Over the past few years Ireland has seen an explosion in the number of brand partnerships with “influencers”. This in turn has led to a significant rise in the number and type of online personalities categorising themselves as influencers coupled with a corresponding erosion of trust in their effectiveness. Added to this, several bespoke influencer agencies have emerged and we’ve seen the introduction of new advertising codes aimed at providing more clarity to the public and the industry in general. However, there remain significant challenges particularly when it comes to transparency and trust, and the industry will have to combat these challenges if it is to build credibility with the public and ultimately secure more marketing investment.
Endorsements and the use of brand advocates and ambassadors to influence behaviour has always had a place in the marketing mix and this will continue to be the case. But to be effective, marketers must focus on quality and strategic fit over quantity and reach. While working with influencers who have a significant social media following helps increase the chances of your campaign driving reach, this should never be the key objective – an opportunity exists to use influencers to do exactly what they’re supposed to do – influence our audience perception of the brand and its products. The critical factor in all of this is transparency and authenticity. Genuine influencers do not align with non-relevant brands. They understand the value of their own brand and their followers which dictates what content they share. When an influencer and brand relationship is authentic and relevant, this can be highly valuable to both parties and play a crucial role in the wider marketing strategy.
As well as a lack of transparency, inflated influencer costs are also driving negativity. It started off as a relatively low-cost way for brands to engage audiences but now prices have sky rocketed with little justification given the proliferation of brand associations and the consequent erosion of the value of those associations. This has helped fuel the emergence of micro-influencers who are more choiceful of their associations and provide a more targeted and more cost-effective approach to delivering strong results for brands.
The requirement to be transparent is everyone’s responsibility, strong advertising codes and enforcement play their part, but new developments from social platforms to allow sponsored content to become more identifiable across platforms will perhaps have the biggest impact. We’ve recently trialled a new Facebook feature which gives influencers the option to tag brands in their posts to allow them to promote their content but also clearly flag that they are partnering with the brand and it is sponsored content. So far, the results are really encouraging and in our view, it certainly helps with transparency by making it considerably easier for the audience to identify promoted content. Instagram have also added a new tool which allows influencers to clearly identify when they're getting paid by a brand by including a tag at the top of the Instagram post that reads "Paid partnership with (insert brand)".
So, what does the future of influencer marketing look like? We’ve seen a significant shift in brands seeking out micro-influencers particularly internationally. While micro-influencers might not have a massive reach they tend to have very high engagement rates in their niche and can deliver cut-through, relevance and the all-important third-party endorsement from a trusted source.
We’re also witnessing influencers develop new skills such as photo and video editing to help them generate incredible, standout content in an industry that is over saturated with bland branded content. They are becoming content collaborators who through their own point of view and engaging content are a very useful tool in a brands armoury in the battle to influence behaviour.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rachel Purcell is a digital account manager at Edelman Ireland. At Edelman Ireland, Rachel leads the influencer division in Dublin and works closely with the global Edelman influencer team. She works with a range of leading Irish and international brands to deliver successful digital campaigns.