The rise of new forms of social influence (and influencers)

Using high profile individuals, such as celebrities or well-known opinion leaders, to influence others is a well-known marketing strategy. However, the omnipresence of social media has tremendously increased the accessibility and appeal of this approach.

For example, Selena Gomez has over 144 million followers on Instagram that she engages with each of her posts. In 2018, the exposure of a single photo shared by her was valued at $3.4 million. However, she comes at a high price: one post that Selena sponsors for a brand can cost upwards of $800,000.

But is this hefty price tag worth it? Putting high valuations on mere online exposures or collecting “likes” for specific posts can be somewhat speculative, as academic research shows that acquiring “likes” on social media might have no effect on consumers’ attitudes or behaviours. Even worse, whilst the evidence suggests that positive exposures may not lead to more customers, research has shown that negative exposure most certainly can have a big impact – meaning you really can’t trust the old adage that there is no such thing as bad press. Putting so much resource in to such exposure can therefore be a big risk.

However, whilst these traditional celebrities are often too expensive for smaller brands, they have begun, and will continue to, capitalize on the popularity and success of what are referred to as “micro-influencers,” representing a new form of influencers. Micro-influencers are influencers who are not as well-known as celebrities, but who have strong and enthusiastic followings that are usually more targeted, amounting anywhere between a few thousand to hundreds of thousands of followers. In general, these types of influencers are considered to be more trustworthy and authentic than traditional celebrities, which is a major reason influencer marketing has grown increasingly appealing. These individuals are often seen as credible “experts” in what they post about, encouraging others to want to view the content they create and engage with them. Furthermore, using these influencers allows the brand via first person narration (compared to ads), which is considered warmer and more personal, and was shown to be more effective in engaging consumers.

The use of influencer marketing then, whilst not a new phenomenon, may be growing into a more targeted and nuanced marketing tool that can benefit businesses – providing they take the time to find the right influencer for them (and not necessarily the one with the most followers).


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