Social media influencers (SMI)… they flood our screens with aesthetically pleasing photos, photos that have been retouched to perfection and a plethora of endorsements and advertisements. We can’t scroll for more than 5 seconds on Instagram without coming across one. They’re elusive in the way they market products for brands, utilising different methods to become more authentic and relatable, in the hopes of eliciting a purchase by YOU.
Firstly, it should be established why these SMI are chosen by brands and companies to promote their products and form sponsorships with. They are usually characterised by certain traits which include knowledge, production of quality content, high engagement and persuasion. In more technical terms, they are also characterised by the number of followers, posts, likes and comments they have. Each of these attributes contribute to the (perceived) effectiveness of social media influencer marketing.
Influencer marketing has become one of the most efficient and effective ways in which brands can promote their products or services to a specific target audience. Brands will send their products to influencers free of charge, in the hopes that they will communicate some information about the product sampled on their socials (for example, a PR unboxing on Youtube). On the other end of the spectrum, brands might pay a SMI and dictate specific requirements that they want in the content (for example, a link to where consumers can purchase the product).
Audrezeta, Kervilerb and Moulard argue that influencer marketing is a form of product placement as it involves purposefully integrating brand messages into editorial media content. Prior to March 2017, the lines were blurred when it came to this product placement on social media. The products were presented in such a way that is seamlessly integrated in consumption situations that the consumer could project themselves in, which is why it was hard to distinguish if they genuinely used the product, or were paid to do so. The Code of Ethics clause was introduced by the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) which states that:
“Advertising or marketing communications shall be clearly distinguishable as such to the relevant audience.”
As a result, this is why we now see sponsored posts or ads on Instagram clearly denoted through the hashtag #ad or by captions that tell us that the SMI are working in partnership with brands.
Authenticity is an attribute that has been recognised as being one of the most important attributes when it comes to SMI. Being authentic and posting authentic content is inevitably linked to more trust, and having more trust ultimately leads to more power when it comes to persuasion and purchasing behaviour.
Brands choose certain SMI to market their products based on their perceived reach to a certain target audience, like I mentioned before. These SMI get paid according to the number of followers they have. Essentially, the more followers a SMI has, the more they will get paid for a sponsored post. However, a lot of people actually purchase followers to seem more popular.
In The Follower Factory article, the authors highlight how easy it is to purchase followers or ‘bots’. All kinds of people are spending thousands of dollars to amass a following online – from SMI and celebrities to marketing and public relations agencies for their own clients. It has been reported that Facebook and Instagram have made a step in fighting illegitimate accounts, likes and views when they filed a lawsuit against three New Zealanders last month, in the US federal court.
So it makes me wonder, to what extent is social media influencer marketing effective if a lot of SMI have fake followers bought from companies that use bots? How many ‘real’ people are brands reaching if many of them are fake? The authenticity of the power that these SMI have can therefore be questioned.
Let me know your thoughts on the effectiveness of influencer marketing, and if you think that brands are wasting their money in the comments below. Additionally, if you think more needs be done to regulate the inauthenticity of fake accounts. As always, thanks for reading!