Using influential people to promote a product or service is nothing new. Businesses have been using celebs and iconic personalities to peddle their products for just about as long as marketing has been a thing. What is new though is the term “influencer marketing” as it pertains to social media. This refers to the idea of someone with influence promoting a brand’s product or service.
Millennials are shifting their career aspirations from traditional paths like being a fireman or a teacher to being a social media influencer. Yes, actually. Because everyday people can become influential by growing their online following, brands can now move away from costly, disconnected celebrities and move toward more relatable, authentic ambassadors.
How influencer marketing has changed
Believe it or not, influencer marketing became a thing as early as the late 1800s. Companies were not only recruiting celebrities to promote things like cigarettes and home goods, they were hiring royalty and religious leaders. Figures like the queen and pope were often found pushing products between state dinners and Sunday mass.
The 1920s saw one of the most iconic brand/influencer partnerships ever. Ever! Coca Cola called upon the man in the big red suit to collaborate with over the holiday season. 1920 Santa didn’t look like he does now though. Though he started as a stiff, serious looking man, Coke changed his image in 1931 to a jollier, more wholesome version of his former self that made him more likeable and relatable. Though Santa himself is fictional (or is he?), he acted as an influencer that people looked to when making their cola buying decision. People thought that if it’s good enough for Santa, it’s good enough for us.
These days, the game of influencer marketing is played mainly online. The low market barrier of entry means that there are a lot of players. This makes it an accessible strategy for brands of all sizes. This drives the cost down and the quality of collaborations up. What’s more is the rise of user-generated content. Brands no longer have to depend on costly marketing agencies to create their ads- they can now turn to creative influencers who will create content for them at the fraction of the cost. Brands are then able to pull from their followers’ posts and produce user-generated campaigns giving them access to a wider reach and thus higher return.
Social media has developed their platforms
While social media has been around for a while, influencer marketing using social platforms is relatively new. This can be accredited to the rise and development of “real-time” platforms like Snapchat, Periscope and Instagram. As people are now able to share their stories as they happen, users are able to grow their following simply my sharing snippets of their day.
As a follower, getting a behind-the-scenes look at someone’s life allows them to feel connected. This digital relationship- which, let’s be honest, is kind of like stalking- allows the influencer to build trust and authenticity with their audience.
Connecting with influencers has become a breeze
Way back when, finding an influencer for your brand was a feat. They used to be hard-to-reach celebrities who were only attainable for businesses with mega marketing budgets. Now, setting up a collaboration can be done from your couch (pants optional). If you don’t feel like messaging potential partners, influencer marketplaces are an easy and quick alternative. Apps like Rep have a roster of brands and influencers with large followings who are there specifically to collaborate with one another.
Consumers trust people over brands
Consumers have smartened up and have outgrown traditional marketing techniques. Further than that, they’ve begun reacting negatively toward it. A growing cloud of distrust and skepticism surrounds anything that sounds too advertis-y. They’ve taken their buying decisions into their own hands. This means doing their research and buying from brands they feel they can connect with. With the majority of people being influenced by second-hand information, influencer marketing is an absolute gold mine.
Because consumers have been burned one too many times by false advertising and shady claims, the one thing brands are lacking is authenticity. Luckily for them, the right influencer is covered in that stuff.
People trust people more than they trust brands. When you add the connection that comes with following someone online and feeling like you know them, that trust skyrockets. Influencer marketing is social media’s version of word-of-mouth marketing.
Anyone and everyone can be a social media influencer. In the poignant words of Malcolm Gladwell, “There are exceptional people out there who are capable of starting epidemics. All you have to do is find them.”