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What the rising popularity of ‘influencers’ means for the world of digital marketing

4 min read

Back to Blog

4 min read

What the rising popularity of ‘influencers’ means for the world of digital marketing

Posted in Marketing on 26th July 2017 8:45 am

In Malcolm Gladwell’s influential book The Tipping Point he identifies several elements that are crucial for a product or an idea to go viral (or ‘to tip’): it has to stick with those who come across it; it has to connect with experts (aka ‘mavens’); and it has to connect with highly networked people and with people who will convince others to engage with it (‘connectors’ and ‘salesmen’). Another term that could be used to describe these connectors would be ‘influencers’ – individuals with a substantial social reach, whose opinions are respected by their communities; and who, hence, have the power to influence their followers’ decisions. After all, a recommendation from a trusted source has far more clout than a straight advertisement.

Over the last decade, influencer marketing has become one of the primary avenues of social media marketing – and has had a transformative impact on how brands view their relationship with their audiences.


Influencers might be traditional celebrities; they might be experts in their fields; or, most significantly, they might be web celebrities – people with tens or hundreds of thousands of followers on their social channels but who aren’t famous in real life (such as videogame vloggers or the stars of Instagram). These influencers offer a new way to reach consumers outside traditional (or digital) advertising channels. What’s more, it’s a medium that can’t be shut off with adblockers. By paying for sponsored mentions and endorsements from influencers, rather than breaking the attention flow, advertisers can introduce their messaging directly into the conversational thread, embedding it within content. Effectively, it’s word of mouth at scale.

And whereas traditional celebrity endorsements can be enormously expensive, influencer marketing deals don’t have to be. If they’re set up correctly, they can also present a much clearer relationship between spend and return.

You can also achieve similar effects to a paid campaign with no spend at all – for example, by quoting heavy hitters and their ideas in your content and then letting them know about it, with the ambition that they’ll then transmit it to their audience. These kind of earned connections can be one of the main goals of a content marketing campaign – achieving amplified outreach by offering real value, both to the influencers and to their audiences.

Ultimately, influencer marketing presents marketers with the opportunity to reach targeted consumers far more economically than was previously possible; and, sitting alongside other digital channels, it’s a powerful way of broadening marketing reach.

Targeting and tracking

In influencer marketing, targeting is more important than ever, though. Even a great product or piece of content directed to the wrong audience will fall flat; and even if the influencer’s audience clicks, if the users don’t convert, then the campaign will have failed.

Furthermore, if the deal is misjudged and the influencer is overpaid relative to performance (which can be tough to predict in advance), then it can be easy to lose money on influencer marketing. An alternative is, of course, to negotiate performance related pay, or a direct rate per click or per conversion.

Can it scale?

Another challenge presented by the world of influencers is the problem of scale. Coming to agreements with numerous influencers and then monitoring their campaigns is naturally takes work. Stepping into this gap in the ecosystem are marketing agencies, who can manage relationships, and influencer networks – both of whom can do the legwork of connecting advertisers to influencers, while taking a cut.

The influence explosion

In a digital landscape in which consumers receive a non-stop stream of messages, targeted influencer marketing can form a powerful connection between advertisers and their audiences. Indeed, talking to consumers via content is a field that is blowing up right now and is rapidly encroaching on the realm of traditional advertising – whether via influencer marketing, content marketing or native advertising (in which a publisher effectively acts as an influencer, broadcasting sponsored content created by or in collaboration with an advertiser).

It only goes to emphasize that in an always-on, data-rich environment, creating deep and meaningful connections is all the more important – and far more important for advertisers than shouting louder or for longer.

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