In 2012, Brian Solis wrote “The Rise of Digital Influence,” a “how-to” guide for businesses to spark desirable effects and outcomes through social media influence. By 2015, Adweek had determined social media marketing was the “Next Big Thing,” saying it would open a new channel for brands to connect with consumers more directly, organically and at scale. Today, you will find that social media marketing is more aptly called influencer marketing, and it is living up to the hype as a proven channel that delivers brands with real results.
In reality, however, influencer marketing is nothing new. Since the dawn of advertising, businesses and brands have tapped into people with influence – typically celebrities and well-known public figures to promote products and services. And since blogs came on to the scene in the early 2000s, marketers have been trying to figure out how to leverage them for brand benefit.
Yet, if influencer marketing is nothing new, and blogs and social media have been around for more than a decade, why is it obtaining so much attention now? Tapinfluence, a leading influencer marketing automation provider, has outlined it as the creation of “the perfect storm” of marketers, influencers and consumers, in which major shifts in behaviors and tactics are proving powerful.
For marketers, the shifts require a broader grasp of messaging and a deeper understanding of data. With the emergence of digital marketing came the opportunity for every effort to be tracked, measured and attributed – meaning no sale goes uncredited. This data focus extends to social circles as well, thanks to the connectivity of social media. Software is being developed that offers “Return on Sentiment” analysis and word-of-mouth analytics. Similarly, the content that marketers measure has shifted dramatically from “Here’s how great our product is!” to controlling of the narrative by consumers. Brands must present a relatable message and encourage a positive conversation at every touch point.
Influencers also have had to shift their content toward short-form, visually-centric platforms like Pinterest, Instagram and Snapchat to retain audience engagement and interaction. Even though long-form content, like blogs, once dominated, sponsored content is now how visual platforms make their money.
And not only has the content changed, but so have the target demographics. Millennials and Gen Z are now the targets for branded content, with influencers spanning every age range. What’s most important is that an influencer produces engaging, authentic content, and the way to do it is to integrate them into the campaign’s creative process early on. With such an increase in the dedication, quality and visibility of the influencer, it’s no wonder many of them are able to transition their passions into full-time, paid careers. Gen Zers even see becoming an influencer as a viable, attainable career option.
Consumers, over time, have come to see peers as more credible than brands, even if the content is sponsored. As long as the content holds value as genuine, educational or entertaining, consumers will still engage with it. The key is having authentic and meaningful content, as Pivotals are distrustful of traditional advertising that tries to “trick” them. Especially in an age of auto-play videos, pop-ups and pre-roll ads, an advertisement must be authentic and credible – and an influencer figure helps enable that.
As it stands, it’s impossible to name a social platform where individuals or groups haven’t built meaningful relationships with their followers. Influencers gain followers by creating human connections and building trust with their audiences. Because people trust other people more than they trust brands – particularly members of Gen Z – marketers need to recognize the unique opportunity influencer marketing provides.
Want more on Gen Z? Stay tuned for our new book, Marketing to Gen Z, coming Spring 2018. Pre-order here!