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“The industry is really changing. It used to be about the Insta famous or those with 1m+ followers, but now it’s about everyday content creators. They’re not models, or professional stylists, but their content is high quality and in the exact visual tone that we know their audiences like.” Georgie Cavanagh, TRIBE’s Head of Creator and Brand Partnerships

4 years ago, if anyone asked whether you had heard of ‘Joe Wickes’ you might start racking your brains trying to remember what the new guy at work is called.

Fast forward to 2017 and The Body Coach is now a brand in itself, built by Wickes through the power of social media. Along with numerous other personalities, Wickes is a prominent figure in one of the less considered marketing channels – all hail the rise of the Social Influencer…

Influencer marketing is rooted in one of the most traditional advertising channels – Word of Mouth, regarded as one of the most powerful marketing tools, yet the hardest for brands to utilise.

It can be argued that social media is the modern platform for WOM marketing, driven via the power of sharing. As human beings, we trust and value the opinions of our friends and family and act on their recommendations.

If a new brand or product is shared in a favourable light by your friend on Facebook, the likelihood is you will try it out yourself. Be it the latest pair of football boots; a new brand of mascara; the must-have kitchen gadget, if someone we trust is telling us we need it, we are likely to listen.

Social media advertising is by no means new. We’re all used to seeing adverts within Facebook news feed, un-skippable ads before YouTube videos and #hashtags on Twitter to create hype; however people are becoming immune to these adverts.

A study by Kantar TNS found that 40% of Brits ‘actively ignore’ social posts or ads from brands and find social advertising too intrusive.

In a world where consumers are constantly bombarded with marketing and adverts, there is a greater need for authenticity and trust from the brands we are spending our hard earned money with.

This is where the social influencer steps in.

Normal people with a passion for niche subjects, be that health & fitness, beauty, cooking or sports, these people are able to create an emotional link between brands and customers. Some may only have a few hundred followers, others into the hundreds of thousands – their power is the influence they have over each one which can in turn sway opinion of a brand.

According to Reevoo, 70% of customer’s rate peer to peer recommendations above professionally written copy, whilst 40% of 16-24 year olds trust what people say online about brands more than ‘official’ sources such as TV, press and own websites.

Influencer advertising is essentially using customers to sell your products - brands need to utilise this to cut through the noise of traditional advertising.

Influencers have become the voice of honesty for consumers – we value their opinion and trust the genuine promotion of the product. Influencers share every aspect of their day to day life with their followers, building a relationship to create a social connection across the digital world.

Supermarket brand Iceland have realised the potential of social influencers, ditched the celebrities (Peter Andre who?) and are working with ‘real families’ through an exclusive partnership with ‘Channel Mum’.

Similarly L’Oreal have been working with beauty vlogger Michelle Phan who has amassed just over 8 million subscribers on YouTube since starting her own blog in 2007. To her followers, Phan’s opinion on all things beauty is gospel – if she recommends it, they will buy it. This influence is in many ways more effective at convincing consumers to purchase than any TV, radio or digital display campaign.

Influencers don’t need follower numbers into the millions to help brands. All Bar One increased ‘brunch’ sales by 28% across 50 of their bars nationwide using ‘micro-influencers’. A three month campaign targeting professional women aged 25-34 using 10 influencers with a combined reach of 200k delivered 4,000 engagements; 2% growth in brand relevance and consideration and 18% increase in followers on the All Bar One Instagram account.

Whilst the positives of influencer marketing are clear, there are drawbacks. In a world where return on investment is key influencer marketing is hard to quantify. The tracking and attribution of sales from recommendations on social media feeds isn’t as clear cut when compared to the tracking of more traditional channels such as Direct Mail.

As brands have cottoned on to the benefits of influencer marketing, the demands on the influencers have questioned their levels of honesty. It is not uncommon for (sometimes large) sums of money to be exchanged between influencers and brands leading to fake or forced posts, undermining their follower’s trust. As a consequence, influencers are being encouraged to clearly state when they are being paid to review/promote a product. #AD is becoming a more familiar sight within newsfeeds, giving the follower the opportunity to decide how genuine they feel the promotion is. This could be a true test of trust between the follower and influencer – will people continue to buy what they are promoting once they know the benefits the influencer is receiving?

A recent experiment set up by Californian based agency Mediakix highlighted a major flaw with influencer marketing and the lack of regulation exploiting both consumers and brands. Mediakix created two profiles from scratch, yet managed to secure four paid endorsement deals and free products worth over $500.

They bought followers and paid for likes and comments to prove anyone can play the system and become an influencer. The brands were led to believe they were tapping into an engaged audience that trusted the opinions of the Instagram accounts when in reality, the followers were as fake as the influencers themselves.

Despite this, Influencer marketing is not going anywhere soon. In September, New York hosted the second ‘Influencer Marketing Days’ conference dedicated to all things influencer marketing. We all like to think were immune to advertising and able to make decisions based on our own judgement.

There are marketing agencies set up to create links between brands and influencers, charging brands commission on top of any post they purchase. Unilever baking brand Stork worked with Tribe to generate content of ‘mouth-watering bakes’ – 21 creator posts, 4.16% engagement at £0.16 per engagement, all delivered within hours of sign off.

What does the future hold for Influencer Marketing? Tribe founder Jules Lund speaks of the meaningful shift from celebrities to everyday citizens celebrating the brands they love; Sharyn Smith of Social Group highlights the need for authenticity, transparency, relationships, integration and results (not awareness) with the rise of new platforms such as Facebook Live and Instagram & Snapchat stories. Vamp co-founder Aaron Brooks questions the label ‘influencers’ and instead emphasises the content created, not just the reach of their posts.

In a world in which everything seems to be happening online (even the most powerful nation is being run by their president via Twitter) Influencer Marketing is going nowhere fast. Personally, I think that the content brands and influencers share is going to be the key to their success. Brands need to cater for what their audience is looking for, with content tailored to their interests rather than constant promotional messages.

Here at Response One we are well aware of the need for exciting, innovative, interesting content to elevate a brands message above the noise of competitors. As our very own content expert Toby Brown states, content is “designed to persuade consumers to spend time with their brand.”

Brands need to ensure they provide authentic, entertaining and helpful content. By utilising social influencers cleverly, brands can ensure they appear not only relevant - but vital.