‘Influencers’ are receiving a huge amount of bad press at the moment. From the CMA’s new rules around disclosure to the Fyre Festival documentaries and Panorama’s ‘Million Pound Selfie Sell Off’, a picture is being painted of a vacuous industry intent on getting as much as it can for as little as possible. But how much of this is actually true and what does it teach us about influencer marketing?
The word influencer tells us a lot about the issue. At Vuelio, we interview bloggers – in many ways the pioneers of this industry – every week and we ask them what they like to be called. While some do say ‘influencer’ many more specifically say, ‘not influencer’, and choose blogger, vlogger, writer or content creator instead.
The Kardashian effect
‘Influencer’, though clearly just a term that means one who influences, has become synonymous with social media influence – and is often the label for people with huge, visible followings that are paid to endorse products. More specifically, Instagram is often seen as the channel of the influencer thanks, in no small part, to the Kardashians, who have grown exponentially on the platform and are known to be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single post.
This has created a trickle-down effect, where mini Kardashians – typically reality TV stars – tread a similar path to fame and riches, and many now have huge Instagram followings and are paid to endorse products and brands.
While paid celebrity endorsement is nothing new, there has never been so much control given to the endorser. Advertising, and celebrities ‘being the face of’, traditionally required brands to manage the endorsement, whereas Instagram accounts are run by the celebrity, so the format of the endorsement is largely in their hands.
This has led to confused practice where some don’t seem to care about the rules but many more don’t actually understand them. And while the ASA, CAP and CMA are catching up, the speed at which this industry is growing means influencers have to work it out themselves, and then share their expertise around.
Professional content creators
Many professional content creators – bloggers and vloggers – take this very seriously. Their influence, and therefore earning potential, tends to be based on high quality content and genuine expertise. While celebrities use their star power to build an audience, content creators have built loyal followings through their knowledge, excellent writing and great media content.
The way these professional content creators work with brands and are seen by their audience plays a huge part in their ability to thrive in the industry, again because their content is directly linked to their influence. Bloggers and vloggers are now at the forefront of ethics in the influencer marketing industry – actively calling for clear rules and guidelines for everyone to follow to make it an even playing field.
This doesn’t mean that celebrities are the problem, but they are high profile and tend to be names that feature in the mainstream press. So, when one of them does something wrong – or perhaps a group are taken advantage of by a brand that should know better – they further establish the term ‘influencer’ in a negative way.
The influencers in influencer marketing are not one type of person or professional working in one way, which is why the term ‘influencer’ is so problematic. Brands – it’s time to know your influencers, why they’re influential and which type of influence is right for you.
What does this mean for PR?
The PR industry has just as much trouble deciding what an influencer is. As this PRWeek article points out, opinions vary from it being someone who has high engagement with their target audience to social media users with large followings.
Katie Hunter, social and influencer lead at Karmarama, makes a strong point – she said: ‘We definitely need to stop thinking about ‘influencers’ as YouTube celebrities, Insta-stars or a way to buy quick reach of advocacy. A lot of the coverage recently (often negative, let’s be honest) focuses on a very shallow pool of (often very famous) creator talent that certainly isn’t representative of the enormous breadth and endless possibilities open to us through influencer marketing now.’
Once brands and agencies understand the full potential of influencer marketing, and the differences between micro, macro and celebrity influencers, they can collaborate with the right creators who can help them reach their goals and tap into new, loyal audiences both ethically and effectively.
‘Influencers’ have a bad rep and it’s time for every side of the industry to come together and start painting a new picture of how diverse this industry really is, how important it is to brands and how professional it’s becoming.
If you want to work with the right influencers to reach your goals – you need the Vuelio Influencer Database.