Influencer marketing

Influencer marketing (a.k.a. influence marketing) is a form of social media marketing involving endorsements and product placements from influencers, people and organizations who possess a purported expert level of knowledge and/or social influence in their respective fields.

Influencer content may be framed as testimonial advertising where influencers play the role of a potential buyer themselves, or they may be involved as third parties. These third parties can be spotted either within the supply chain (retailers, manufacturers, etc.) or among the so-called value-added influencers (such as journalists, academics, industry analysts, and professional advisers).[1]

Social influence

Most discussions of social influence focus on persuasion in a social environment and compliance.[2] In the context of influencer marketing, influence is less about arguing for a particular point of view or product, and more about loose interactions between various parties in a community, often with the aim of encouraging purchase or behaviour. Influence is often equated to advocacy, but may also be negative, relating to the concepts of promoters and detractors.[3]

The "two-step flow of communication" concept was introduced in "The People's Choice" (Paul Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet, a 1940 study on the decision-making process of voters). This idea was further developed in "Personal Influence" (Lazarsfeld, Elihu Katz 1955)[4] as well as "The Effects of Mass Communication" (Joseph Klapper 1960)[5].

Influencers

There is a lack of consensus on what an "influencer" is. One writer defines them as "a range of third parties who exercise influence over the organization and its potential customers."[6] Another defines an influencer as a "third party who significantly shapes the customer's purchasing decision but may never be accountable for it."[1] Another says influencers are "well-connected, create an impact, have active minds, and are trendsetters,"[7] though this set of attributes is explicitly aligned to consumer markets.

Sources of influencers can be varied. Marketers traditionally target influencers who are easy to identify, such as press, industry analysts, and high-profile executives. For most business-to-consumer (B2C) purchases, however, influencers might include people known to the purchaser and the retailer staff. In high-value business-to-business (B2B) transactions, the community of influencers may be vast and diverse and might include consultants, government-backed regulators, financiers, and user communities.

Forrester analyst Michael Speyer notes that in the case of small and medium-sized businesses, "IT sales are influenced by several parties, including peers, consultants, bloggers, and technology resellers."[8] He advises that "Vendors need to identify and characterize influencers inside their market. This requires a comprehensive influencer identification program and the establishment of criteria for ranking influencer impact on the decision process."

Like a set of diverse influencer sources, influencers can play a variety of roles at different times in a decision process. This idea has been developed in influencer marketing by Brown and Hayes.[1] They are capable of mapping out how and when particular types of influencers affect the decision process. This then enables marketers to selectively target influencers depending on their specific nature or domain of influence.

Identifying influencers

Market research techniques can be used to identify influencers, using pre-defined criteria to determine the extent and type of influence.[7]

  • Activists: Influencers that get involved with their communities, political movements, charities and so on.
  • Connected: Influencers that have large social networks.
  • Authoritative: Influencers that are counted upon and are trusted by others.
  • Active minds: Influencers that have multiple and diverse range of interests.
  • Trendsetters: Influencers that tend to be the early adopters (or leavers) in markets.

Malcolm Gladwell notes that “the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts”.[9] He has identified three types of influencers who are responsible for the "generation, communication and adoption" of messages:

  • Connectors network across a variety of people, and thus have a wider reach. They are essential for word-of-mouth communication.[10]
  • Mavens look to utilize information and share it with others, and are extremely insightful with regards to trends.[10]
  • Salesmen are "charismatic persuaders". Their source of influence leans toward the tendency of others to attempt to imitate their behavior.

Currently, most of the subject matter on influencers focuses on consumer markets, rather than business-to-business influencers. A key distinction is that most of the focus in consumer markets is on consumer influencers themselves, primarily because word-of-mouth communication is prevalent in consumer environments.[1] In business marketing, influencers are people who affect a sale, but are typically eliminated from the actual purchase decision. Consultants, analysts, journalists, academics, regulators, and standards bodies can be considered as few examples of business influencers.

