Influencer marketing: what is it and how to make it work for you? - Part 1

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Influencer marketing: everyone’s talking about it. It’s been a buzzword for a while now and mainstream media refers to it constantly. But what is influencer marketing, really? 

To understand what influencer marketing is and how it can be leveraged by your brand, we need to understand the concept of influencers.

What is an influencer?

One of the biggest misconceptions is that an influencer is someone with a large social media following. This thinking confuses influence with popularity. The act of influencing requires a specific result: a change in thinking or in behaviour

We can therefore define an influencer as being someone who has the power to influence the perception or behaviour of others, for example by affecting their purchasing decisions, often times based on authority, knowledge, position, or audience relationship. In more simple terms, an influencer is a person who can influence the opinions of other people and get them to do something. 

They are often perceived as experts in a certain field such as food, fashion, science, politics, etc. They also build a relationship with their followers, which gives them a certain amount of power within their fan communities. And it is this power that can be leveraged by brands to reach out to a massive audience. It’s what’s known as influencer marketing. 

What is influencer marketing?

Influencer marketing isn’t really new, it’s more of a hybrid of old and new marketing tools. It takes the idea of celebrity endorsement into today’s content-driven marketing environment. It involves working with people who are considered influencers to promote a brand, a campaign or a product. It involves spotting the right influencers and working with them to create powerful campaigns that put a brand at the centre. Collaborating with an influencer gives direct access to their loyal and engaged fan base. It is a method to expand reach, create brand awareness, reinforce customer loyalty, and drive conversions. 

A similar kind of marketing, not to be confused with influencer marketing is celebrity endorsement. It is the use of associating famous people and characters with a specific brand, for example LeBron James for Nike or Toucan Sam for Kellogg’s Fruit Loops.

Marketers essentially borrow the celebrities’ credibility and popularity to sell a product, a concept that preceded influencer marketing and is still widely used today. Consumers know the actor or athlete is getting paid to promote a product, so its effectiveness is limited. But this is not what is meant by influencer marketing. With the rise of social media, true influencers have emerged – often average people who are otherwise not famous offline, but who have garnered a following on social media of people that care about what they have to say and make decisions in kind. 

Influencer marketing, a sort of casual word-of-mouth approach, has become increasingly important since studies show that people do not trust traditional advertising messages anymore. Influencers are not saying “you have to try this” or “you need this”. Instead, they are simply showing off how they use the product. Real world examples, from the influencer that relates with his audience. 

But influencers aren’t like brand ambassadors or advocates; they do not promote for free. In most cases, influencers agree to a contract with the brand they tend to affiliate themselves with. Though they might actually love the product, they are motivated to participate because of the incentive. But influencer marketing needs to be honest and authentic, so it’s not just a simple matter of signing an agreement contract, influencers will still have to affiliate themselves with brands that reflect their own choices or opinions, so as not to alienate their followers. It needs to look like the influencer speaks about a brand’s product not because they are being paid to do so, but because they want to. Good influencer marketing is based on brands building sincere personal relationships with influencers who then share useful, exclusive or early information about said brand with their followers. 



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Who are they?

As we said earlier, social media influencers are different from the celebrities of yesteryears. Unlike some celebrities, influencers don’t live under the veil of secrecy. They use their social media profiles to maintain a personal connection with their fans. This helps them bring together a trusted community of followers who perceive them as authority figures on certain subjects. The fans see them as role models and often blindly swear by their recommendations. 

So, who are these social influencers? They can be anyone, anywhere – bloggers, Instagrammers, Youtubers, other social media stars, as well as celebrities. They are usually specialists in a particular niche and have already earned a high level of trust with their followers who consider their product or service endorsements to be genuine and authentic. Within any industry, there are influential people, you just have to find them. An influencer in one field will not have the same power of influence in another. For example, a food influencer will not have the same credibility talking about politics, which seems pretty obvious. 

We can separate influencers into three main categories

  • Celebrities, as you can imagine, are the athletes, musicians and actors you are used to seeing. They have an average of more than 1 million followers. In general, they have the highest coverage, but the lowest interaction. Also, because of their great attractiveness, they are rarely suitable for reaching a specific target audience. Advertising through celebrities is like buying TV advertising in a large network.
  • Macro-influencers have up to a million followers. Their posts touch on many different aspects, engaging 5% to 25% of their audience per message. They are also often role models for other influencers. Macro-influencers set trends with their content and are copied by micro-influencers depending on the popularity of the content.

  • Last but not least, micro-influencers are users of social networks who have fewer followers, but who therefore have a higher interaction rate and more targeted audience. You can distinguish them by their number of followers: middle-influencers have 100k-500k followers while micro-influencers have less than 100k followers. 
 
Jeff Bullas

Now you know what an influencer is. Stay tuned for part 2 in which we’ll tell you all about the benefits of influencer marketing and how to choose the best influencer for your business.

A The Consultancy Group article, written by Justine Gilliot

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