The rise of the social media 'influencer' is a fascinating trend, and our MSc Marketing students recently enjoyed a guest lecture from Sara McCorquodale, who runs an influencer intelligence platform and whose new book is called Influence: How Social Media Influencers Are Shaping Our Digital Future.
Digital influencing is disrupting the traditional advertising and media sectors, and is forecast to be worth over £10bn by next year. High profile examples of influencers include Deliciously Ella, who posts about food, and Zoella, who focuses on lifestyle and beauty. They can reportedly earn up to £12,000 per sponsored post.
There are an estimated 800,000 social media influencers out there. So what's Sara's advice to businesses trying to navigate this increasingly crowded space?
"Choosing the right one is difficult so that's why understanding their background is important. Otherwise you're looking at 10,000 people all creating beauty content and what makes one better? Understanding where your brand could fit into their story is really crucial, so you can create something that feels compelling and not awkward.
"What you see now is people who are actors have YouTube channels. Everyone is using social platforms to show they have a degree of influence. There is a substantial pool of money going toward this. The fact that there is such commercial interest in reaching consumers via social platforms means that having that string to your bow is helpful. Even in journalism editors want to hire reporters who have big social followings."
Which kinds of businesses should be going after influencers?
"Every brand is going after this space. Some are doing content that is more compelling than others. We've worked with property developers who want an influencer strategy. We're now being approached by banks. Everyone knows this is about how to communicate with the consumer or potential consumer."
How important is an influencer's number of followers?
"If someone has two million followers and only 10% of that is your target market then you're going to pay for the two million. The money they charge you will be based on their subscriber account so what's the point if only 10% of the audience is what you're after?
"If you're a brand and you're trying to reach 25- to 29-year-old women, why not work with ten influencers whose audiences are that target market? You can do this in a way that works with your budget. I don't think it's about numbers any more. It's about how much their content resonates with your target market. Does it make sense for you to be part of the story they're telling?"
What's the next best thing?
"Social media is becoming more about entertainment than selling and retail. Facebook would like Instagram to become the ultimate shopping destination but people are responding to stories which reveal vulnerabilities, where influencers are sharing experiences and starting conversations. There's been such a glut of consumerist content that people are bored, so you need to find a cut-through and often that's through sharing something deeper about yourself than 'Oh I really enjoyed this face cream!'"
As Sara says of her own platform: "We don't just look at YouTubers and Instagrammers. We look at poets, artists, writers. We're always looking for people who are interesting."