We’ve all had that moment when browsing through an Instagram feed, you see a beautifully crafted post: breakfast pastries dusted in sugar, a cup of coffee and flowers delicately placed in the corner. What is this image supposed to evoke to the viewer? Are we supposed to instantly get hungry and run to the kitchen? Are we supposed to post a comment or share with a friend? In the influencer world, the goal is for the viewer to go to the restaurant that prepared the dish. The subtlety is remarkable. With the name of the restaurant as a simple check-in under the Instagrammer’s handle, or in a series of hashtags in the description, the post is not a blatant advertisement.
As the influencer world continues to grow, the lines are starting to blur; not only for the viewer, but for the influencer, brand and marketing professionals. Does the world of influencer marketing fall into public relations, advertising or brand advocacy? It’s natural for consumers to feel hesitation or resistance toward influencers: what did they get for creating this post? Are they getting paid? Should I trust them? Interestingly, 61% of women said they won’t engage with an influencer’s sponsored content if it doesn’t feel genuine. And since only 22% of brands are trusted, influencers are a necessity. Marketers agree, successful influencer marketing depends on trust.
The beauty of working with influencers is the richness of the content. Like all public relations efforts, the ability to control content is minimal. Influencers are tasked with representing a brand under their own terms. They are given the freedom to showcase the brand from the lens of the influencer, not what that brand has instructed. Brands can instruct how many posts, the timeframe of when posts will appear and the intended tone – but the rest is up to the influencer.
Because of this delicate balance between marketer and influencer, both sides must tread lightly. Marketers cannot take the typical approach of cash for content. Instead, marketers must provide the back story. Public relations professionals have always been tasked with storytelling instead of straight forward selling, and in the case with influencers, this format takes an even stronger position. Create a strategy around a story that includes a client, or clients: the people, the places, the food, the journey for the influencer. This planning provides an influencer with a content bank of endless opportunities.
On the opposite side, influencers must choose their brands delicately to maintain consistency with their established audiences. Public relations pros must keep this in mind when it’s time to start engaging – does their brand fit my brand? Influencers often enter into a written agreement with marketing agencies and brands agreeing to provide a level of involvement. This means outlining the number of blog posts, tweets, Facebook lives, Instagrams or Snapchat stories. Then, the public relations contact shares a story board, or overall concept, with the influencer. The influencer then takes that idea and applies their own interpretation.
So, while the discussion about authenticity is ongoing, keep in mind influencers are storytellers, too. They’ve worked hard to build a trusted audience, and ultimately have their audience top of mind. Perhaps the best method of interpreting influencer posts is to realize they’re telling their own story, their truth, and every reader/viewer/consumer can make up their own mind to believe that story or not.
What are your thoughts on today's new era of digital influencers? Tweet us @DEVENEYnola using #DEVChat.