«It’s the golden question!» says stylist and fashion journalist Chloe Beeney about the problem of determining the influencers. «Nobody knows the answer». And she is not the only one who sees no real scheme to predict who will be the next influencer and who is just one-day celebrity and will lose the fame as fast as has gained it. The report “The Rise of Influencers” states that 73% of PR practitioners feel identifying the right influencer is the greatest challenge (Fashion/Beauty Monitor, Econsultancy, 2016). The definition of influencer has changed a lot, and if the concept of Web 1.0 change the rules of the game for journalists and their experts, inviting the bloggers to become the opinion-makers and providing everybody with channel, the wide spread of social media and Web 2.0 have blurred borders further and introduced more possible influencers (Rogers, 2016; Waddington, CIPR, 2012). So-called digital influencers are the new third power, who can enhance for brands easily by posts in their Instagrams and Twitters or short mention of the product in their vlogs. The rules of the game changed and the person with few hundred thousand followers suddenly become as powerful as many well-established media. However, there are many questions about their authority and potential.
First and the main question about these new influencers is the effectiveness of their endorsement. Firstly companies relied on metrics of their followers, which is analogue to readership and likes, which represented the actual number of people who’ve seen the post and somehow appreciated it (Harris, 2017; Lee, 2017). However, these numbers have not meant anything for sales or brand image. Now PR managers are recommended to look at engagement rates, comments and their tone, real sales and sign ups for the information letters or services, etc (Lee, 2017). Such metrics show, that actually, the effectiveness of micro-influencers (below 100,000 followers due to John Harrington from PR Week) can be much higher that impact of the greatest ones (Harris, 2017, Harrington, 2016).
“Micro-influencers’ opinions are not as often seen as endorsements, offering brands the potential to create trusted peer-to-peer recommendations. Influencers <…> add ‘intimacy’ to a brand” explains Philip Brown from the influencer agency Come Round (Harrington, 2016).
A good example of this given in Vogue. Amber Venz Box founded the platform RewardStyle where 11.000 bloggers daily share their opinions and style choices, promoting the items from hundreds of online retailers to their leaders. If recommendations lead to real sales, bloggers receive rewards and some of them, due to Amber, can do more that $100.000 monthly. Her insight is that the most successful bloggers often have 30.000 followers or less which makes them less popular in general but much more influential for their real audience (Harris, 2017).
The second problem of influencer’s relations is that often brands rely on the only channel – their Social Media – and become disappointed when they don’t see the real return of their investments. The point is that audience is too tired of such content and consider it as the new type of advertising rather than the real endorsement and trustworthy recommendation (Harris, 2017).
“There are plenty of advertising executives who think that precisely because of the sheer ubiquity of marketing efforts these days, word-of-mouth appeals have become the only kind of persuasion that most of us respond anymore”, states Malcolm Gladwell in “The Tipping Point” (2000), and it can be referred to the situation with influencers.
The last but not the least question about new influencers is whether the endorsement they provide can be considered as PR at all. They often take money for their posts and with new regulations, they need to mark their posts as advertising. It seems, that such promotional posts just a cheap and often amateur version of the advertisement photoshoot with celebrity endorsement (Harrington, 2016). Moreover, the influencers rarely build lasting relationships with the brands and post about them regularly which leads to another question: does such technique somehow influences the image and reputation of the brand, raise the awareness about it? Those are the main tasks of PR and now it seems the digital influencers does not help much to reach these goals.
In the end, it seems that work with micro-influencers and community leaders more cost-effective and resultative tactic for any brand, and while the digital space growth immediately fast, we have not moved far away from the previous practices when brands directly marketed their products or services via the local representatives.
Gladwell Malcolm (2000). The Tipping Point. How little things can make a big difference. USA: Hachette Book Group.
Harrington John (2016). New influencers: changing the face of PR and marketing. PR Week. Available from http://www.prweek.com/article/1406138/new-influencers-changing-face-pr-marketing#4IeTGvxkyPGEC6aT.99.
Harris Sarah (2017). What Is An Influencer? Vogue.co.uk. Available from http://www.vogue.co.uk/article/what-is-an-influencer.
Lee Chris (2017). Influencer Relations. PRCA Webinar. 22 March 2017.
Rogers Danny (2016). From the editor-in-chief: The PR industry must adapt to influencers or become lost as the map is redrawn. PR Week. Available from http://www.prweek.com/article/1408240/editor-in-chief-pr-industry-adapt-influencers-become-lost-map-redrawn#16m23DOqcIpFmwgy.99.
Waddington Stephen, Chartered Institute of Public Relations (2012). Share this: the social media handbook for PR professionals. Chichester : John Wiley & Sons Ltd.