Under the influence: How influencing are influencers?

Instagram is home to a thriving global influencer and marketing platform, with many brands and companies trading in traditional celebrity endorsement as the preferred means of marketing on social media. (Image source: WWD)

By Bec Gaitaneris | @bec_gaitaneris

Open your Instagram, scroll through your feed and it won’t take you long to find an influencer posting about something – a pair of shoes, protein powder, or a luxury getaway.

 To trust or not to trust?

 Just five years ago, you probably hadn’t even heard of the term ‘influencer’. Fast-forward to 2020 and Instagram feeds are constantly overflowing with photos of this new breed of ‘influencers’.

An ‘influencer’ is generally someone who has a niche content focus with a large following or audience on their social media accounts, and they often persuade their audience to buy certain products.

Dr Lara Stocchi, a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of South Australia and Flinders University says influencers’ marketing relies on non-media connectors.

In other words, influencers are individuals in a specific field—such as experts, bloggers, opinion leaders, celebrities, or ordinary people who are passionate—that are sharing information about or promoting certain industries or products.

“Influencer marketing entails a mixture of product placement, brand endorsement, content creation, which are all disseminated across different types of social media platforms, especially the ones that support videos,” Dr Stocchi said.

“There are different types of social media influencers and they can be categorised into three main sectors including mega-influencers, macro-influencers and micro-influencers.”

Unlike traditional forms of marketing, one of the most interesting things about the rise of influencer marketing is that social media influencers don’t necessarily have to be well-known Hollywood celebrities or have millions of followers.

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Adelaide based influencer, Brooke Upton. (Image source: Brooke Upton)

20-year-old Adelaide social media influencer Brooke Upton (pictured above) has made a name for herself in the social media industry, with 30,000 Instagram followers.

Outside of her influencer work, Ms Upton is studying Media and Marketing at Flinders University, which she says has helped in building her platform.

“Studying media and marketing has given me more insight into the marketing industry and helps when deciding on particular brand sponsorships,” Ms Upton said.

Ms Upton tries to use her platform in an authentic and real way, which has seen her gain a significant following in recent years.

“It’s really important for people online, especially those with a large following to establish where you are and what you stand for,” she said.

Connecting authentically with audiences is a sentiment that resonates with many successful influencers.

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American YouTuber and influencer, Emma Chamberlain. (Image source: Emma Chamberlain

In an interview with Cosmopolitan, YouTube star Emma Chamberlain discusses her thoughts on the term ‘influencers’.

“If someone is calling me an influencer, they’re saying that my job is to influence, and I don’t think that’s true”, Ms Chamberlain said.

“I prefer to entertain and to be a friend. I don’t want to influence”.

With almost nine million Instagram followers, Ms Chamberlain chooses not to define herself as an influencer, instead, she prefers to connect with her followers and provide entertaining content.

In essence, influencer marketing is an ad that doesn’t look like a paid commercial at all, which is why it is becoming the preferred means of advertising.

“Influencer marketing is an effective source of eWOM (online word-of-mouth), especially in comparison to paid advertising,” Dr Stocchi said.

Influencers’ content is not as pushy as traditional paid advertising and it often targets specific demographics. However, as with every business decision, influencer marketing is not a solution for everyone.

“The influencer industry needs authenticity, credibility and trust, not just followers,” Dr Stocchi said.

While the future for influencer marketing seems promising: According to recent studies by Business Insider, influencer marketing is expected to reach $15 billion by 2022; Dr Stocchi says it hasn’t yet proven to enhance engagement.

“Social media engagement is much lower than expected and even influencer marketing struggles to help with this [see image below],” she said.

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Influencers engagement rate from Rival IQ’s 2019 Social Media Industry Benchmark Report. (Image source: Rival IQ)

“With influencer marketing becoming the preferred means of marketing on social media, there needs to be post-campaign tracking—reach, engagement etc.,” Dr Stocchi said.

Ms Upton says that she has seen has a spike in the importance of micro influencers.

“Micro influencers are becoming more prominent in the marketing industry due to their super trusting and targeted demographic,” Ms Upton said.

Ms Upton doesn’t just influence by uploading photos on her Instagram account, she uploads honesty, everyday content on her stories to form real connections with her followers.

“I always try to represent a real person to my followers, someone they can reach out to”, she said.

She reminds her followers to never compare themselves to others especially those you see on Instagram. Ms Upton also encourages and promotes body confidence and self love to her younger followers.

“Whether you’ve got 100 followers or 100,000 followers, you have people looking at your content and it’s important that you are influencing in a positive way and inspire the way you want to inspire,” she said.

While there is much debate as to whether influencers are actually influencing, influencers are becoming more prominent in the digital world.

Likewise, if influencers are generating brand awareness and sales, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are influencing. If you are open to new opinions or information that will generate long-term value to society from individuals you don’t know personally, then influencers are essentially influencing you.

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