The Influence of Influencers And How Your Own Customers Beat Them
First thing’s first: What is an influencer?
At a high level, an "influencer" in marketing terms is simply someone who has the ability to significantly affect the minds and ultimately the commercial activity of others, though in the real world there is a very broad swath of people who fit that technical definition in some capacity. In the modern age of social media and smartphones, everyone has a platform – nearly all of us actually possess the means necessary to act as an influencer over the people in our personal lives (more on this later).
That said, in today’s world when we hear the term “influencer” in the context of marketing, we typically call to mind someone on social media who has a very large audience across at least one platform. This audience engages with the influencer's content on a regular basis, enabling this person to maintain a significant level of influence over that audience.
The Influencer Marketing Hub defines an influencer within the context of social media as:
“[…] people who have built a reputation for their knowledge and expertise on a specific topic. They make regular posts about that topic on their preferred social media channels and generate large followings of enthusiastic, engaged people who pay close attention to their views. Brands love social media influencers because they can create trends and encourage their followers to buy products they promote. ”
Of course, this is just the modern definition of something that goes back much further into history. Fun fact: a very early form of "influencer marketing" was popularized in Rome circa 100 BCE when popular gladiators would endorse oils and wines. While we're not exactly suggesting you go out to the local gladiator pit before your next strategy meeting, it's important to note that influencer marketing has been around a long time, utilizing influencers is a proven strategy for driving sales, and influencers certainly aren't going away anytime soon.
In fact, influencer marketing has grown from $1.7 Billion in 2016 to over $13 Billion in 2021, with an expected growth to nearly $85 billion by 2028. At this point, most brands have some level of influencer strategy in their marketing mix, though without an in-house expert, more often than not this strategy is more of a “throw everything at the wall and just see what sticks” activity as opposed to a more informed and efficient strategy.
The key to a good influencer campaign is to understand what kind of influencers will align best with your brand. This is no trivial task, as it's critical to identify influencers who are connected to your target market and genuinely representative of them in one form or another. Finding these influencers is the first and most important step of your influencer strategy (pre-spoiler, they're a lot closer to home than you think).
Types of Influencers
Influencers can be broken down by the type of influencer they are as well as the size of their audience.
Influencers by type may focus on niche interests, content types (such as video, podcast, photos, content style, platform, etc), or platform (e.g. Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, etc.) which gives brands options to find what works best for their current needs.
Influencers by size are basically broken down as follows:
Nano influencers (1K – 10K followers)
Micro influencers (10K – 50K followers)
Mid-tier and macro influencers (50K – 1M followers)
Mega/Celebrity Influencers (1M+ followers)
By mixing and matching the type and size, most brands can find a perfect recipe that best suits them. Though it is worth noting that not all influencers or audiences are created equal. A Micro influencer with an audience of 5000 highly engaged audience members may drive significantly greater business outcomes than a celebrity influencer with 2 million followers. Additionally a niche influencer with an audience of 2000 people with a very specific area of interest may outperform an audience of 200k people.
The power of influencers
So we now know a bit about influencer marketing as a whole. But why do we care? According to inc.com, Influencer marketing is 11x as impactful as traditional marketing. But why?
The psychology of why it works (social thresholds)
People naturally follow trends, and people naturally follow other people. Think back to the last time you were at a concert with a standing ovation. How did people know when to stand and clap? Why did it come in a wave? Much like the Product Adoption Cycle, people have thresholds of action that determine when they decide to act, and how they act. In our example, a handful of people at the concert had a simple threshold at the onset of the standing ovation, which is generally “I saw something I thought was extraordinary, so I’ll stand and clap”. After them comes the second wave, consisting of people who needed to see something they enjoyed and just a few other people already standing and clapping. Then comes the third wave, consisting of people who needed to see the first two waves before joining in, then the fourth, fifth, etc. This continues along the same vein as the various thresholds for collective behavior are met for each wave, spreading rapidly until you have nearly the entirety of the audience doing the same thing. This psychology is ingrained in human nature, and by engaging with influencers, brands are paying to initiate the first step by essentially buying those first-wave early catalysts in the form of influencers who have a prebuilt audience of “early adopter” followers.
Paired with the massive YOY growth in the amount of time people spend on social media–current estimates are 4.7 billion (yes, with a “B”) people are on social media spending an average of 2 hours and 29 minutes a day browsing–and you have a means to achieve tremendous reach and success when it comes to brand growth. The access to potential customers today is simply unprecedented in history. Imagine one of those gladiators with access to half the planet… they’d be selling a lot of olive oil, that’s for sure.
