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Social media influencers - can they generate ROI?

February 12, 2020

12th of February 2020 6 Minutes read


Do you remember the days when being a Yelp reviewer was the newest cool thing? If you don’t, maybe replaying the 2015 South Park episode, “You’re not Yelping”, might jog your memory. The plot revolved around the citizens of South Park becoming more and more demanding of restaurant services, as they threatened the owners with bad reviews on Yelp. Meanwhile, each of the “food critics” believed they were the opinion leaders of the entire community and that the town relied on their particular reviews. As it always happens with this show, things escalate and degenerate into comical scenes of restaurants refusing to serve “yelpers” and “yelpers” fighting back, bringing things to the verge of civil war.

Does this situation sound familiar at all? Trends don’t last very long in the world of the internet. They are soon replaced by others. But it is not long until history repeats itself under an apparently new situation. Yelp “food critics” may not be as popular as they once were, but they have been replaced by another category. A category we now call “influencers”


What is online influencer marketing?

We hear about the concept of Influencer Marketing more and more, but, really, what is it? And is it any good? Well, it is a method of social media marketing that uses product/service mentions from influencers. 

What are influencers? They are people who have a loyal following on social media platforms and are considered some sort of experts within their niche. This is mainly based on trust. The influencer has to be truly trusted by their audience for this type of marketing to work. In the end, they have to raise brand awareness and even sales for the brands they advertise for.

Even though Instagram influencer marketing is a well-known strategy, there are many other networks that are growing because of influencers. Networks like Snapchat, YouTube and TikTok have their own set of influencers with different demographics.


Where is the influencer industry headed?


By 2022, brands are expected to spend up to $15 billion on influencer marketing. But, on the other hand, the industry is facing problems regarding authenticity and oversaturation. More and more people work towards becoming at least micro-influencers, having that ‘influencer lifestyle’ and ‘being #goals’.

Meanwhile, the way consumers interact with brands is constantly changing. The age of the passive audience seems to be done with. Customers engage with each other and with brands on a daily basis. They are actively looking for authentic and meaningful experiences. This way, they form their own communities based on shared interests and values. The conversations they have with each other are more believable and authentic than many content creators.

In theory, people who create online content are supposed to be this era’s superstars: perfect people we love, trust and most importantly try to be more like. 

But this constantly growing demand for authentic engagement driven by Millenials and Gen Z complicates things for them. They are now expected to deliver real, unstaged content or else they will be tracked down and ‘canceled’. Many users now dig behind the online facade and feel entitled to see the real person, not just the superstar.


Why is online content creators’ credibility decreasing?


Let’s just say there have been some instances where megastars like Kim Kardashian, the world’s biggest influencer, tried to sell her own brand’s make-up products, as well as endorse appetite-suppressing lollipops. It became growingly controversial, and not in a good way at all.

But Kim Kardashian and other Instagram or Youtube celebrities are not solely responsible for the decrease in trust for this type of digital marketing strategy. People with a smaller following, are responsible for this as well. Many of them charged companies huge amounts of money for advertising to an audience that was much smaller than what the target groups these companies were aiming at.


Some online influencer fails


Let’s look at some of the most famous influencer fails to better understand why some have lost interest in this method of promotion.

Firstly, we have this most famous example where a hotel and cafe owner is calling out an Instagrammer for demanding free accommodation by only giving little exposure in return, even though the hotel had much more followers than them.




There’s even this new hashtag ‘#couscousforcomment’ that shames Instagrammers who demand free food. Take this example, where the owners of a travel blog message a restaurant to offer them exposure, but not free of charge:

It has gotten to the point where Joe Nicchi, who owns an ice-cream truck, has had it with self-proclaimed trend-setters that ask for free icecream in return for an Instagram post. He went viral after he posted a sign that said: “influencers pay double”. He even said that he was an “anti-influencer”. So we now know that there’s an actual anti-influencer trend emerging, apart from what some were already doing: hate-follow them. 


Some online influencer wins


There are, of course, many positive examples as well. Let’s take Hulu’s ‘sellout’ campaign which stands out due to transparency: athletes post videos of them saying ‘Hulu has live sports’. And admit being paid by Hulu to do so. With humor and the ‘anti-influencer’ tactic, they managed to generate plenty of buzz.

Another nice example of a successful campaign is Walmart’s #FightHunger campaign. It consisted of Walmart donating ten meals for every user that engaged with the campaign. They teamed up with influencers within the food industry, like chef Ana Quincoces in order to kickstart the campaign. Eventually, they relied solely on users to post their own content. At the end of the campaign, Walmart had donated over 1 billion meals.


Can social media influencers generate ROI?


So how could a business owner know if they would benefitfrom using this type of marketing? How can they know for sure that the internet personality they reached out to doesn’t have mostly a hate-follow type of audience that only follows them for a laugh, as a form of irony? 

Besides that, we all know buying followers is something quite common nowadays. As a business owner looking into a marketing campaign with an online content creator, you need to be able to spot fake followers and inauthentic engagement. How can you tell if a famous Instagrammer bought most of their followers?

It’s said that engagement is the answer. If an online content creator has got an engaged community, quality content, a lot of likes and mostly positive comments, besides sponsored posts, it’s fair to say they may have a positive influence on said business. That is, of course, only if the posting is relevant to their specific industry, the audience aligns with the audience the business is targeting for the campaign, and the influencer can prove to have tested the product.

We could argue that online content creators make advertising a little less intrusive, as the user is the one who chooses whom and for how long, and how much to follow. They can also improve the way we experience ads, tailoring them to fit their own audience - us.
In the end, influencer marketing is just like any other type of marketing strategy. It can work, but only if you choose the person wisely, set an appropriate budget and decide the goals and strategy along with them beforehand.


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