Well for a start, I’m not keen on the term “influencers”. I think it assumes the rest of us are all influenced by others – which of course we are, but don’t like to be reminded of the fact all the time – especially when it has become a mainstream term brands use to target those people who are most likely to be able to sell us something we probably don’t want. It also makes the “influencers” think they are the dogs bollocks, which is always a mistake. That said, owing to the exponential rise of social sharing, the entire landscape has changed as we increasingly look to our family and friends for advice, validation and recognition and in a world where cataloguing our lives has become the norm, there is an unprecedented opportunity for brands to access the huge amount of user generated content and utilise this to harness the brand story, in an authentic and personal way. It comes as no surprise that “influencers” are “hot right now”. With their passionately engaged communities, big and small, they are the most trusted of all voices out there and marketers are beginning to get with the programme, targeting niche influencers that can yield far greater results than getting coverage in the mainstream press.

By definition, user generated content includes any story or piece of content created by a person about a brand that they share with their networks. This not only includes all social media content, but can also include product reviews, videos, personal blogs and any other type of online comment from consumers, so it can work effectively to turn marketing messages into brand experiences. UGC is increasingly becoming an essential ingredient of all integrated content marketing strategies, because when done successfully it builds passionate communities to help spread the word.

Whilst I wouldn’t dream of calling myself an “influencer”, I can’t even influence my children, let alone anyone else… nevertheless, I do get a lot of PR approaches that start with “as an influencer…” and PR’s are clearly still pitching frequently, but not always productively and there is still too much of a blanket approach. For example, just in the last week, I have received over 10 PR requests that are not at all relevant to my blog – ranging from clothes for children, to an invite to a Baby show to how to deal with shaved pubes (!?). So to my mind, for brands, there is still a lot that can be done to improve your audience reach, but the real key is the relationship between the “influencer” and the brand, because honesty, unbiased views and transparency are all essential ingredients and more relationship building needs to occur. It is essential to speak their language and with numerous studies showing that consumers now trust digital “influencers” nearly as much as their friends and family (70% and 92% respectively according to Nielsen)

Relevant “influencers” not only have the incredibly valuable asset of audience trust, but a highly targeted demographic that engages with their content. While “influencers” aren’t perfect, the most interesting aspect is the trust and value attained from their audiences. They are credible because their audience holds them accountable for their content. Their relationship with the consumer is ultra-transparent, involving direct interaction through comments and sharing on social media. “Influencers” should only be promoting brands they would buy anyway and brands need to make sure the “influencers” are both relevant and true advocates, because if brands become too exposed with too many bloggers and instagrammers then both parties will suffer. The credibility of the blogger declines and the effectiveness of their influence can disappear overnight. Marketers have become increasingly aware about how careful they need to be when choosing the right creators for the brand because it is essential that the messaging is genuine.

Working with “influencers” – whether it’s a celebrity, expert, blogger, vlogger or instagrammer, already plays a large part in most of today’s PR campaigns. Increasingly marketers working with influencers aim to find content creators who have an engaged tribe of followers who carry real authority and respect amongst their target audience to be brand ambassadors. Currently 66% of marketers, according to Chute have introduced an influencer marketing strategy to reach new and niche audiences and 87% plan to increase their influencer marketing budgets this year. The ones with the most success aren’t always the ones with the largest followings either – you can find small niche influencers who are just as effective owing to their engaged tribe of followers.

The principles behind influencer marketing aren’t new – celebrities and experts were the main influencers in the past and brands would partner with them to front their campaigns and deliver brand messages to the audience. However, this was a paid relationship that lacked the authenticity of today’s influencer marketing and whilst the issue of paid posts remains contentious, audiences value influencers, both micro and macro as the leaders and trendsetters of various online interests and subcultures. In the travel world, where we are in an age of consumers preferring to make their own decisions, the creation of these brand subcultures are inspiring travellers and driving sales more than traditional content and advertising.

Compared to traditional advertising, the average current cost of influencer marketing is also extremely undervalued. Brands still seem to be focused on investing huge amounts of money into a few full page colour ads in a magazine that has a lower monthly circulation than many of the influencers, with an audience that’s less targeted. This now needs to be modernised given that one of the issues with conventional media outlets such as newspapers, magazines or even TV is the diminishing levels of attention or care people give any kind of advert at all, followed by how over-priced they are as a result. The prices of conventional advertising does not reflect the fact that with the evolution of on-demand content, consumers are successfully managing to avoid.

The long term success of this style of marketing remains to be seen, but right now there is no avoiding the power these individuals have. We just need to come up with a better name…”friends?”

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