In the age where new terminology is popping up faster than we can catch our breath, it can be difficult to really grasp the true meaning of things – concepts that didn’t remotely exist when you were a child, or even ten years ago, for that matter. One of these contemporary terms is ‘influencer’.
If the last time you were a teenager was a long time ago, you’ll remember that when you wanted to know what you products to use, the ‘it’ hairstyle, or whether or not denim on denim was okay, you either just observed your peers or got the general gist of things from TV or a magazine. These days, all you need to do is type in ‘youtube.com’ or open up your Instagram app. It’s the age of constantly being told what to do, how to do it and when the right time is, by newly-famous faces on the other side of the screen.
The almost alarming increase in our dependence on social media for leisure, work and everything in between created the perfect breeding ground for influencer marketing to essentially become a thing. Every day, you and I contribute to the 95 million photos and videos uploaded on Instagram [according to a 2019 report]. In a minute, over 300 hours of video footage is posted on YouTube, and in 24 hours, 5 billion of those videos are watched. These are big numbers, and with big numbers comes big change.
We – the world – went from passively enjoying each other’s content, to realising that there was actually massive potential to use social media as much more than just a sharing platform (it had incredible business opportunities too), to creating strategic content, to becoming a generation where you can make a household name of yourself by sharing videos of exotic brunches and holidays. The social media influencer was born.
By definition, an influencer is an individual who has the power to affect purchase decisions of others because of his/her authority, knowledge, position or relationship with his/her audience. This individual usually has a following in a particular niche, which they are actively engaged with. With nearly 3.1 billion of us who are keen (daily) social media users, there’s never been a better time to be in the business of influencing.
How does ‘influencing’ work?
It starts from creating content around your own area of expertise – food, cars, films, hair, you name it. “Influencers in social media are people who have built a reputation for their knowledge and expertise on a particular topic,” according to the Influencer Marketing Hub. “They make regular posts about that topic on their preferred social media channels.”
Next comes building your followership, which can sometimes take years. Budding influencers either set out to generate large followings of “enthusiastic engaged people who pay close attention to their views,” or realise at some point that they already have a significant following and are in a position to have an effect on them.
A large following typically begins to attract brands to these influential individuals; however, it’s important to note that these individuals are not just pawns in the hands of greedy companies, but rather “social relationship assets with which brands can collaborate to achieve their marketing objectives.” It’s also not just about big numbers; the relationship and interaction between an influencer and their followers plays a very significant part in the overall marketing process.
Are there types of influencers?
The majority of social media influencers fit into the one of following categories: Celebrities, industry experts and thought leaders, bloggers and content creators, and micro influencers. “The bulk of social influencer marketing today occurs […] predominantly with micro influencers, and blogging. Industry experts and thought leaders such as journalists can also be considered influencers and hold an important position for brands.” Then come in the celebrities. “These were the original influencers, and they still have a role to play, although their importance as influencers is waning.”
What makes influencer marketing effective?
When a 30-second TV ad with a beaming celebrity’s face comes up in between your favourite weeknight programme, there’s more of a tendency for you to roll your eyes and think of the millions they got paid to sell us this thing we really don’t need (i.e. more carbonated drinks or another pair of sneakers we’ll only wear twice). But an influencer can be anyone, and unlike celebrities, can be anywhere. The special power these new gen marketers have is that they’re more relatable, and tend to come across as more genuine (and less ‘advertise-y’). As a result, we, their humble followers, are more likely to soak up their testaments and treat their word as bond. “An influencer can be a popular fashion photographer on Instagram, or a well-read cybersecurity blogger who tweets, or a respected marketing executive on LinkedIn. Within any industry, there are influential people—you just have to find them.”