With a couple of hundred followers, I am just a small fish in the Instagram universe. But if you’re the lucky one to have +10k followers, you can start building your own professional blogging business: you are labelled as an “influencer”. For a regular sponsored Instagram post you can ask a brand for between 150 and 400 euro, depending on the quality of the picture. If you are playing in the Belgium Champions’ League, with +100k followers, an Instagram post can get you more than 500 euros.
Influencer marketing is big business, but how effective are influencer campaigns? Will the influencer economy continue to exist in its current format? I don’t think so. I personally believe brands and online influencers should rethink how their joint-efforts create real value for all parties involved.
Why is the current format not working?
The idea of influencer marketing is, in fact, pretty simple. Marketers approach influencers with a high follower base to spread their word to what they expect to be a very effective and targeted audience base. These actions are mostly remunerated in some way, either by free product samples, incentives or just cash. Brands expect an uplift of their brand awareness and sales in return. So far, so good. But it isn’t as simple as it seems to be.
First of all, there is a fundamental difference between an audience and influence. In this case, the higher is not always the better. Having a lot of Instagram followers doesn’t make a person influential in any way. It just gives them an audience to spread awareness to. A 2016 study by Markerly confirmed that the higher the follower count rises, the lower the engagement drops. Today, awareness as a standalone is not enough. Over the past couple of years, we have evolved from a marketing world focused on purely emotional branding to a world of contextual and personalized communication. Today, a brand has to look for the unique touchpoints that lead to transactions, where brand storytelling and the sales experience come together. This is a totally different battlefield (we focus on this subject in this year’s Yearly Marketing Survey, more info here).
Secondly, there is a credibility risk. Today’s influencer campaigns are mostly one-time shots, focusing on a very short-term benefit. In many cases, this leads to a mismatch between brand and influencer. There is no time to set up a long-term, meaningful relationship. There is just a deal between two parties, lacking any emotional connection. This is also something a consumer will experience. Would you still believe an influencer eating two different brands of yoghurts and saying how special and unique each product is? Or would you believe a die-hard backpack travel-blogger posting a picture of a luxurious all-inclusive hotel? It would feel forced and fake, instead of genuine and believable. On top of this, influencers are popping up like mushrooms, making it really difficult for a consumer to distinguish the relevant from the clutter.
Influencer marketing: over-and-out?
In my opinion, the opportunistic way of approaching influencer marketing will not last for long. This doesn’t mean influencer marketing can’t still be a great marketing strategy for brands. They just need to change how they approach it. A possible key to unlocking the potential of influencer marketing could be to proactively activate brand advocates. Brand advocates don’t necessarily have to be celebrities. A recent American survey showed 30% of U.S. adults are more likely to purchase a product endorsed by a non-celebrity blogger than a celebrity influencer. Four reasons why brand advocates can help you to launch a successful influencer campaign:
1.You can build long-term relationships with your most influential brand advocates. Unlike random influencers, they are eager to support your brand on a long-term basis.
2. True influence drives action, not awareness. You want to reach people who can convert. A true brand advocate with fewer followers will potentially result in more transactions compared with an influencer with a much more scattered follower base.
3. Reaching relevant target audiences: an ideal brand advocate will talk about the topic you’re pitching already, or at least something very similar. In many cases, their followers are already familiar with your brand.
4. Recommendations will be authentic and real. The communication and tone of voice will be natural. As a brand, you will build trust and credibility with your consumers and other brand advocates.
How to find influential brand advocates and activate them
There are plenty of (online) tools that can help you to identify, monitor and even activate brand advocates. A few examples:
- Identify & monitor brand advocates: Mention, Little Bird, Traackr, Klear, Buzzsumo
- Activate brand advocates: Ambassify, The Insiders, Zuberance
- Use internal ambassadors: Social Seeder
In practice, a brand will have to find the balance between activating true brand advocates and using influencers with a broader reach to support those brand advocates. In any event, the objective will remain the same: activating your target with relevant and authentic content. Your influencer campaign 2.0 will have to be integrated into your overall marketing strategy, focusing on sales activation.
Influencer marketing is not dead. In fact, it’s the opposite: I believe both marketer and influencer should embrace the underlying opportunity influencer marketing has and should cooperate on how brand advocates can play a sustainable role in this ever-changing marking world.