As has been studied extensively, advocacy by a third party is always substantially more effective than self-promotion, even when the advocate is known to be non-neutral and to have an economic or relational stake in the matter. Pair that with the power and reach we’ve been discussing and the question really is: What is your influencer strategy? Not “Should you have one?”.
The increased power of friends and family
Let's go back to our aforementioned standing ovation example for understanding threshold dynamics of collective behavior. What if you could lower the discussed thresholds for audience participation? What if you could accelerate the spread of the signal that causes individuals to participate by lowering the number of "waves" that each individual needs to see before acting?
You're in luck, as you can do exactly that when it comes to marketing your brand and taking new market share. There’s a growing body of research indicating that utilizing the personal connections of regular people is actually 10x as effective as influencer marketing. In 2019 alone, it is estimated that over 6 trillion dollars of commerce was driven by word of mouth.
Why is this the case? People view friends and family as significantly more trustworthy and reliable as a source of information. In fact, 95% of people rated friends and family as the MOST influential source of information. Because we know about people we know. You know how to gauge a recommendation from your best friend. Siblings have a lifetime of experience reading one another. We KNOW when a specific person in our circle says what they mean and how to take it. And perhaps most importantly, we're simply most influenced by the people we know personally, both in regards to our thoughts and feelings as well as our behaviors.
You remember that spoiler we mentioned earlier about how to determine what the best influencer strategy for your brand is? It’s your own customers. Using your own customers as the core of your customer acquisition strategy is, to go back to our standing ovation example, akin to having at least one person who is a first-wave early catalyst within each and every single social party in the audience. In other words, this is like having at least one person within each group of friends and/or family in the audience initiate the standing ovation process. In this scenario, you don't need a dozen or more waves to get the entire audience standing–you would only need two or three.
Imagine yourself in this scenario: for a typical show, how many strangers in the audience would you need to see standing and clapping before participating? Now suppose you're attending the show with your significant other and a group of your close friends. How many of them do you need to see standing and clapping before you join in?
Stated summarily, one's threshold for collective behavior is far lower when one sees trends occurring or moving within their own trusted community of friends and family. By focusing on real people and their real social connections, you actually lower the thresholds necessary for collective action, thereby creating a social signal that is exponentially more effective and rapid in its spread. THIS is why, dollar for dollar, brand advocacy by regular people within their own social circles is 10x more effective than advocacy by a traditional influencer. THIS is why word-of-mouth impressions can be more than 100x as effective in driving sales as compared to paid media impressions.
Your brand already has customers that are loyal and love your offerings–they should be using their social influence on your behalf. And the best part for your brand? They want to be doing so. Wouldn’t you rather have your potential new customers hearing about you from their friends and family–already-established current and happy customers of yours– than through an ad? Through a snooty or spammy review site? Through a basic search about your brand?
The secret is shifting how brands think about their marketing and communications. Historically, the traditional idea of marketing has simply been your brand grabbing a megaphone to talk about how great your brand is. Regardless of if that megaphone happens to be Facebook, or a TV commercial, or a billboard ad, this is ultimately just you talking about how great you are, and self-promotion simply isn't the most impactful way to market yourself even if it is the easiest or the most obvious. The paradigm shift that even outclasses "influencer" marketing is getting your own customers to use THEIR megaphones to talk about your brand. As we have already discussed, in the modern age of social media and smartphones, everyone has a platform. So imagine this happening at scale, across your entire customer base.
The average person has a social media network of 2500 people. That's just one customer. A hundred customers talking about your brand can get you a reach of a quarter million people. A thousand people already passionate about your brand can shake the earth. How many customers do you have? How many customers do you want to engage?
This is why GoVi exists. We understand this dynamic and we lead the globe in its application.
Make no mistake: no form of conventional marketing, influencer-based or otherwise, can generate a signal powerful enough to compare to mobilizing your own customers to advocate on your behalf. THIS is where you must evolve your thinking. This isn't about a few influencers or a few ads–this is about something much bigger: mobilizing your own customers, at scale, to advocate for you publicly and within their own social circles. Making this happen regularly, predictably, and as a standard part of their relationship with your brand doesn’t just move the needle–it moves mountains.