Classical advertising sometimes is too obvious and untrustworthy. People have grown skeptical and cynical of its contents. PR may look stiff and redundant, unattractive to the eye, even fake. The so-called experts that swear by a product’s miraculousness have become a joke. The audience has already heard every possible way to describe a product. It’s all been said and done.

Then what do we have left? How to establish the trust necessary for a client to invest in our product? A tedious process, a hopeful outcome. Influencer marketing is not a new concept, but its modern form is very specific. The key word — social media.

Influencer marketing explained

In short, influencer marketing means companies turning to people who have a social impact to subtly—or not too subtly—help with the promotion of the product. The relationship between a company which seeks promotion and the influencer has to develop organically, in order to seem natural. First and foremost, their endorsement must seem believable and nearly effortless—like it’s something that the influencer would have done anyway, had they not been paid for it.

It may be anything from organic farming, windscreen wipers, a pair of shoes, to a new electronic gadget or a fancy watch. The whole point is, it can’t take on the form of a typical advertisement. It shouldn’t be Leonardo DiCaprio thoughtfully staring into space from a five-story-sized building with a super expensive watch casually hanging on his wrist. (Although it might work perfectly.) That’s not subtle.

If we’re talking about watches, perhaps a street-style or a red carpet snap of a popular celebrity, who—casually, as if by accident—wears a certain product, will do. People will obviously notice, look the product up, possibly fall in love with it, and perhaps even buy it. And there you have it, that’s influencer marketing done right.

The ubiquitous power of social media

But modern influencers don’t need to wait for the paparazzi to photograph them. They have their own way—social media. Popular macro and micro bloggers, vloggers, social media gurus—they all already have a platform with a solid fanbase, perhaps even millions of influenceable (or gullible) viewers, waiting for a bait, ready to jump and swipe their credit cards in joy. Or, alternatively, if it’s more of a lifestyle promotion, to adopt it without much hesitation.

Imagine someone coming up to Jamie Oliver, the famous chef, and telling him about his new sustainable farming method, or a high-quality way of plant and livestock breeding. Jamie might go and think—wow, that’s fantastic, that deserves some attention. And he writes a blog post about it, Instagrams it, mentions it on a TV show, or uses the product in his restaurants and shows. It’s an organically-seeming relationship that doesn’t surprise anyone. Jamie and sustainable and healthy food/livestock production? Why not?

In the same way, beauty vloggers use certain products offered to them by make-up brands in their videos. Sportsmen and sportswomen wear Adidas or Nike exclusively, gaming Youtubers play with one console only, photographers praise a specific type of camera, successful entrepreneurs drive one brand of cars on repeat, a fitness guru drinks one type of protein shakes, and so on. It’s basically like a product placement in their life.

The key factor that you typically look for in an influencer is the element of personal trust. Ideally, influencers would be family relatives, because that degree of relationship usually makes trust inherent. But sadly, random family members have a small impact of only a few people and their rentability to companies is thus miniscule. That’s why popular celebrities are the safest bet. Their followers admire them, hang on their every word, and breed an irrational sense of trust to them.

A casual warning before you dive in

Understandably, there are negatives to these methods as well. Although they may sign extensive and detailed contracts, individuals are practically uncontrollable. They may fall out of liking dramatically, or start doing things that the brand cannot tolerate. Drug abuse, evading taxes, inappropriate statements made in public… the list goes on. And when your influencer’s image goes awry, so does yours.

Another important thing to consider is the extent of promotion. If, because of his dedication to a certain brand, the influencer loses the substance that he was recruited for, his influence and value for the company decreases. If his manner of promotion doesn’t seem genuine and is overtly made for profit, viewers are going to notice, and they’re not going to like it. They tend to, ironically, give their role models a lot of slack for making paid content, especially on social media.

The company in question should therefore take a detailed look at whom they’re going to trust with their product/message before their partnership begins. It must accurately evaluate the extent of their influence, character, target group, and abilities. Social media—which is where influencers are usually targeted today—are full of exaggeration and deception by default. But if chosen and done right, influencer marketing can work miracles and promote amazing ideas to the whole world.

What makes this type of marketing unique, and different from classic advertising is that it’s not necessarily aimed at increasing sales. It’s aimed at increasing public awareness.

You do not need to march straight into a store and buy the product as a result. Rather, you should have a certain image of this brand or company in your head, related to a sense of prestige or trust because of the influencer that promoted it. That feeling should stay with you, and potentially influence your consumerist behavior. What makes this type of marketing unique, and different from classic advertising is that it’s not necessarily aimed at increasing sales. It’s aimed at increasing public awareness.

We’ll dedicate two sessions to the topic of the influencer marketing on the second day of Outreach. Download the agenda to get more details.