Is influencer marketing all that it’s cracked up to be?

Photo: Nickelodeon
May 19, 2017

Klaudia Tirico

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Retail TouchPoints website.

While influencer marketing packs many potential benefits, all brands and retailers need to be aware of some serious issues.

As influencer marketing continues to gain steam in both the B2C and B2B communities, regulations from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are becoming stricter, and new tools/bots are creeping in to make it harder to trust advertised follower counts and “likes.”

Most recently, the FTC sent reminder letters to 90 or so influencers and marketers to ensure they are adding the correct disclosures within sponsored social media posts. For example, on Instagram, #ad #advertisement is preferred, but #collab #partnership aren’t clear enough as a disclosure, Kamiu Lee, VP of Business Development & Finance at Bloglovin’, told Retail TouchPoints. 

On blog posts, sponsored content should be disclosed at the beginning of the post — not the end. If not properly disclosed by the influencer, it’s the brands and retailers that face the storm.

Beyond FTC guidelines, WWD recently revealed that some influencers or bloggers use services that let them buy social media followers in the form of bots. Generally, influencers with larger followings charge higher fees.

That’s not to discount the benefits of online influencers. While the concept of influencer marketing is not entirely new, it is growing more viable every day with the addition of social platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr and being supported by online users’ higher trust of content from brand advocates over traditional advertising.

According to a study by McKinsey, marketing-induced consumer-to-consumer word of mouth generates more than twice the sales of paid advertising.

Bloglovin’s Ms. Lee also noted that some brands prefer to look past the number of followers and are working with micro-influencers — or those with small reach — to focus more on aesthetic/brand affinity. According to Ms. Lee, “Placing much more importance on the aesthetic/brand affinity (i.e., Is this influencer a natural ‘spokesperson’ for your brand and creates content that jives well with your own brand ethos?) and engagement, versus just going after the top tier household names with mega reach.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see more pros or cons for retailers and brands in working with online influencers? What advice would you have for marketers who work with them?

"Use influencer marketing if you really know that it’s building market for you — but always be wary of the distrust you might create."
"I’m honestly surprised nobody has mentioned the disaster that was the Fyre Festival."
"Influencer marketing is nothing new; it is, in fact, celebrity endorsement with a different kind of celebrity..."

Join the Discussion!

16 Comments on "Is influencer marketing all that it’s cracked up to be?"

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Ian Percy

It’s hard to argue that influencers and celebrity influence have launched many a venture. And we’ve always known that the mythical metrics heralded by those in social media are a pile of you-know-what. It’s just like in F2F retail where the “satisfaction” survey is almost filled in for you.

There is the possibility of high rewards for a short while but the cold, hard reality is that you are betting on human frailty. As we’ve seen 24/7 on newscasts, when people get all caught up in their influential role, bizarre things begin to happen. Not many people have the inner strength, character and credibility to be the influencer you want to bet your business on.

Doug Garnett

There’s a ticking time bomb here. The appeal of influencer marketing is this appearance of neutrality — that’s what makes word-of-mouth effective. But it’s becoming clearer and clearer to consumers that they should be slow to trust influencers. At some point, trust will fail.

What’s intriguing is that with paid advertising, our research with consumers suggests they accept it better when the deal is clear: that it’s a business deal and the more honest we are the better.

Influencer marketing takes the opposite tack — kind of a bait and switch. Attract them with “content” and they may discover it’s really a paid ad.

My recommendation would be to use influencer marketing if you really know that it’s building market for you — but always be wary of the distrust you might create.

Ben Zifkin

As with any new technology or model, influencer marketing was hyped quite a bit in the beginning as a cheaper, more effective ad unit. As the market matures, it is becoming an extremely effective tool. Influencer marketing has evolved from simply increasing reach to offering highly-targeted engagement and valuable content production. Initially a B2B function, we are seeing a big shift into B2B influence. It is great to have 100,000 Instagram followers but if you want real power, you start to influence the retail buyers and merchandising teams, not just consumers.

