The influencer explosion took everyone by surprise when it first erupted onto the marketing scene. Consumers had grown jaded when it came to corporate messages via traditional advertising channels, but their comparative willingness to accept the endorsements of personalities and celebrities that they like and trust on social media proved a major disruptor.
Instagram influencers, like beauty blogger Huda Kattan with a following of 35.9 million, gained colossal power overnight as they offered brands the ability to have access to – and leverage with – consumers in a brand-new way.
There then followed an unseemly scramble as brands fell over themselves in their rush to board the bandwagon. But now that every brand of any worth has an ongoing collaboration of some sort with an influencer, are consumers beginning to turn their backs on this kind of advertising?
Recent research by YouGov found that 44% of UK consumers wouldn’t watch or read a post at all if they saw it was sponsored, and 71% said they find a sponsored endorsement hard to believe.
Social media recommendation does remain a powerful marketing tool. The survey revealed that a quarter of consumers (27%) have bought a product recommended by a celebrity, vlogger or influencer on social media, which boils down to a third of women and one fifth of men having had their purchasing behaviour influenced in this way.
However, there is a growing element of overexposure, fatigue and cynicism. The Fyre Festival debacle where Kendall Jenner, along with other big-name influencers, endorsed an event that turned out to be a catastrophic failure, has done nothing to boost their credibility.
And the practice of some bloggers of buying likes and subscribers, as well as the prevalence of bots and fake profiles, has also undermined the authenticity of recommendations.
Consumers now want greater clarity when it comes to the motivation of the person who has made the recommendation.
Four in 10 said that when they bought a product following an endorsement they weren’t sure whether the recommendation had been paid for or not. According to the report, a massive 90% of respondents said they wanted all celebrities and social media influencers to make it clear when product recommendation is sponsored.
While these users should not worry – longstanding consumer protection legislation makes it illegal to not identify commercial intent behind a social media post – there is work to be done to reassure consumers they can trust what they see on their feeds.
The new marketing tool of worth and currently gaining huge traction is the micro-influencer, with a far smaller following. However, what is clear is that brands setting aside a substantial amount of advertising budget for this kind of marketing need to be confident that the influencer they align themselves with is perceived to be authentic to make sure they have a return on their investment.