The rise of influencer marketing as the primary medium of Digital PR – the use of “influencers” to promote businesses, products and brands – has been gargantuan, with everyone from YouTube celebrities to Instagram darlings capitalising on their ability to promote products to specific (and often huge) audiences. Organisations as diverse as Google and the European Parliament have introduced rules to clarify the role of sponsored content online and in social spaces particularly. Today, Digital PR has a big place in the Digital Marketing strategy for big and small brands alike – so what are some of the pitfalls of influencer marketing, and is the reality of influencer marketing different from the expectation?

Most influencer marketing and a large proportion of modern digital PR is conducted across social media platforms, with Instagram famously enabling a meteoric rise in the number of food and fashion fans with an outlet for photography and endorsements. Celebrity accounts give users access more intimate access to their lives, and a way to form a more dedicated following. Brands have also capitalised on this direct access to their audience, and the ability to show products in a favourable light alongside establishing a ‘voice’ for the brand on these platforms has been highly beneficial.

Influencers take advantage of brandsInfluencers take advantage of brands looking to add personality to their digital PR.

Social platforms are entirely personal in nature. How users present themselves online, and the content they share with their friends and followers, can be incredibly important to the success of the platform – so how successful are recommendations from influencers or celebrities on behalf of brands, that by their nature lack that personal element?

With the requirement that sponsored posts must be tagged on most platforms, there’s a high level of awareness amongst users that content is often paid for rather than being an organic post representing the views of the influencer. In some cases, particularly in the celebrity social arena, it can be extremely difficult to discern real recommendations from professional endorsements – leading to a level of cynicism and lack of engagement with the intended audience that can be damaging for brands.

Concerns over bias can have a significant effect on the ability of influencers to get engagement for their sponsored content, or to help brands with their online presence. Problems with lack of disclosure have previously rocked the boat for popular YouTube influencers like Zoella, and continues to cause issues for celebrity endorsement via Instagram – all leading to a lack of user confidence in influencer marketing.

There can also be some difficulty in identifying real influencers with genuine audiences – the prevalence of fake profiles and the ability of social media users to buy followers can make distinguishing between true influencers and artificially inflated accounts more difficult – and the hugely expanded audiences for celebrity accounts can often be too broad for a brand.

Most high-profile or large-scale influencer marketing involves specific work being carried out by the influencer, from a specific numbers of posts per platform to specific pieces of content (photographs, video, reviews and so on). As the number of influencers has increased, alongside the scope of projects brands are willing to work with them on, specialised contracts have started to become the norm – detailing the work required, compensation and so on. These contracts are intended to protect the brand whilst spelling out exactly what is expected of the influencer, and can also give a much clearer picture of what an influencer is or does and what can constitute ‘sponsored’ or advertorial content. Different social platforms require expertise in different mediums, and making sure that the influencer is sufficiently adept at that medium is an important consideration.

Influencers engage with audiences

There can also be some difficulty in identifying real influencers with genuine audiences.

How a brand utilises activity in their chosen social areas, and the mediums in which they choose to do so can usually be reduced down to an attempt to build reputation and visibility, with the assumption that this leads to increased customers or sales. This can a great overall strategy for many brands, particularly whilst working with specific influences and audiences, although marketers should be careful to avoid excluding the production of their own content and updates in favour of influencer-only campaigns.

Digital PR campaigns are most effective as part of a wider marketing strategy, particularly if conversions (whether offline or online) are the main goal. Influencer budgets can be huge due to the perceived value of independent reviews and features, despite the effectiveness of PPC campaigns in the same spaces, and can generate a “sellers market” in some verticals – there are several famous examples of fashion influencers or travel bloggers contacting businesses to request gifts or fees in return for social shares and exposure, rather than waiting to be contacted themselves.

The use of celebrities, whether film stars or Instagram personalities, as part of a digital PR campaign is really a continuation of existing advertising practice rather than a new strategy and carries many of the same benefits and pitfalls of using specific individuals to promote products offline. As is common with celebrity in traditional areas like television or film, there are tiers of influence and accessibility across most influencer verticals, and any budget put aside for digital PR should be carefully mapped out alongside wider campaign goals and requirements. The statistics that are commonly used by influencers can be very relative, and follower numbers or site traffic are not necessarily the most significant indicators of their ability to raise awareness for a brand.

At Wonderful, we recommend a highly aware approach to digital PR and influencer marketing; ensuring the goals of the brand are met with a campaign that contributes to wider digital marketing efforts, rather than working separately from them. Working with respected bloggers across a variety of platforms on long-form and natural content created by the influencer (with Wonderful input) is often more organic, and removes much of the ‘advertorial’ feel of PR content. By making sure the platforms and metrics that we focus on are appropriate for the brand, Wonderful’s influencer marketing efforts are always based on the simple fact that the best PR (both online and offline) comes from delivering an excellent, accurate experience for the customer.

Are you looking to capitalise on influencer marketing and digital PR as part of your integrated, multi-channel marketing strategy? Do you need some help, guidance and experience in exploring this channel for your brand? Feel free to give us a call on 01622 686228 or email [email protected] to see how you can capitalise on these opportunities for your business.

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