Influencers can be further defined and categorized based on the number of followers they have on social media. Influencers may include celebrities with large followings as well as internet celebrities who built their fame on social media platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. [11][12] The number of followers can range anywhere from hundreds of millions to as little as 1,000.[13] Influencers can be categorized in tiers based on number of followers. These categories include mega-, macro-, micro-, and nano-influencers.[14][15][13][12][16]

Businesses are striving to pursue people who aim to lessen their consumption of advertisements and are willing to pay such influencers a higher amount. Targeting influencers is seen as a method of increasing the reach of marketing messages, in order to counteract the growing tendency of prospective customers to ignore marketing efforts.[7][17]

Payment

Most influencers are paid upfront prior to the start of a marketing campaign while others are paid after the execution of the marketing campaign.[18] There is clear consensus on how much an influencer ought to be paid. Compensation may vary based on company preferences and factors including how many people the influencer can reach, the extent to which they agree to endorse the product (deliverables), and how their past endorsements have performed.[19] [20] Top-tier influencers and celebrities can command six- or seven-figure fees for a single social media post.[21] In addition to (or in lieu of) a fee, payment may also include free products or services.[20][22] For influencers with the smallest followings, free products and/or services may be their only form of compensation.[23]

Social media

Online activity can play a central role in offline decision-making, allowing consumers to research product reviews.[24] The rise of social media has created new opportunities for marketers looking to expand their strategy beyond the use of traditional mass-media channels.[25] Many use influencers to increase the reach of their marketing messages in response to the growing tendency of consumers to ignore marketing efforts.[7][17] Online influencers who curate personal brands have become valuable marketing assets because of their relationship with the followers they attract.[25][26] Social media influencers establish themselves as credible opinion-leaders with their audiences, and often have persuasive strengths such as attractiveness, likability, niche expertise, and perceived good taste.[26][25][27] The interactive and personal nature of social media allows parasocial relationships to form between influencers and their followers, which has a positive impact on purchase behavior.[25][27][28] Influencer marketing on social media offers the additional advantage of reaching consumers who use ad-blockers.[26]

Critics of this online-intensive approach argue that by researching online only, consumers could miss out on inputs from other influential individuals.[29] In the early 2000s, research suggested that 80 - 92% of influential consumer exchanges occurred face-to-face in word-of-mouth (WOM) episodes, compared to 7-10% in an online environment.[30][31][32][33] Scholars and marketers differentiate between WOM and electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM).[34]

Notable Controversies

Applications

Some marketers use influencer marketing to establish credibility in the market, while others use it to create social conversations around their brand. Others focus on driving online or in-store sales. Marketers may also leverage the credibility earned over time to transition into marketing diversified products and/or services. They may measure their success with influencer marketing in several ways, including earned media value, impressions,[39] and cost per action.[1]

Regulation

In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) treats influencer marketing as a form of paid endorsement. It is governed under the rules for native advertising, which include compliance with established truth-in-advertising standards and disclosure on the part of endorsers (influencers).[40][41] In 2017, the FTC sent out more than 90 letters to influencers (namely celebrities and athletes) reminding them of their obligation to disclose sponsored posts by using the hashtag #ad.[42] As a result of the FTC's action, Instagram added a feature in 2017 that allows influencers to clearly indicate a "paid partnership" at the top of an Instagram post.[43]

Media-regulating bodies in other countries, such as Australia, created influencer marketing guidelines following the decision of the FTC.[44] In 2019, the United Kingdom announced a voluntary agreement between the country's Competition and Markets Authority and high-profile social media influencers, to ensure compliance with consumer law.[45]

Fake influencers

Fake influencers have been around for as long as their real counterparts. All criteria used to determine the veracity of an influencer account can be fabricated. Third-party sites and apps sell their services to individual accounts, which include falsely increasing followers, likes, comments, and more.[46] [47] Instagram has been unsuccessful in its attempts to shut down all such websites.[47] One marketing agency tested whether fake accounts could be profitable. The company created two fictitious accounts, built their online presence through paid followers and engagement (likes and comments), and applied to work on marketing campaigns via popular influencer marketing platforms. They published their results as well as a full explanation of how the false accounts were created and which brands had sponsored them.[48]

An analysis involving over 7,000 influencers across the UK revealed that about half of their followers have up to 20,000 "low-quality" followers themselves, consisting of internet bots and other suspicious accounts. As such, more than 4 out of 10 engagements with this group of influencers are considered "non-authentic."[49]

A study of UK influencers, which looked at almost 700,000 posts from the first half of 2018, found that 12% of UK influencers had bought fake followers.[49]

In another study, 24% of influencers were found to have abnormal growth patterns indicating that they had manipulated their likes or followers.[50]

