Influencers have become one of the greatest digital assets for digital and social media marketing in the past decade. The Influencer Marketing Hub estimates that the industry itself grew to a whopping $14billion in 2021 (read more here). The industry continues to grow and with the advent of new social media apps and platforms like TikTok (read more about TikTok is and its rapid success here), the influence that influencers hold also continues to sky rocket as people find new ways to become influential – making influencing far more profitable across platforms, industries, demographics and areas than previously anticipated. The most important aspect when using influencing as a tactic in your marketing communications plan is definitely to play the long game. In the early stages of influencer marketing, mega-influencers were considered more valuable (read more about the different kinds of influencers here), but in recent years, the value of influencers no longer resides with how many followers they have. Rather, using ‘influencer’s influence’ has become a lot more specialised and niche than before.
How to utilise the influencer’s influence and why
Brands are only as accessible to consumers as they choose to be. Media Kix reports that brand loyalty and awareness for both small and large scale businesses has proven to grow with the help of influencer marketing strategies. But why do marketers use influencers?
a) Influencers have tapped into a market, notably first through fashion and lifestyle, where they provide their audiences with an ‘honest’ and ‘objective’ review of products and services. YouTube and Instagram have been notorious for early-day influencing, providing platforms to people globally to review and market products to a largely organic grown-audience that trusts their opinions and expertise on specific market-related topics and subject matter. Hence, the idea of beauty moguls that have far surpassed big brand names and titles that have been crowned to beauty influencers such as Nikkie Tutorials and Jackie Aina, for example. Leading the way in beauty, lifestyle and fashion, both of these names have become major influences in the everyday buying experience for young people who often look to Nikkie and Jackie’s videos for stamps of approval before purchasing beauty products.
b) Influencers are called influencers because they hold influence. What they say, do and how they act has by all accounts, influence over the consumer. With influencers being more tangible and “normal” to their audiences (unlike super stars and celebrities who many consumers feel are out of touch and live unrealistic lives), consumers are more inclined to be influenced by marketing campaigns that influencers participate in rather than buying products that have been traditionally marketed as it was in the past – read more about that here.
And how should marketers utilise influencers?
If you wish to leverage the influence influencers hold, be sure to follow these three tips:
Tap into their niche
Use influencers whose audiences fit your target audience
Demographics matter – including when it comes to the diversity of your influencer pool
In these ways we can come to understand that influencers can exist across all industries as stated before. However, using influencers whose content doesn’t align or resonate with your products or consumer-target might not end well for your investment. Marketers know this, but many also undermine the value in tapping into the niche of the niche – going to micro influencers and even nano influencers (read more about the different kinds of influencers here). Weighing out your variables, if your goal is to achieve awareness, engagement and reach (which are two different things), matter.
In conclusion, influencers hold serious buying-power with consumers. With more and more influencers boasting “successful” and “luxurious” lives, more niche influencers have been introduced, especially on TikTok, giving scope for a whole new different kind of influencing. The industry is always evolving and is starting to look quite diverse in the types of influences who exist and the audiences they hold. Tapping into the influencer marketing industry at a nano and micro level is definitely something for all marketers to consider. Lastly, leaving behind the glitz and glam part of expensive production, giving “normal” people with platforms the opportunity to take your brand to the next level, might just be the best thing for you. Case in point, The Scrub Daddy thanks to #Cleantok.
From quarantine culture to mainstream, social is open for business
There’s no doubt social media kept millions entertained (and sane) during lockdowns around the globe. And while Facebook and Twitter maintained their popularity (perhaps among an older demographic), the growth of Instagram, TikTok and Twitch has been phenomenal. How did brands take advantage of the captive audiences? GLENDA NEVILL asks South African digital marketing agencies working with influencers to share their stories.
Social is open for business. Quarantine culture is a powerful thing. And brands need to rethink existing consumer journeys and paths to purchase to align with changes in daily routine. Things are getting real out there, and marketers need to be aware of just how much consumers have changed, and continue to do so.
That’s the word from Swift, a WPP “creative agency for a digital world”. In its latest Global Social Conversation Report, Swift says as countries emerge from various levels of lockdown “the world of social has been reframed”. In fact, it has been reinvented, ensuring a new role for brands and culture.
Chief strategist at Nfluential, Anne Dolinschek, agrees, saying there was a big shift in people’s behaviours during the pandemic too. “Instagram became more real…to some extent, it moved away from the polished images and showing the best parts of lives. We started seeing people sharing their experiences being at home 24/7, the good and the bad. The platform saw a spike in engagement because we’re all in the same boat and content became a lot more relatable,” she explains.
Dolinschek says TikTok saw a surge in sign-ups and engagement too, even in South Africa. Suddenly it wasn’t just Gen Zs, but Millennials started using the app too. “It is a great entertainment platform and I assume that’s why so many turned to the platform during the pandemic,” she says. “In South Africa, it’s mostly a younger audience who are on the app, however. Some great South African brands also started creating fantastic content on TikTok to engage with their audiences.”
