What’s Up with Influencer Marketing?

Stephen DeAngelis

August 21, 2019

There has been a lot of hype recently about the importance of influencer marketing. Journalist Kevin Roose (@kevinroose) asserts, “As social media expands its cultural dominance, the people who can steer the online conversation will have an upper hand.”[1] Conversely, Kevin Kelly (@kevin2kelly), founding Executive Editor of Wired magazine, tweeted, “So-called influencers don’t influence. According to a 2007 paper by Duncan Watts, ‘large scale changes in public opinion are not driven by highly influential people who influence everyone else, but rather by easily influenced people, influencing other easily influenced people.” There is a bit of truth in both positions. Influencer marketing’s objective is to influence a targeted segment of consumers who are a good fit for a brand’s offering. Ankur Shah reports, “Social influencer marketing has continued to grow at a rapid pace over the last few years. Sponsored posts on Facebook, for example, generated a total of 1 billion likes in 2018 alone. This clearly shows that social influencer marketing has the potential to help brands create visibility and social media engagement.”[2] Mark C. Nardone (@MarkCNardone), Executive Vice-President at PAN Communications, believes influencer marketing has its greatest effect when paired with emotional marketing. He explains, “With the emergence of influencer marketing as an important trend, part of our job as marketers … is to pair emotional marketing with influencer marketing so that we can better target and reach our desired audiences.”[3]

 

Growing importance of influencer marketing

 

Roose believes the role of influencers in society is growing stronger thanks to the ubiquity of social media. He writes, “It’s increasingly obvious to me that the teenagers and 20-somethings who have mastered these [social media] platforms — and who are often dismissed as shallow, preening narcissists by adults who don’t know any better — are going to dominate not just internet culture or the entertainment industry but society as a whole.” He goes on to note that the best influencers work hard to understand the lives of those with whom they connect. “Many social media influencers are essentially one-person start-ups,” he writes, “and the best ones can spot trends, experiment relentlessly with new formats and platforms, build an authentic connection with an audience, pay close attention to their channel analytics, and figure out how to distinguish themselves in a crowded media environment — all while churning out a constant stream of new content.”

 

Marketers and brands are beginning to realize influencers can play an important role in getting a brand’s message across. When choosing an influencer to help with a marketing campaign, Manar Al Hinai (@manar_alhinai), a journalist, entrepreneur, and marketing and communications consultant, asserts choosing the right influencer is critical. She writes, “Candidates who properly reflect the target society and understand their culture are crucial to promoting a brand effectively.”[4] While that may seem like common sense, Al Hinai believes too often brands select influencers to work with because of the number of followers they have rather than the lifestyle they reflect. She says this is a particular problem when launching global marketing campaigns. She writes, “What’s shocking is that in the age of the internet, and with the ease of access to resources of information, marketers are still getting it wrong — whether it’s by choosing the wrong influencer to begin with, or when writing the promotional script.”

 

Artificial intelligence and analytics can help

 

Shah notes, “AI is finding new applications in social influencer marketing campaigns.” While that may sound counterintuitive, Shah explains AI can help analyze data and fight influencer fraud. He explains, “Social influencer marketing campaigns are often driven by data. Knowing who to target and how to do it can often be a complex process. However, AI can help simplify this. Brands and social media marketing experts can leverage machine learning offered through AI to understand and interpret trends, track and make sense of marketing data, and monitor how their audiences are engaging with the brands. This will lead to marketing optimization and efficiency. In addition to this, companies will be able to understand the kind of content the audience wants and how to deliver it.” Using data, AI can also help brands determine whether a specific influencer is a good fit for a marketing campaign. Concerning influencer fraud, Shah writes, “There are of course many genuine influencers out there who have helped brands get the word out about what they are offering. But there are still a few who engage in influencer fraud. Generated likes may not be as meaningful as the influencer wants you to believe. But AI can help brands track marketing campaigns and prevent fraud in the process.”

 

Nardone adds, “Using influencers to represent your brand allows you to take a more personal approach to engaging with your customers — especially if your personas line up with the influencer’s intent and interests. … To get your foot in the door, find a way to relate your brand’s current services or initiatives with those influencers’ passions. Once you’ve successfully connected with those influencers and they’ve endorsed your product or service, your brand is positioned to build emotional connections with customers. Your next step is to humanize your brand through interactions with those influencers across channels.” He adds, “Creating emotional connections involves aligning your influencer marketing efforts with your content marketing program. Nothing will hit home for your customers more than a piece of content that brings your brand down to earth. That process can start at a basic level: having a conversation. Initiating conversations with your influencers will automatically familiarize their followers with your brand — increasing your reach and expanding awareness in a seemingly natural fashion.”

 

Concluding thoughts

 

Roose notes, “In the business world, influencer culture is already an established force. A generation of direct-to-consumer brands that were built using the tools and tactics of social media has skyrocketed to success.” Ensuring an influencer marketing campaign is successful, and has long-term benefits, takes work. Shah concludes, “When it comes to social influencer marketing, it’s not just enough to get likes. Many brands will at first ask this, ‘How can you buy Facebook fan page likes?’ But even then, they want to be followed by people who care about them. This means that these people are more likely to take a sales action. It’s the job of a social influencer to bring on board these types of followers and the AI will make sure they do.” He adds, “The initial investment needed to get a good AI up and running can be off-putting no doubt. But when you look at the long term benefits that these systems deliver in social media marketing, you will be a fool not to try them.” Al Hinai offers one final caution: “Keep in mind that an influencer mirrors your brand, so choose wisely.”

 

Footnotes
[1] Kevin Roose, “Don’t Scoff at Influencers. They’re Taking Over the World.The New York Times, 16 July 2019.
[2] Ankur Shah, “How Artificial Intelligence Can Help Social Influencer Marketing,” Value Walk, 1 April 2019.
[3] Mark C. Nardone, “How to Integrate Influencer and Emotional Marketing to Improve Your Content Program,” MarketingProfs, 22 April 2019.
[4] Manar Al Hinai, “When choosing an influencer, ensure that they reflect your audience,” The National, 30 June 2019.