The rising power of social media influencers

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Social Media Influencers are the new star shining upon brand marketing, permanently weakening the power of traditional advertising

There was a time when advertisements on print or electronic media pushed consumers toward goods and services. Not anymore.  In this age of technology, where Internet and mobile phones are the most powerful connectors, there could be no platform more influential than social media. As American author of Socialnomics, Erik Qualman, said, “We don’t have a choice on whether we DO social media, the question is, how well we DO it.” Social media expert, Lori Ruff says, “Social media is here. It’s not going away; not a passing fad. Be where your customers are: in social media.”

Millennials habitually access all kinds of information instantly, and simultaneously on multiple platforms. They check and confirm the information they find, with their network of friends and like-minded individuals on social media platforms. Having grown up in this culture of shared information, about 84% of Millennials  consider traditional marketing techniques as intrusive and they are irritated by the one-way communication of content and messages of traditional advertising, which, for them, are irrelevant. Market research company eMarketer, found that over 25% of all smartphone users, and more every year, have installed ad blockers. American best-selling author, Seth Godin says, “Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.”

Focused on shared experiences and honest discussions about the pros and cons of products and services, millennials contemplate and voice their contemplation and their reasoning on social media. As startup entrepreneur David Alston, said, “Social media is not a media. The key is to listen, engage, and build relationships.”  And relationships are built on trust because the discussions that take place on social media platforms, are open and honest, focused only on finding the truth about products and services being considered. Everyone who participates in the conversations, is interacting with other consumers before making a purchasing decision, because they do not want to throw money away on something that will not serve their purpose.  

As much as they don’t trust traditional advertising, and look to social media as a guide, millennials look up to “social media influencers”, who have built credibility on social media as sources of experience and authentic opinion. Such influencers have tremendous reach on various social media platforms and are able to create valuable word-of-mouth, from recommending a highly qualified drink driving lawyer to giving a shout out to their favourite makeup brand. Social media influencers provide an effective way to raise brand awareness for a product or service.

Market strategy analysis shows that social media influencers are growing in number and importance. In 2017, the search term “influencer marketing” increased by 325% in Google searches. The global Influencer database has over 900 million profiles indexed into 60,000 topics, and includes Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and blogs. While all social media platforms are frequented by social media influencers, the most popular platform, undeniably, is Instagram. In fact, 72% of Instagram users say they make purchasing decisions based on products seen in their feed and 80% of Gen Zers and 74% of millennials report that social media influences their shopping habits. Analyzing #ad posts on Instagram, market research found, that in 2017, Influencer Marketing grew by 198%. This led marketers on average to invest in budgets of $25,000 to $50,000, in 2018, on influencer marketing. In 2017, there were 12.9 million brand sponsored influencer posts. While this number is expected to double in 2018, influencer marketing this year is expected to create demand valued at $1.7 billion.

So it appears that influencers on social media are strongly geared to lead e-commerce and significantly improve Return on Investment, when social media e-commerce features are included in a company’s marketing strategy. When developing strategy, marketers analyze influencer marketing, to find people whose opinions matter to other people. Often, the ones who emerge as “influencers” are social media stars who have many followers on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms.

Bloggers who have expertise in identified areas, or celebrities who share their opinion, are also categorized as potential influencers. When such authoritative and persuasive people say they like a particular product or service, or when they post a video praising a new product or service, their followers listen. With trust being a critical factor in success of influencer persuasion, many influencers specialize in various product or service areas. This means that one influencer will not try to be an authority on everything, which, undoubtedly will erode their credibility. For instance, YouTube star Michelle Phan is known to her 6 million followers as an authority on cosmetics.

There are other instances when a social media ad campaign could engage a number of influencers. As an example, Barilla pasta distributed packages with pasta, sauces and other products needed to get a dinner party going. Those to whom Barilla sent packages were those individuals identified as “Influencers.” Those influencers, once they used the Barilla pasta package, communicated their individual experiences on social media platforms, together with photographs of their experiences.

Some influencers, because of their own image among followers, do not overtly or specifically speak about the qualities of products. The attributes of their own stardom and image get brushed onto the product. For instance, Zach King is an American Vine star, YouTube personality and film maker, famed for his “magic vines,” which are 6-second videos digitally edited to make him appear as a magician engaging in magical transformations. Zach King’s endorsement of specific products or services only briefly mention and feature the products and services. It is his magical aura that carries the brand to another level.

Thus, social media has created a thriving platform for enthusiasm and the modern and digital version of Word of Mouth marketing. As digital marketing advisor Bonnie Sainsbury, says, “Social media will help you build up loyalty of your current customers to the point that they will willingly, and for free, tell others about you.”

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