Wedgwood’s strategy relied on fashionable appeal. He ensured his products were hyped in the press and elaborately displayed in his posh London showrooms. He was the first to understand the value of celebrity endorsement, courting painters, architects and other fashion trendsetters of the day.” 

That doesn’t sound too different from many influencer strategies of today. Put your product in the hands of notable people that are admired and respected, and bank on their influence to persuade their followers that your product is worth buying. 

When executed in its most basic form, influencer marketing is an old model that has been transposed to the digital age. Instead of the salons and drawing rooms of Wedgwood’s period, we now have YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest, with influencers talking to their audience about the merits of particular products with which they are associated.

However, the advent of social media and access to rich data has given brands the potential to go a lot deeper than the celebrity endorsement template still used in so many influencer programs.

There is a lot more to a smart influencer program than picking an Instagram star with many followers who might appeal to your target audience. That’s a reasonably blunt weapon to use in an age of multiple social platforms, tribes and niche audiences, and access to data that allows businesses to segment and stratify their customers to the nth degree.

Real influence is about more than just the raw numbers that account for followers and potential reach. It’s about relationships, engagement, and trust.

Influencer marketing has fast evolved into a complex and sophisticated tool. For example, at The Female Social Network, we rarely use the term “influencer”; instead, we think in terms of “effective opinion leaders (EOLs)”. We identify them by using a methodology that measures across 900 personality characteristics. As opposed to the traditional influencer marketing path of finding a selfie star and receiving mediocre results, we use a smart intersected scientific methodology to understand who an EOL is and what they could do for a brand.

If your business is going to spend money to partner with someone, you should ask a few questions before starting your collaboration:

  • Does this person align with your brand message?
  • Will they help you reach new customers?
  • Can they help you create engaging content?
  • Will they supercharge your social media recommendation engine and word-of-mouth?

If you’re looking for real influence with consumers, it’s more relevant to think about engagement and passion than gloss and fashion. It’s important to work with someone who gets where you’re coming from and respects your product and brand.

It’s also vital this person respect their audience and demonstrates trust and integrity. After all, influence is a force that can work in both negative and positive ways.

NOW READ: How to follow Kmart’s lead and build a troop of your own social media influencers

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Fi Bendall

Fi Bendall is chief executive of The Female Social Network and a Westpac/AFR 2015 100 Women of Influence, who was described by CEO Magazine as 'The CEO's Secret Weapon'. An expert and pioneer in digital strategy, she has over 23 years’ experience in the digital and tech sectors.

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