Ben Ball

Influencer marketing online started out as the digital equivalent of word-of-mouth. And as the author points out from the McKinsey study, that is incredibly effective. But it is very quickly headed toward “paid endorser” status and will carry with it all the attendant pitfalls. Pepsico offered plenty of good (and not so good) experience with that.

From a very successful run with a smiling Jay Leno crunching Doritos to flaming pop star curls, the yin and yang of influencer/endorser marketing strategies became all too apparent. Internet marketers will experience the same. The two keys to success are 1.) keeping your influencer relevant — a small-time food blogger who specializes in sous vide cooking will do much better than Rachael Ray if you are selling that equipment and, 2.) beware the personal lives and characters of “celebrity” influencers you engage purely for their notoriety and reach. As one former CPG marketer used to say, “Notoriety is only one step away from notorious.”

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)

Consumers are getting more savvy to influencer marketing that is used to entice their attention and decisions, but it is still a powerful weapon to capture the unwary. Influencer marketing is really message marketing at its best, so good marketing hunters and skinners will continue to learn what works best and apply it.

The real value lies in its application so the new territory of influencer marketing’s benefit is in how those credible and impactful perceptions by customers are presented and amplified. This is the newest paradigm of native advertising. This and other elements of the focus on reducing marketing waste are reflected in my FFWD summary article.

Brandon Rael

If chosen wisely, I see this as a significant competitive advantage for brands. The challenge is to find the Holy Grail of the right influencer who is trendy, impactful, respected, responsible and has a significant social media following, yet somehow aligns very well with what your brand represents. If you have that, you have a winner! We all know that there are inherent risks of aligning your brand with a celebrity as things may take a turn for the worse.

However in today’s hyper-connected social digital universe, online influencers have emerged and have significant reach. Take a very strategic approach, consider all the advantages and disadvantages of aligning with an influencer and be prepared to pivot if and when things don’t turn out as expected.

Cathy Hotka

I liked this article, but its scope isn’t big enough. Any person who fills out an opinion survey, makes a comment on Yelp or offers a review of a hotel on TripAdvisor is an influencer. From makeup tutorials on YouTube to celebrity cooking shows, the rise of social media has made everyone an influencer. Savvy brands will leverage this to their advantage.

Ed Dunn
8 months 4 days ago

Eventually, virtual assistants such as Alexa will become the new purchase influencer and Amazon and Apple is doubling down on AI research.

It is easy to create “sock puppets” or fake follower profiles or even better, attract followers based on the Laws of Triviality posting low-hanging fruit content unrelated to consumer decision or choice but crude humor or cuteness.

I would veer away from human influencers and look towards bots and AI that can recommend a product, present a product using multimedia and facilitate a transaction/in-store pickup 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to anyone who owns a connected device.

Phil Masiello

Influencer marketing can be a powerful tool when used correctly. Just like all social media marketing, where it fails is when it becomes too “salesy.”

Influencer and social media marketing is about building engagement not about discounts, coupons or in-your-face ads. These fail every time. Use influencers as a tool to help engage with your consumers. And make certain the influencer is right for your brand. Just because they are a big name does not mean they will help your brand.

It is hard work. Systems that charge to connect your brand with influencers do not have the payback you expect. Having your internal people reaching out is a far better and more effective method.

Cate Trotter

It’s true that customers are becoming more turned off by obvious advertising. What they’re always looking for is authenticity. Influencer marketing is still effective but it needs to be done properly. Otherwise it’s just more advertising noise that customers will learn not to trust. Brands should think carefully about the influencers they work with — do they fit with the story the brands want to tell?

Sky Rota
8 months 4 days ago

I think it is safe to say I watch YouTube more than anyone who posts on here. I personally would like to see one of the YouTube personalities I watch be the one in the ads that I am forced to wait to skip. But they must have some creative freedom to back the content to stay true to their fans. We like it to watch real content. I am a car fanatic. I follow some bloggers who are not the top ones who still have 500,000 subscribers and are fantastic and have personality. Car companies have been making the car commercials and ads the same forever, why not try out someone that we actually enjoy watching?

