In the age of social media, advertising is no longer just a giant billboard on the side of the highway. Businesses are paying a lot of money to have their ads at the top of your search results, on promoted Tweets as you scroll, and between Instagram Stories. What’s changed also is not just where they advertise, but also how they advertise. Thirty years ago, your mom probably bought her cosmetics because a pretty but nameless girl smiled on TV as she danced and sang and promoted a product. Your mom bought those cosmetics because she wanted to be like that girl: pretty, confident, and happy. That’s how it worked before, but in the age of social media, it’s much different.
Unlike in the past when celebrities and actors were a whole other world in television shows and news, social media has provided a direct line of communication, allowing celebrities to connect with their fans. There’s a much thinner wall separating a celebrity’s personal life with their showbiz life, so if they claim to endorse one product on billboards but is caught using another product on social media, it becomes confusing and it’s hard to separate which is work and which is their real life.
So, you have celebrities, and you have social media influencers. Unlike your Hollywood celebrities, social media influencers make money by meticulously building up an online fanbase for themselves in their own niche, creating an online persona that makes people want to follow them and treat them as something like a celebrity. In return, businesses use that fame and influence by paying the influencer to endorse the product in such a way that it doesn’t like your typical ad. Or maybe it does, but at this point, the influencer’s fanbase trusts the influencer enough to vouch for the product.
It’s a fairly new advertising strategy in the market. And while we still see people roll their eyes at self-proclaimed influencers, it’s a billion-dollar industry that has provided them with income that sometimes exceeds the average salary of people who work in traditional nine-to-five jobs.
Debunking Influencer Myths: It’s Harder Than It Looks
Most people think that influencer advertising is easy: the business gives the influencer money to advertise the product, they send the product in the mail, and the influencer takes a selfie with it and had made money out of one post. In reality, there’s a lot more legal matters and statistics to it.
For one thing, negotiations are much more difficult, especially for influencers just starting out or are not as established in their niche as other influencers. Some businesses may not offer cash deals, simply more products in return for social media. Veteran influencers understand that their brand has value and deserve to be paid, but smaller influencers may have to settle with less opportune deals and wait for their base to grow before gaining leeway to make more demands.
The contract between the business and the influencer also states what’s expected out of the deal. Businesses don’t just look at influencers and decide, “Yes, this influencer is the face of our product.” It’s actually a calculated risk based on how many followers they have, the demographics of who their followers are (Sony and Xbox, for example, are more likely to get YouTube gamers and influencers such as Markiplier and PewDiePie for their products over Jeffree Star, who influences the beauty side of YouTube), and how many followers are more likely to be influenced. During the deal, the two parties state what the influencer is supposed to do with the product, how many videos, Tweets, or IG stories the product should be featured in, and how many views it should have.
Failure to comply means serious consequences for the influencer. In early November 2018, influencer Luka Sabbat – with 1.5 million followers on Instagram and 371,000 on Twitter – received $60,000 to wear Snap Inc’s glasses in public and make one Instagram post and three Instagram Story posts during New York, Milan, and Paris Fashion Week. However, he was sued by the PR company that reached out to him when he failed to post one Instagram Story or be photographed in public with the glasses on.
Why Are Marketers and Advertisers Choosing Influencers?
It’s a huge risk on the business’ part. It’s also a big expense for one online post, especially for established influencers. Kylie Jenner, for example, is the leading influencer online with 112 million followers, charging one million dollars for every sponsored post. She’s followed by Selena Gomez, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kim Kardashian, and Beyoncé, who make between $700,000 to $800,000 per post.
So, why are advertisers still choosing to work with influencers despite the costs and risks? First, it’s because it’s online marketers and advertisers’ jobs to track what’s trending online because what is trending can lead to higher sales. So, redirecting influencers to make their product trend can result in higher sales.
Creating a Trend
Second, influencers, unlike celebrities and actors, know how to be personal with their fan base while pushing products. If they have a product and it’s really good, people are more willing to buy the product because the influencer says so. Some people may deny that they choose to buy products because of what an influencer say, but whether they know it or not, they may be unconsciously buying it due to the growing trend created by the influencer. And businesses are smart enough to capitalize on that influence.
Products Used by “Everyday People”
Third, when you see a commercial for a product on television, what you get are creative visualizations and products made to look its best by people whose job it is to make a want turn into a need. But with influencers, it’s like seeing how the product is used by everyday people. Beauty influencers use cosmetics and, since most makeup doesn’t have a specific way to be used, you see different ways a product can be used by people who have built a persona of a personable “just-like-you” type you see online.
As a result, it feels more natural and authentic to people, even though it’s sometimes easy to tell who is sponsored even if they don’t mention it. But because the influencer, an everyday person in their followers’ eyes and not an unreachable celebrity, vouches for it, then surely it is a product worth buying.
The Influencer Side
However, that does not mean influencers will grab at every opportunity presented to them. On a personal side, these influencers choose to be true to themselves and refuse to support products they don’t agree with. For influencers like Chiara Ferragni, it comes down to choosing the right products to endorse.
And it’s not only a personal choice, but a calculated move for some. Influencers have built a brand for themselves, and endorsing a product that goes against what they stand for may hurt their brand and lose followers. Beauty influencer Zoella, for example, would never endorse Maybelline on her channel since she’s built a reputation of being cruelty-free and Maybelline tests its cosmetics on animals.
Changing the Way Businesses Advertise
Given the rise of influencer marketing, the biggest change anyone can see is that fewer people are content with advertising meant to suit the general public. Whereas television commercials play for anyone tuned into a certain channel, digital marketing is tailored to specific people. Google Ads takes your demographics, search history, and browsing experience and puts forward ads that you’re more likely to click on than people not in your demographic. PR firms are taking the popular people from the social media niches you’re a part of and are paying them to put a product in your way.
In a much bigger picture, these forms of online advertisements are making it more convenient for businesses because they make sure their ads go to the right people. At the same time, you’re less likely to be bombarded with ads and clickbait and more likely to find things you actually want to buy.
It’s a huge step from printing a billboard and hope that the millions of people who drive through a highway are part of your target market. The price is still high for the business, but they know where their money is going.
And given that this is the result of the digital era and the rise of social media, what other changes and developments can we expect? It’s possible that ads can get more personalized and fine-tuned to increase the chance that you buy a business’ products.
Social media users may not understand how influencers continue to thrive, but really, it is their marketing and advertising that is affecting trends on social media. It changes the way we might look at advertising, but it may also affect the way we see online personas and how people portray themselves before and after scoring lucrative sponsor deals.