Today, we hear brands talk about “social media influencers” often. Some brands see them as a way to receive coveted word-of-mouth online, while the media sees them as a way to differentiate the mass from the online niche, and marketers see them as a new conduit to distribute their message. Why? Because according to generally accepted opinion, the voice of a person is more persuasive than that of a brand or entity.
Who are social media influencers?
You can describe them using titles like KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) or SMEs (Subject-Matter Experts) or by specifying what they do, such as bloggers, vloggers, Twitterati, Snapchatters, or Instagrammers. Then, simply add mass following and engagement, and you get what the industry calls “social talent”. However, unlike an actor, singer or professional footballer, social talent isn’t their unique ability; it’s more about how they create content online. Unlike the millions made by those celebrities, social media influencers have “social capital,” meaning that they have an asset or an audience on social media that they can monetize. Will marketers be planning and buying for influencers in the same way they do for existing mediums like television and social networks?
A brief history
To answer the question, let’s have a look at the current lay of the land.
2004 – 2007: Reaching social media influencers dates back to the infancy of Web 2.0, during the inception of the famous viral video Dancing Matt. A young Matt made a compilation video doing a silly dance in many unique places around the world. Soon after, Trident gum became the sponsors of this influencer.
2008 – 2012: The blogger and micro-blogger phase began to evolve. It became apparent that brands could make endorsements without having to pay for them through blogger outreach programs, which means selecting certain influencers to attend events or receive gifts in exchange for some word of mouth.
2012 onwards: The social capital of celebrities is leveraged by brands, with agreements set in place for content that is to be published. Those with a celebrity-like following started charging for tweets, so much so that a specific market emerged for companies to represent these people.
How to work with them?
There are two types of influencers today. There are social media users with a large influence who will freely endorse a brand or entity of their liking. We call these Tier 1 influencers. It is recommended to identify these people and nurture them, which can be done by:
The second type is those who are successfully cashing in on their social capital and we call them Tier 2 influencers. They will exchange their online voice for a fee. How you work with them is slightly different:
What are the risks?
The Advertising Standard Authority (ASA) took issue with Nike’s use of tweets by star asset, Wayne Rooney, in 2012 as well as the use of celebrities by Mars at the time. The general consensus is that if it is an advertisement, it is the users’ right to know so. This is possible on TV and in print, and even with native content online, as it will notify the user with a label like “advertorial”. However, given the fluid nature of social media and limited space, it’s not always clear what content is paid to be endorsed. There was a time when tweets would carry the hashtag #Spon or #Paid, but this is no longer the case today. Without clearly stating that the content is sponsored, both the brand and the influencer run the risk of being penalized by the ASA.
Social media and user communities are only growing, so this space is sure to grow as well. Influencers can cash in by working directly with a brand, with talent management companies, or by having AdSense on their blogs or a content partner agreement with YouTube. Klout even offers users “perks” for sharing content. WeChat has enabled celebrities to connect with their fans. Get Victorious is a US startup that is creating mobile apps to enable influencers to monetize their communities.
For these social media influencers, there is no doubt that social capital is becoming a true commodity. This is becoming so mainstream that it won’t just be for the elite, it will be open to all of us. The question is: would you sell out?
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