Influencer fraud, including fake followers, was estimated to cost businesses up to 1.3 billion dollars-- about 15% of global influencer marketing spending. The recent 2019 research only accounted for the calculable cost of fake followers.[51]

Virtual influencers

Virtual influencers are sometimes considered fake influencers as well. The main differences are that virtual influencer profiles do not correspond to real individuals, nor are they automated bots that generate fake likes, fake comments, or fake followers. They are virtual characters purposefully designed by 3D artists to look like real people in real situations.[52] Most of these characters can be easily identified as computer graphics, but some are hyper-realistic and can catch users off-guard.[53] These characters are usually portrayed as models, singers, or other celebrities. Their creators write narratives for their lives, answer interviews on their behalf, and interact as if they were the characters themselves.[52] One notable example is that of Lil Miquela, a hyper-realistic virtual influencer that prompted widespread curiosity and speculation, until she was revealed to have been created by advertisers.[54]

See also

References

  1. Brown, Duncan and Hayes, Nick. Influencer Marketing: Who really influences your customers?, Butterworth-Heinemann, 2008
  2. Cialdini, Robert. Influence: Science and Practice, Allyn and Bacon, 2001
  3. Reichheld, Fred. The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth, Harvard Business School Press, 2006
  4. Katz, Elihu (2006). Personal influence : the part played by people in the flow of mass communications. New Brunswick, N.J: Transaction Publishers. ISBN 978-1-351-50020-3. OCLC 1069711332.
  5. Klapper, Joseph (1960). The effects of mass communication : [an analysis of research on the effectiveness and limitations of mass media in influencing the opinions, values, and behavior of their audiences. Glencoe (Illinois: Free Press. ISBN 978-0-02-917380-0. OCLC 813851873.
  6. Peck, Helen, Payne, Adrian, Christopher, Martin and Clark, Moira. Relationship Marketing: Strategy and Implementation, Butterworth-Heinemann, 1999
  7. Keller, Ed and Berry, Jon. The Influentials, Free Press, 2003
  8. Speyer, Michael. Identifying IT Buyers’ Hidden Influencers: Finding And Nurturing Your Brand Presence Beyond Your Formal Channels, Forrester Research, 2007
  9. Gladwell, Malcolm (2000). The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference. United States: Little Brown. ISBN 0-316-31696-2.
  10. Brown, Duncan; Hayes, Nick (2008-01-01). Influencer Marketing: Who Really Influences Your Customers?. Elsevier/Butterworth-Heinemann. ISBN 9780750686006.
  11. Khamis, Susie; Ang, Lawrence; Welling, Raymond (2017-04-03). "Self-branding, 'micro-celebrity' and the rise of Social Media Influencers". Celebrity Studies. 8 (2): 191–208. doi:10.1080/19392397.2016.1218292. ISSN 1939-2397.
  12. Kadekova & Holiencinova (September 24, 2018). "Influencer Marketing as a Modern Phenomenon Creating a New Frontier of Virtual Opportunities". Communication Today. 9:2: 92.
  13. Maheshwari, Sapna (2018-11-11). "Are You Ready for the Nanoinfluencers?". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-12-02.
  14. Hosie, Rachel (2019-04-09). "Why brands are turning away from big Instagram influencers to work with people who have small followings instead". Business Insider. Retrieved 2019-12-02.
  15. "Social Media Influencers: Mega, Macro, Micro or Nano". CMSWire.com. Retrieved 2019-12-02.
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  28. Colliander, Jonas (March 2011). "Following the Fashionable Friend: The Power of Social Media". Journal of Advertising Research: 313–320.
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  35. Spangler, Todd; Spangler, Todd (14 February 2017). "YouTube Cancels PewDiePie Show, Pulls Channel From Ad Program After His 'Death to All Jews' Stunt".
  36. Solon, Olivia (14 February 2017). "Disney severs ties with YouTube star PewDiePie over antisemitic videos". the Guardian. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
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  51. Graham, Megan (2019-07-24). "Fake followers in influencer marketing will cost brands $1.3 billion this year, report says". CNBC. Retrieved 2019-09-19.
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  54. Tiffany, Kaitlyn (2019-06-03). "Virtual influencers have got to be a fad — right?". Vox. Retrieved 2019-12-02.
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