Founder of HaveYouHeard, Jason Stewart, says relevance of each social media platform for your target market and message is important. “Instagram is very much the prominent platform for influencer marketing (and has been for the past few years). However, TikTok has exploded globally, and is now an important channel in South Africa, albeit for a younger audience. And, then there’s Twitch, a relatively unknown powerhouse and a platform HaveYouHeard and its agencies often use, predominantly for eSports,” he says.
Twitch and TikTok
Where TikTok and Twitch are concerned, users are embracing the future of entertainment, which, says Stewart, is almost certainly going to be more interactive and social with audiences able to engage with the content, the creator and the audience – all at the same time.
“…Because of the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic (causing much fear and uncertainty and leaving too many people with too much time on their hands), TikTok and Twitch both provided the perfect form of escapism into worlds far from the burden of reality. It was also a time when consumers were forced to create new habits and find new ways of being entertained, shopping and even influenced,” says Stewart.
And he rolls out the numbers, courtesy of WARC’s Global Ad Trends report (May 2020).
“Before Covid-19, social media was expected to grow by 9.8%. In our Covid-19 world, its growth has almost topped this – 20%. Online video growth was expected to increase by only 5% on the previous year, but has exploded to 20.2%. TikTok had 315 million downloads in the first quarter of 2020, the most of any app in history. As for Twitch, well, there were 1 790 million hours of video gaming watched on Twitch in April of 2020, up from 1 000 million hours at the start of the year. The growth experienced in the first three months of 2020 was equivalent to that of the previous six years,” he says.
Nano and micro influencers
All this spurred the use of influencers although not in the way most would expect. “During the pandemic, brands were pushed to move away from superficial campaigns. People want to be able to relate. This has led to brands using more nano and micro influencers instead of the macro ones purely because the former tend to be authentic and have incredibly loyal audiences who are highly engaged,” says Dolinschek.
“These influencers are great to drive campaigns with call to actions a lot more effectively. In order to add reach to these campaigns, macro influencers are often used to organically boost the content by sharing it with their much bigger audiences,” she says. “Another tactic that’s gaining momentum quite quickly is including performance media in campaigns. It’s used to target bigger audiences with authentic content created by influencers. Engagement and reach are not enough to report on anymore; many other measurements are available in influencer marketing these days to demonstrate ROI to brands.”
Pieter Groenewald, CEO of influencer agency The Salt, agrees there has been an uptake in the utilisation of nano influencers. “… They are perfectly paired with brands and in most instances, represent existing brand fans, who we then utilise to amplify brand conversations both on and offline in a very authentic manner”. The Salt continued to operate during lockdown. “The type of campaigns was dependent on the type of lockdown restrictions. Initially, there were a lot around food and FMCG related products, which was open for trade, and recipes and home cooking was very topical at the time.
“Then when e-commerce opened up, our influencers were used to activate a lot of campaigns around e-commerce e.g. driving online sales and opening of new customer accounts.”
He points to a campaign by a client in the financial sector as being particularly effective. #TheOlympian (a Sanlam campaign featuring gymnast Caitlin Rooskranz), he says, “was a great opportunity for influencers to start the conversation in an authentic way within their tribes around the special initiative. From an influencer perspective it had everything in it, user generated content, macro influencers tied to nano influencers, timing strategy and amazing brand follow through on the conversations”.
Stewart believes the type of content you create is what makes video so important. “The richer, the better; hence the success of video and the type of content created on TikTok and Twitch. What is important is that the expectation is for the platform to provide interactive entertainment where the user can take part,” he says.
So, what do we celebrate about TikTok? Stewart has a list:
TikTok is a space that celebrates quirky fun instead of what many perceived as the superficial aesthetics of Instagram’s #BestLife.
Influencers and their audience on TikTok seem more willing to engage with brands in fun, novel ways – anything, as long as it is entertaining.
While TikTok is very young, its content is slowly permeating into adult audiences as pop culture influence rises up from the youth to older siblings and parents. (Over 70% of TikTokkers are under the age of 25, compared to only 30% of Facebook users. The average age of active Twitch users is 21 years old, so it’s a pretty young – and also mostly male – audience.)
YouTube beauty videos are starting to be regarded as ‘too long’ and Instagram ‘too boring’, which has seen many of these beauty influencers transitioning onto TikTok. TikTok provided a way for these beauty influencers to showcase their looks in a fun way in 15 seconds. Some used this to push viewers to go to fuller and deeper video back on YouTube.
And who is using TikTok in South Africa? “A local streaming platform in South Africa is using influencers on TikTok to promote new shows being released. Similarly, music labels and independent musicians are approaching TikTokkers to use their music within their videos to bring attention to their songs,” he says.
“In fact, TikTok has shown immense power and influence in pop music. Most artists now release their chart-topping songs along with a dance challenge on TikTok. The first example was a dance challenge by Drake for his song ‘In My feelings’. Other examples:
Doja Cat – Say So (Three weeks as No.1 on the Billboard charts)
Kanye West with Nicki Minaj and Ty Dollar $ – New Body (Nicki Minaj’s verse went viral)
Megan the Stallion with Beyonce – Savage remix
South Africa’s top TikTok influencers include:
For Dolinschek, a campaign she enjoyed seeing come to life and which attained great results was an awareness drive that aimed to push customers to specific deals for a local mobile network provider. “The premise was that because people need to connect more than ever during this time, they wanted to create awareness of their great deals that saved people money. The response was incredible and proved that the brand tapped into a specific need South Africans were faced with.
