UPDATE January 29, 2019 — The rise of social media came with a profound shift in the way we interact with content and advertisements all over the globe. With increasing frequency, audiences are turning to prevalent influencers on social media for content, consumer tips/advice, and entertainment, essentially creating a new kind class of quasi-celebrity.
Called social media influencers, these social media all-stars are notable and have massive followings and influence despite not being celebrities in the traditional sense. Many of them don’t come from film or television but have instead cultivated a loyal social media follower and fan base centered around a narrow (but often expanding) niche interest.
To understand why brands are using influencers to reach elusive Millennials and younger demographics whose attention is increasingly difficult to capture with traditional advertising, it’s important to first understand what a social media influencer is and how influencer marketing functions within a larger marketing ecosystem.
Social media influencers are users with large followings on major social networks, primarily YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, individual blogs or, most likely, some combination therein. There’s no concrete number of followers that constitutes the tipping point between “popular user” and “social media influencer,” but it’s worth noting that there are certainly tiers and that an influencer’s following is a major factor in reach, engagement, and cost.
From micro-influencers that post to a few thousand followers to the all-time biggest social media influencers who dispatch updates to millions of followers across platforms, influencers come in all shapes and sizes (known as influencer tiers). Most influencers begin by creating content around one specific interest or topic, such as gaming, lifestyle, makeup, fashion, or travel. By creating consistent and compelling content, influencers develop a base of fans who respond to their content and look to their social channels for entertainment and information.
Some social media influencers maintain a narrow focus on their content and channel efforts, but many choose to branch out and develop audiences on other platforms with content focused around a widening array of topics. That said, regardless of whether or not a social media influencer creates and posts on a single platform or on every available platform, each platform is unique, and so too are the ways in which a social media influencer use those platforms.
YouTubers, Instagrammers, Snapchatters, and bloggers all create different types of content with different goals and intents, but they’re similar in that they’re all attempting to deliver a message to their followers that will inspire interest and loyalty and will keep audiences coming back.
Influencers on social media enable brands to target specific demographics. Because influencers often have a relatively specific type of content, their audiences may be a bit more clearly defined than the audience of network television shows and major studio films. Through influencers, brands can speak to specific target demos with tailored messages.
But one key to fully understanding marketing with social media influencers is to note that most influencer partnerships don’t revolve around an influencer reciting brand messaging.
One of the primary draws of a social media influencer is authenticity, and an influencer’s fans rely on and expect that authenticity in all of their content. The most successful social media influencer campaigns often foreground that authenticity, allowing influencers to leverage the trust that their followers have in their work by talking about brands in their own way with their own finely tuned voices.
Another key element to the social media influencer equation is the value of direct communication and voice. Though related to authenticity, the delivery method for information and messaging through a social media influencer campaign is crucial. Messaging from influencers reaches audiences directly and it comes from a voice that these audiences already know, trust, and are willing to engage with.
Finding a voice that consumers will respond to is a major factor in determining the success of marketing efforts, and using an influencer on social media can be a deeply effective method.
As audiences move away from traditional marketing avenues in favor of digital formats, it’s becoming more imperative that advertisers and brands find new ways to engage with audiences. Cord cutting and ad blocking, combined with the staggering amount of time internet users are spending on social media (5 years and 4 months over a lifetime), social media influencers represent a powerful opportunity for brands to reach audiences in the places where they’re already spending a lot of time.
As traditional advertising methods wane, brands are finding that creating campaigns with influencers that highlight authenticity are paying off in a big way. Because a social media influencer can deliver information and messaging to audiences directly using a voice that audiences already know and trust, brands can cut through the noise and blocked content that constitutes much of traditional advertising in today’s marketing landscape with influencer campaigns.
People are more likely to listen and respond to people they trust, and with 70% of teenagers on YouTube saying that they relate to YouTubers more than they do mainstream traditional celebrities and 40% of Millennials claiming that their favorite creator understands them better than their friends do, there’s nary a group more poised to effectively partner with brands than social media influencers.