Influencer marketing – does it actually work?

Influencer marketing - does it work?
by Elisabeth Carter

Over the past few years, influencer marketing has become one of the hot new trends in the digital marketing space. Brands have realised that celebrities don’t always need to be the ones promoting their products – normal people on social media can do the same thing for less money and reach plenty of people.

The idea behind influencer marketing is loyalty. Take Instagram influencer marketing for example. People have already chosen to follow the posts of an influencer. They are loyal to this person and a sense of relationship develops between the poster and the follower, even if this relationship completely lacks reciprocity. Into that mix, a sponsored post is added. Brands and marketers hope, and assume, that followers who trust and admire the lives of those they follow will take the endorsement of the influencer seriously. They want it to be like a friend recommending a product to another friend.

But really, isn’t this asking a lot? Savvy consumers understand what an advertisement looks like, and they understand that money changes hands when a sponsored post is published. So does influencer marketing work, or does it simply destroy the loyalty and trust that influencers have built up?


The illusion shattered

When brands use influencer marketing, they are asking people to buy into the ‘illusion’ that the influencer is a true fan of the product. But what happens when this illusion is shattered?

In most countries people promoting products on social media are legally obliged to disclose if they’ve been paid to do so. This is the case in Australia, however a recent Australia Post campaign using influencers on Instagram apparently didn’t get the memo. Australia Post didn’t inform the influencers they needed to disclose they were being paid for their promotion of the service, and the comments quickly turned ugly, with Instagram followers of the influencers voicing their displeasure. The followers felt hoodwinked and betrayed.

In early 2016, Scott Disick, on-again off-again partner of Kourtney Kardashian, was engaged by Bootea UK (a protein shake manufacturer) for some sponsored posts. But what did he do? He copied the full text of the email from Bootea’s marketing team into his photo caption, so it read…

Here you go, at 4pm est, write the below.

Caption: Keeping up with the summer workout routine with my morning @booteauk protein shake.

Oops! This slip-up truly shattered the illusion of Scott just sharing cool things he likes with his mates.


Thoughts from the front lines

Given how the illusion of influencer marketing has by now been completely shattered, I asked some people who are on Instagram what they think of influencer marketing, and how they have been impacted by what they’ve seen.

Abbey, 19, shared “I personally find the whole concept of it a bit ridiculous ’cause we all know they are getting paid to promote it and they probably don’t even like/haven’t used the product itself. In saying that though, I find I do seem to purchase products, books, clothes etc. because a specific celebrity/Instagram user I may think highly of has used it and ‘loves the product’ too.”

Megan, 20, commented “Sometimes I feel betrayed – especially if they are famous for giving product recommendations and later you find out they were sponsored. But, in saying that I have to admit I’ve bought things after seeing them promoted on Instagram. Even though I can see right through it, it still works on me

Jack, 24, wrote “I find influencer marketing extremely disingenuous and patronising. It will usually make me lose respect for the social media user promoting the product. Do I think it’s effective though? Yes! For me at the very least, an advertiser has managed to reach an audience that they’re targeting based on the promoter and my skepticism doesn’t usually extend to the product being advertised. If the product looks good I’ll still consider buying it – but not because I aspire to be like the promoter.”

Steph, 22, shared “Even though I know it’s advertising and that I don’t want/need a product I definitely have a look at stuff people I subscribe to promote. It’s effective for me and I like it more than a banner ad or similar.”


How influencer marketing can be done well

So it’s clear that no one believes that when a famous Instagrammer publishes a post featuring a product and raving about it, they just want to share something cool with their digital buddies. But despite the fact that we can see through it, influencer marketing is still a successful marketing strategy. Why else would people be able to fund their lavish lifestyles simply from a few highly edited photographs a week?

But as this article has shown, there are a few things that marketers need to keep in mind when designing an influencer marketing campaign:

  1. Loyalty is more important than sales

Take a page out of the book of content marketers, and focus on providing true value to potential customers, not just selling to them. Giveaways are a great place to start, but you could also consider having the influencer use your product in, for example, a makeup tutorial or recipe. This keeps the followers of the influencer loyal to them, but also will engender loyalty towards you, because you invested money in letting the influencer provide good content!

  1. Disclosure is essential

Your influencer MUST disclose that they are being paid for posting about your product. But never fear! You can make this disclosure sound like a great thing. Something like this goes a long way: “I was paid by [insert company name] to create this post. But, because I love you (my followers) so much, I promise never to promote something unless I actually, truly believe in the product. I promise never to mislead you!” This disclosure doesn’t just fulfil the law – it also makes your influencer sound even more passionate about the product. Win win.

  1. Marketing must be balanced with other content

Do not choose an influencer who does nothing but sell. In fact, the best influencer you can probably use will have tons of followers but have done no sponsored posts. The value of a sponsored post from someone who never shares them is a lot higher than the value of a post by someone who does nothing but promote.

What do you think about influencer marketing? Is this marketing trend dead, or can it still be used effectively?

by Elisabeth Carter

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