Ralph Jacobson

As consumers entrench themselves more deeply in circles of discerning opinions, influencers will inform and guide consumer decisions. Influencer Marketing as a fundamental retail and CPG brand strategy may be putting a bit too heavy of an emphasis on corporate direction, yet many brands now view Influencer Marketing as the industry’s hot “go-to” strategy. They do struggle on how best to leverage it and measure it from the perspective of business results. Brands may start to concede advertising control and look to brand advocates to sway consumers on social media to their products. I would advise brands to employ the tools available around social analytics and other capabilities in order to take out the emotion from the true trends that are happening with the brand. You will need to stay close as sentiment changes continuously.

Min-Jee Hwang

I’m honestly surprised nobody has mentioned the disaster that was the Fyre Festival. Social media influencers played a large part in promoting the event and were a main reason why so many people were convinced to buy tickets because they believed they would be partying side by side with them. Ultimately the event itself was a complete catastrophe, but you cannot deny the reach and power these influencers had/have.

Properly leveraged, online influencers can have a huge impact on marketing campaigns. These influencers don’t only have thousands of followers, but easily millions of impressionable viewers. It’s a simple matter of working with the right ones that fall in line with the image you want to project.

Ricardo Belmar

Like all forms of advertising, using one medium excessively can result in negative side effects. Consumers being to distrust the source if it’s over used. Retailers and brands should of course continue using influencers, but maybe they need to evaluate their definition of an influencer. While it may seem natural to rely on someone with a following of hundreds of thousands, it can quickly become too much if the same “face” is the only influencer consumers see. Spread the reach of influencers by relying on more of them rather than a few with larger followings. Social media is most powerful not in its ability to create mega-influencers as much as it is in crowd-sourcing the influence brands seek via millions of smaller followings.

Julie Bernard
Influencer marketing is nothing new; it is, in fact, celebrity endorsement with a different kind of celebrity, and an evolving set of channels on which these personalities appear. Like all endorsements, however, so-called influencer marketing relies on the rise and sustained affinity that the celebrity commands. And, post-Fyre Festival, the question of influencer trustworthiness certainly looms — for the target audience, a paid endorsement from someone the consumer doesn’t know personally is the same old advertising gamble they’ve always encountered. Especially in a mobile world, one in which Millennials and Gen Z are highly respondent to inspiration that comes to them in the form of in-the-moment and from-the-fitting-room shares, authenticity and context are the expectation and the rule. Context and relevance are inherent to the peer-to-peer dynamic. These engagements have little to do with follower-counts and nothing to do with brand-to-influencer paychecks. They are at the heart of what wins mobile shoppers’ loyalty. This is the long-game for brands — mass reach isn’t the only reach and it may well pale, over time, when compared with the aggregate… Read more »
Franklin Chu
Influencer marketing is definitely a strong and efficient method to promote retail brands and products. In the lucrative yet competitive China e-commerce market, a growing number of foreign retailers are strategically investing in online influencers. That’s because influencers can play a powerful role in understanding local consumer behavior, which helps retailers break through the online clutter and resonate with shoppers faster than if retailers worked alone. Key opinion leaders (KOLs) are incredibly influential in China, attracting followers who share similar lifestyle and tastes — and these shoppers trust KOLs’ product and brand recommendations. For foreign retailers, cooperating with KOLs in China reduces risk, as the influencer marketing is mature and proven. Influencers are most effective in promoting specific categories such as beauty products, cosmetics, mother and baby products and fashion. KOLs in these sectors can be reached via an agency or affiliate. In China, an affiliate refers to an alliance of advertisers that works with companies to promote their campaigns and products. Some affiliates specialize in overseas shopping and work with KOLs to help foreign… Read more »
"Use influencer marketing if you really know that it’s building market for you — but always be wary of the distrust you might create."
"I’m honestly surprised nobody has mentioned the disaster that was the Fyre Festival."
"Influencer marketing is nothing new; it is, in fact, celebrity endorsement with a different kind of celebrity..."

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