The Evolution of the Social Influencer

By Martina Corona

If you’ve ever opened the Instagram app, you’ve likely scrolled through countless sponsored posts and #ads. Whether it’s people you’re following or suggested content popping up on your feed, brands and products are in almost every photo. At times, it can even be hard to tell which images are paid promotion and what’s organic content. Everyone from your favorite D-list celebrities, fitness gurus, and maybe even someone you know personally has joined the community of “experts” promoting brands through their social media accounts—behold The Influencer.

While it may seem like just a trend, sponsorships and brand ambassadors have actually undergone quite the evolution to get to the modern-day influencer. Plus, according to a recent PwC survey, 39% of people say that social networks provide the main inspiration for purchases; so whatever these influencers are posting is clearly working.

 

So how did we get here?

Good question.

As consumers, we instinctively want to make informed decisions, so we look for advice to aid us in choosing the right option. Who we are looking to and how we receive that recommendation have changed over time to accommodate the changing landscape of information.

Celebrities were the original “influencers.” Seeing someone in Hollywood donning a new brand turns heads without even trying, and to hear them personally advocate for a product is even more influential. Celebrity endorsements inspire people to emulate their favorite stars and hone in on the admiration we feel towards them. It is commonly thought that if someone of high status uses a product it signifies the quality.

Celebrities are human too, though, and when it boils down to it, how much do they really know about fitness equipment, or vitamins, or teeth whitening treatments? So, we eventually turned to the experts for validation. The term “expert” is used loosely here as these influencers vary from certified professionals to someone with a specific interest in a topic such as travel, food, or fitness. Regardless of their working title, they are people with experience in a field and an opinion valued by a large following. Consumers take experts’ sponsorships more seriously because they have the knowledge to justify why they choose those products or services. It only makes sense to seek a personal trainer’s advice on fitness equipment, a nutritionist’s opinion on your daily Vitamin C intake, and who doesn’t want to hear 9 out of 10 dentists recommend that teeth whitener?

Ultimately, admiration and expertise are impactful factors in making a smart buying decision, but what’s even more persuasive is advice from people we trust. When there is an important choice to make or a tricky situation we need help maneuvering, it’s our friends, family and those close to us that provide the advice we are most likely to act on. For this reason, the microinfluencer was born. Microinfluencers have a smaller, but reliable and dedicated following. Readers are able to ask questions and can expect a genuine and timely response. Though they may not reach as many people as experts or celebrities, they have major power in swaying readers’ decisions.

 

So what does this mean for us?

For public relations professionals, this evolution of the influencer is something that directly affects our day-to-day work. We are expected to be knowledgeable about this subject and to have a plan of attack for our clients. Blogger and influencer campaigns can be hugely successful for a brand if carried out correctly, and there are different ways to do so.

One approach is a self-managed campaign; the PR pros manually run the activation from start to finish. You and your team will decide what influencers will partake, the theme of their posts, the length of the partnership, and will have far more control in the messaging and quality of their content. This type of campaign is precisely targeted to key demographics and often produces exceptional reader engagement. One of the biggest, if not THE biggest benefit from this kind of activation is the opportunity to connect with these influencers and build a relationship. Of course, we want solid content to present to our clients, but beyond that, public relations relies on connecting with people and finding new ways to reach our audiences. Fostering a working relationship with influencers can open doors for future opportunities and create an ally in someone who has perspective from both a customer and a media standpoint. While it does require more time and energy to execute a manual campaign on the PR side, the results can be convincing.

The second option is to use an influencer marketing platform that will pair your brand with a group of bloggers or social influencers to push out content. The third-party typically handles all the logistics and communication with the influencers and will update you with batches of coverage. This method is helpful in reaching a large mass of people in a short amount of time with little effort required from you. It may also help you to rest easy knowing that the quality of influencers on these platforms is still pretty high. In my experience, I’ve even seen some of the bloggers I’ve worked with for a manual campaign pop up and write content for a platform activation for the same client, which was reassuring to see that these third-party influencer companies are doing their due diligence to find influencers that fit the brand.

So which is better, you ask? Both…and neither… It really depends on your client and what your goals are for the campaign. Manual initiatives offer more control over all aspects of the activation and can be a good fit for more technical announcements or things that require a more thorough explanation, but they can also be very demanding and need to be kept well-organized.  Using an influencer platform can ensure viewership and help generate buzz during a lull in news. It all comes down to knowing your client needs and most importantly, adapting to the times and working with today’s influencers in the most effective way possible. Influencers have adapted to consumers, and now it is time for public relations professionals to adapt with influencers.