The strategy was to use existing brand customers as nano influencers to spread the word and drive audiences to the deals. They did this by telling their own stories of wanting to be connected and how they’re saving money through these deals. It worked exceptionally well because it was authentic conversations by real customers. Because nano influencers don’t have massive reach, although have highly engaged audiences, micro influencers were used to tap into bigger audiences.
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One book every marketer should have on their bookshelf is Influence by Robert Cialdini. The author writes extensively on the six principles he believes underpin ‘influence’ –reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity. And in 2016, he added a seventh: unity. The unity principle posits that the more we identity with others, the more we are influenced by them. Authority figures have the power to sway us.
We’re seduced by powerful stats from experts. According to a 2015 Schlesinger Associates study for Augure (now LaunchMetricscom), 81% of marketers believe influencer engagement is effective. It begs the question of what “effective” really means because with enough money, brands can pay influencers to get their message out to the masses and create ‘talk-ability’. This can be disastrously effective.
It’s a fact social media influencers have changed the marketing game and given brands access to people in ways businesses could have never imagined.
The Influencer Marketing 2018 research report by Business Insider Intelligence reckons ad spend generated by influencers will reach between $5 billion and $10 billion by 2022. This represents a five-year compound annual growth rate of 38%.
With numbers like that in play, it’s no wonder influencers are a vital part of any marketing plan. But like everything else, there are good, bad and ugly sides to the influencer story which is why cutting through the clutter of influencer jargon and fluffy research stats is important to understanding a proven model of success that’s worked for banks, handsets, cellular providers and alcohol brands.
While there’s a lot of hype, there is in fact a science behind crafting a successful influencer campaign. We call it the LIP influencer model: LIP = Lust + Investment + Proximity.
Influencers must have a strong desire of affinity for what they are endorsing. It’s that simple. Find influencers passionate about your brand, let them fight to be on your team, and watch the magic unfold. While many marketers will hunt for influencers with large followings and approach them for endorsement, we recommend reversing the process by getting influencers to fight for why they should be chosen by you. It’s a bit like the dating game, except the influencer has to make the first move.
A brand that got influencers to make the first move was Vodacom, which tapped into the power of South Africa’s hottest young student influencers to drive their youth package, NXTLVL. Thousands of students applied to be an influencer for Vodacom and go through rigorous interviews on campus to qualify. Passion for the brand was the primary metric for fit.
Tip: Don’t get lulled into followers as a primary metric. Spend the time discovering if your influencers have a connection to your brand before taking the conversation further.
Investment wears three hats – Time. Training. Financial.
The Vodacom brand team knew that investing in influencers wasn’t a once-off exercise and committed to a year-long influencer programme. A longer timeframe meant that service provider could take a constant barometer of the team’s progress and make adjustments as the campaign grew. And the results speak for themselves: Vodacom exceeded its original target of NXT LVL customers.
Training was another crucial element and Vodacom understood that they were investing in influencers as if they were extensions of their own marketing team. The time spent training influencers on the brand’s vision, objectives, and products were crucial. This meant bringing influencers into its inner circle.
Tip: Brands taking influencer marketing seriously know that investing for the longer term must be a consideration in the annual budgeting process.
A 2015 Schlesinger Associates report into influencer marketing alludes to the power of proximity, stating that 92% of consumers trust earned media such as word of mouth and recommendations from friends and family. In other words, the closer the proximity of a trusted group, the higher the sphere of influence. Having a favourite celebrity or supermodel recommend switching cellular networks doesn’t have the same credit as a best friend’s recommendation.
Looking specifically at university students (Fig 1), we see that peer groups have more influence on each other. Not only that, but as the sphere of influence expands outwards, the degree of trust drops and scrutiny rises. We have discovered that Afrillennials (African Millennials) are natural-born sceptics about celebrities endorsing multiple brands.
Authenticity is a big factor, and the youth have their eyes trained like a hawk for the inauthentic and will make sure to let everyone know when it’s absent. Just look at the global outrage over the Pepsi commercial in which celebrity Kendall Jenner brought a political march to a standstill. It was slap-in-the-face inauthentic. She’s a supermodel and a reality TV celebrity, not an activist or social change maker. But it went viral. It got engagement.
In contrast, Vodacom won the authenticity race by infiltrating and activating at every touch point of a student’s world, thanks to influencers taking the brand to social events, showcasing it on campus, and boosting the offering on their social media platforms. The tight proximity of their influencers to the student market meant more authentic engagement.
Tip: Choose Influencers from a market that is closer to the sphere of influence in your target market. If you’re targeting youth then seek out young people with influence.
Influencer marketing is here to stay. Effectiveness takes time and effort and a process of steady accretion. Brands who succeed in bringing influencers into their circle of trust do so by walking the journey together as opposed to seeing them as just another billboard.