The Rise of Authentic Influencers

Author: Jim Tobin   Source: MediaPost

Celebrities and endorsements have long gone hand in hand. But we’ve gone from “Breakfast of Champions” with Lou Gehrig on the Wheaties box in 1934 and “It’s Gotta Be the Shoes” with Michael Jordan for Nike in 1989, to today, where social media influencers have become the prominent face of global brands. A recent segment on 60 Minutes confirms that what has been coined ‘social media influencer marketing’ has officially entered the mainstream. For the segment, correspondent Bill Whittaker interviewed a handful of young social media influencers, attributing their charisma and many followers to profitability for brands.

However, “60 Minutes” and this traditional conception of celebrity-driven influencer marketing is a bit outdated; research reveals that celebrity endorsements carry less influence than marketers think, and actually it is those with more niched influence that most effectively engage with consumers. 

Most consumers trust celebrity influencer endorsements far less than every other type of brand promotion, coupled with the fact that these endorsements don’t have lasting power. Meanwhile, a study shows that influencers with between 1,000 and 1,999 Instagram followers engage with customers more effectively than those with more than 100,000 followers. In fact, engagement levels for sponsored posts plummet as an influencer’s reach increases. 

These findings suggest brands should move away from celebrities and focus their marketing efforts on niche influencers instead. The fundamental difference between niche-specific influencers and celebrities, as said by Ron Schott, senior communications manager at Microsoft: “Social influencers don’t show up on TMZ. It’s a question of mass reach versus mass impact. Influencers carry weight on subjects. Celebs bring exposure.”

Sure, celebrities can promise reach, but niche influencers (industry experts, specialists, and thinkers) charm customers, something that results in a steady stream of sales. Authentic influencers are seen as less aloof than celebrities, have regular lives and share the same interests as their audience. They’re cheaper, too: “In general, celebrity endorsements are still a lot more expensive,” says Advertising Week. “This is another clear reason for brands to be experimenting with more niche ambassadors.”

The influencers that most impact brands have a passion about the subject matter the present on social media. Their content typically shows product uses in a way that drives viewers to purchase — think recipes, “get the look,” and tutorials. If consumers are inspired to use your product based on social content, they move quickly down the purchase funnel.

Celebrity endorsements aren’t going anywhere, but the rise of authentic influencers has led to a new genre of advertising: personal recommendations that customers trust.