Are Influencers still Influencing?

There was once an ordinary shed…

In 2017, a shed became London’s top restaurant on TripAdvisor. This fake restaurant, dubbed ‘London’s best kept secret’, climbed to the top spot in our capital with over 100 fake reviews claiming the flavoursome food and rustic décor made it the best place to go. The shed was owned by a prankster. His previous work included writing reviews for restaurants he’d never visited, and he wanted to see how far he could push false reality. Mission accomplished, I’d say.

Since reading about the shed all those years ago, the unknown and somewhat bewildering world of influencer marketing has intrigued me. I started researching this piece by looking at the dictionary definition of ‘influencer’. There are two descriptions. The first is:

‘Someone who affects or changes the way that other people behave’

That probably seems more familiar to people of a certain age (I include myself in that segment) when you think about children nagging parents to buy sweets and toys (or in my case a pony), teens needing the ‘in’ trainers and clothes so they can gain a sense of belonging (that didn’t bother me, I still wanted a pony), and someone asking ‘can you recommend a garage for a broken down car/a nice country pub for lunch/a present for a gin-mad friend…’

So, we can all call ourselves influencers of a sort. We sway decisions several times a day, but most people I know haven’t chosen influencing as a career or profession.

The second definition sounds as though it’s been created for the modern day:

‘A person who is paid by a company to show and describe its products and services on social media, encouraging other people to buy them’

That is the type of influencer I want to focus on.

How do you become an influencer?

Celebrity endorsements have been around for years. The perfume industry springs to mind as most brands have, at some point, used a highly paid model, actor or singer to add appeal to their products and lure in buyers from their fanbase.

The online age has flipped influencing on its head. ‘Ordinary’ people can now find fame by establishing credibility and subtlety guiding purchasing decisions, and social media has given them the ideal means to do it.

So where do you start? Most influencers focus their work on what they’re good at or have a huge amount of knowledge about. Showing true passion and finding your niche are key otherwise you’ll come across as unconvincing, and that will mean you influence no one.

That sounds easy, doesn’t it? After all, we all have hobbies and interests that we obsess over and can talk endlessly about. But is anyone outside of our friends and family really interested in hearing about them? It seems so.

Influencers are living the dream! Where do I sign up?

Influencing may seem like an easy way to reach the heady heights of fame and fortune but finding out where your audience hangs out and having to create vast amounts of social media content to trigger a response can be time consuming.

Building a community also takes time and sitting in front of a device engaging with a growing audience day in, day out by replying to comments and messages sounds a bit dull to me.

Collaborating with businesses and brands can also be hard work. Being ignored or turned down by people you approach can be soul destroying. Even when you get a reply saying a brand would love to work with you, negotiating and activating agreements to maintain your reputation in your chosen field is crucial and can be stressful. Analysing and reporting back your social media stats isn’t a job most people want to do, either.

It will take a while to get yourself noticed by brands that will approach you and, in the meantime, bills still need to be paid. Unless you make it big, influencing can’t guarantee financial security and a constant stream of work like a ‘proper’ job and being so public on social media also comes with huge drawbacks. Keyboards warriors and nasty or inappropriate comments are all too common and are never nice to deal with when it is so personal. After all, influencers are their brand, and their brand is them.

Are social media influencers trusted?

A lack of transparency and fake news on social media are often spoken about, and both have caused serious problems for most channels at some point who work hard behind the scenes to stamp it out.

If you were on a salary working in a shop, you wouldn’t tell a customer who asked for advice that your product was OK but a shop down the road does an improved or better value one. You just need to remember that influencers get paid for supporting a business to sell its products and reach its targets. Much like a salesperson, the relationship is mutually beneficial. It’s up to you to decide whether you trust them enough to believe what they’re saying about a product is true, just as you would an advert.

So, do influencers still have a place?

Yes, they do. According to various reports I’ve read around the subject, marketers are still seeing huge returns when working influencers and budgets were set to increase this year. If a business is working with the right influencer and campaign results are measurable, including one in a strategy remains popular.

The popularity and numbers of micro and nano influencers (those with small but engaged niche audiences) rose in 2021 and polls suggest the public trust them far more than celebrities. This may be because they’re more relatable, plus they have probably engaged directly with their social media followers so have fostered a relationship with them.

They also appear more genuine. With the growing trend for ‘disappearing’ and video content showing moments that capture their lives, as opposed to heavily airbrushed billboard and magazine ads with pouting, posing celebrities, authenticity plays a huge part in influencing decisions.

Lastly, influencers are typically more predictable than celebrities. There is a much smaller risk of an influencer going rogue and starting a drunken brawl or causing trouble in public for not getting their own way whilst wearing your brand’s clothing, so less risk of a tarnished reputation and a despairing PR team.

To sum up, authentic influencers who come across as genuine have a place in some marketing plans if they can help a business reach an engaged, niche audience. With the ever-evolving world of social media and trends, influencers may eventually have their day, but my feeling is that time is not just yet.

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