Few things in modern culture conjure as much ire and admiration in equal measure as influencers.
We’ve seen their lavish vacations on Instagram, totalled up their YouTube shopping hauls, and tried their latest diet recommendations. It can sometimes feel impossible to escape the grasp of influencer culture, much like it used to feel impossible to go anywhere without seeing a celebrity endorsement for the latest coffee or fitness brand.
It can appear mysterious and confusing from the outside, but regular people off the street with some charisma and a camera are a marketer’s best friend these days. Is the concept losing some shine though?
After years of influencer culture should companies aiming to appeal to a social media savvy audience go down the relatability route, or have influencers lost their ability to connect with customers?
Do people trust influencers?
At its core, advertising is about trust.
You buy into an 8-week fitness plan because you trust you’ll look like the instructor at the end of it. You eat at a restaurant because there are five stars proudly displayed at the door. Trust has to be earned though, and there’s evidence to suggest people are going off influencers.
Yes, younger, more impressionable social users may be inclined to trust every word their influencer heroes are saying, but actual consumers with disposable income have come to look at the culture as manipulative and corporatized. Even if they once enjoyed the kind of early days of the internet content that bred influencer culture, they now look at the process as too squeaky clean and corporatized.
In fact, that corporate element is what has become massively offputting about influencers. People buy into ‘internet celebrities’ because they feel just like them. Even if they don’t look like them, their appearance, careers, and drive feel more attainable and relatable than they do with a traditional Hollywood celebrity. When you try and build that using corporate money, even if it is small amount from an independent business, you diminish the legitimacy of the influencer’s presence and what people initially bought into.
With shockingly low numbers of people saying they actually trusted what influencers said online as recently as 2019, there is significant evidence to suggest it is actually detrimental to a brand to align themselves with traditional influencers and their marketing techniques.
How do people build their identities?
Identities are a funny thing. Particularly when we’re young, we try and craft identities that feel inherently personal, reaching out for the elements that feel uniquely us. More often than not though, we’re actually just picking bits and pieces from promotional content that we want to use to represent ourselves. Band shirts, clothing brands and counter-culture messages.
Realizing this isn’t a new concept, but noticing how cultures grow up and move on from particular brands can help us understand why influencers may not have the hold they had over how young people build their identities even a couple of years ago.
There are suggestions that influencers are more useful as early adopters than celebrities who latch onto a brand. This would suggest that if you are to do influencer marketing, it makes sense to do it as a small emerging brand. Trying to breathe life into an ailing product is harder to do in lavish white living rooms or sat by the pool on Snapchat.
However, even if fewer people are using influencers to dictate their identity, brands are still happy to use them due to the quality of customers they bring in. 71% of marketers are said to be happy with the kind of customer funneled directly from influencer branded content, suggesting that the passionate audience is just as wedded to their favorite internet celebrities as ever.
Did coronavirus expose the influencer?
Coronavirus has been labeled a great leveler, forcing us all indoors and posing a menacing threat that could affect anyone.
Of course, for many reasons, coronavirus hasn’t been the great equalizer many suggested it might be, with certain groups being disproportionately affected. However, it has surely had an impact on influencers and their output.
The pandemic made the influencer life less glamorous and without the lifestyle, an influencer is just as boring as their audience. We buy into these people for the life they lead. If an influencer can’t create the same quality of content they once did, they’re less important, impressive and useful to your average brand. Who, above all else, want to associate their products and name with an admirable lifestyle just out of reach without them.
Coming out of the virus, marketers need to think whether or not an influencer who doesn’t make their brand feel special is a worthwhile investment for now.
What are the alternatives?
Working with influencers is about tapping into a community, if you’re going against the ethos and preferences of that community you’ll push more people away than you drive towards your brand. Influencers work because they create genuine connections. If you can’t do that anymore, where do you go to make that brand/consumer connection?
Selling at events gives you intimate access to genuine audiences and unparalleled brand-building online businesses rarely get. Local or national fairs, conferences, and festivals are one of the best ways to reach new customers, offering great opportunities to give a human element to your brand without having to pay out for an influencer who might not reflect it.
When it comes to ecommerce affiliate marketing is a sensible alternative for brands looking to be more brazen about their advertising, while also tapping into informed and passionate communities. It involves paying blogs and specialist websites to review your products.
Investing your time into social proof is a much more natural way of building trust in your brand, which plays to the most important factors consumers often search for when deciding whether or not to shop with a brand.
Rather than investing in outside personal to promote your products and brand, use employee advocates to talk up your practices and benefits online to their naturally built audience of family and friends.
Influencers are far from a redundant concept. They remain some of the biggest celebrities online, especially as new platforms such as Tik Tok create evolving stars every day. As long as social media plays a significant role in our lives, there will always be room to advertise through the people on there, but be wary of how trustworthy and authentic they appear in your promotional material.