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What is influencer marketing?

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Last editedApr 20213 min read

We may like to believe that popularity isn’t everything, but when it comes to influencer marketing, being friendly with the popular group definitely pays off.

What’s an influencer?

An influencer is, as the name implies, a person or thing that is able to influence others. In influencer marketing terms, this means a person who is able to encourage people to buy items they feature on their online channels. Influencers will have cultivated a large and active following on social media and other media channels, with a huge amount of engagement on their posts. A standard Instagram post will get between 1 -3.5% of account followers engaging with it, while anything above 6% is considered a very high Instagram engagement rate, anything over 4% is ideal for influencer marketing.

So, for example, Cristiano Ronaldo has 262 million followers, with his most liked image garnering 14, 180, 407 likes and over 100,000 comments. That’s an engagement rate of 5.5%, hence his role in influencer marketing for brands such as Herbalife, Armani, and Clear.

Why does engagement matter in Instagram influencer marketing?

Engagement is just like the readership of a paper or viewership of a TV channel. If even 10% of Cristiano Ronaldo’s followers were to respond to any product he advertises in his influencer marketing posts, that’s a significant number.

However, it’s not all about celebrity names when it comes to influencer marketing. Yes, the top 20 Instagram accounts are led by household names who are famous on the world stage, but a large proportion of top social media accounts, especially on media platforms like YouTube, consist of self-made “internet celebrities” with follower counts to match. Tapping into these channels can be equally as profitable as getting a celebrity endorsement, if not more so, as these influencers are considered more trustworthy by consumers than official celebrity endorsements. This is likely due to these influencers appearing more accessible and “one of us” than the lofty status of traditional celebrities.

How does social media influencer marketing work?

In terms of marketing strategy, influencer marketing is mostly about product placement. Influencers mention or show an item in their social media posts, often with a discount code that’s exclusively for use by their followers. In some cases, however, influencers can simply mention a product without disclosing a paid promotion – this is against the Federal Trade Commission, as well as the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK.

Social media influencers have built their followings based on engaging with their audience, so an influencer marketing endorsement is often seen as more genuine and ”human” than a celebrity face. Influencers will often only promote items that make sense for their audience and brand, e.g., makeup for beauty influencers or diet supplements for a fitness influencer.

This means a company should also carefully consider which influencer they want to work with, and gain familiarity with their overall brand before reaching out. Unlike a traditional celebrity, who can endorse anything from perfume to living room furniture, an influencer needs to avoid the idea of “selling out” to protect the human aspect of their channels. Many influencers, once they reach a certain level of success, will also sign to an agency, so any brands looking to collaborate will need to access an influencer marketing hub to gain contact details.

Does influencer marketing really make a difference?

Absolutely. A single post by an influencer like Kim Kardashian or even a self-made internet personality can lead to huge conversion rates, a massive boost to brand awareness and instantly align your brand with the customer persona you’re trying to target. Influencer marketing is also very cost effective – unlike running a billboard or TV adverts that can run into the tens of thousands, an influencer marketing campaign may require nothing more than sending out a box of free samples to a dozen influencers, producing excellent return on conversions.

Influencers are also unlike traditional celebrities in that they can be incredibly niche. For example, Kim Kardashian with her millions of followers has over a dozen promotional deals running at any time, including with major brand names. This also means that you’ll have to pay a competitive fee to earn a place on her channels. A micro-influencer in the area of veganism with 100,000 followers may be a better bet for marketing your start-up (if you’re in the cruelty-free, vegan, or green skincare space), and will be happy to gain brand credibility by offering an endorsement, with no extra payment needed.

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