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Influencer marketing is word of mouth on steroids. “Influencer marketing” has become somewhat of a buzzword these days. Everyone is talking about it. But what does this term actually mean, and why has this become a top trend in recent years?

As the world is looking more and more to social media these days for answers and suggestions on everything from which restaurant to eat at, to which washing power delivers the best results, consumers are relying more on each other to inform their decisions, rather than on companies. Influencer marketing presents brands with an opportunity to take advantage of the power of word of mouth by getting influencers to endorse their products.

Who are influencers?

Influencers are personalities or celebrities in their own right who have a certain number of followers or fans on social media with whom they have developed a relationship. The best example I heard recently is to imagine you are walking down the hallway in high school and as you walk past the popular girls, you hear them talking about a specific brand of make-up they love.

You instantly feel like you’ve been let in on a secret: What the cool girls think is cool.  This would be the same as seeing a post of your favourite fashion icon posting a picture on Instagram and saying how much she loves her new lipstick. These images from an infographic that appeared on Mashable show the past, present and future of influencer marketing:

 Why is influencer marketing a top trend in 2017 and the foreseeable future?

The online advertising landscape has changed, with more companies seeing the value and ROI in this form advertising. They are increasing their online media budgets, as opposed to spending more on traditional forms of advertising. This has resulted in consumers feeling frustrated and bombarded with paid ads, and we’re unconsciously tuning them out.

It comes as no surprise that people love products like AdBlock and Netflix and the like, where there are no disruptions to their entertainment. Consumers no longer make decisions based on ads they’ve seen on TV; they now turn to social media where they expect brands to interact with them and to learn about a product or service.

This gives brands even more reason to use social media influencers, as they are a powerful tool that allows brands to connect more directly with their audiences. Influencers have something that no one else does: They have people’s attention. Brands recognize that “impressions” are only half the value, and they are willing to use influencers for the right kind of targeted exposure.

Influencer marketing is native advertising. When you are scrolling through your Instagram feed and notice that your favourite influencer, whom you already follow, is using a specific product, you barely notice that it’s an ad because they are promoting the product it in their own voice and style. Brands need to partner with influencers whose own personal brand or lifestyles lend credibility to the partnership. Heavily branded content can sometimes be “white noise”. According to SME South Africa, influencers who create organic content can prove more effective for a brand, like the ad below by DJ Zinhle.

With close to a million followers on Instagram, DJ Zinhle has become an established voice online. Here she is in collaboration with the bread brand, Albany. Consumers are becoming more sceptical of sponsored content, even from influencers. Brands need to shift towards building authentic partnerships between themselves and their ambassadors because savvy millennials can spot when someone is being fake.

This quote from Mari Smith, Facebook Marketing expert and Author of The New Relationship Marketing, speaks to this point: “To quote Seth Godin, people can ‘smell the agenda of a leader’. This has never been truer than when it comes to influencer marketing. To maintain fiercely loyal fans, you must love and believe in what you’re endorsing.” Brands must be weary of using influencers as a channel to exploit their fan bases.

The key is collaboration, not exploitation. If, as a brand, you’re able to harness your ambassadors’ influence in a way that keeps the communication feeling real and natural, you’re onto a winning formula.

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