The rise of social influencers

Head of PR Neil McDonald talks about the rise of social influencers and how these relatively ordinary people are shaping lifestyle choices on a large scale.

I remember working with Celtic and Scotland goalkeeper Craig Gordon to launch the Lollipop Person of the Year Awards. The keeper was dubbed as the safest hands in Scotland – who else would be better to help schoolkids cross the road.

The big guy was cringing when I handed him the bright yellow jacket and lollipop for the photocall – telling me he was going to get absolute pelters from his teammates in the dressing room. He proved to be a great sport though, helping me get blanket coverage across the national newspapers the following day.

That was in 2007, when the success of a launch hinged on getting the right personality, a great picture and whether or not it was a busy news day. You’d generally want to avoid clashing with snap elections – that kind of thing could push you out, for sure. In any case, what I’m saying is that in the days before social, celebrity endorsements were the first form of influencer marketing.

Today, it’s quite different.

Regular everyday people have become the stars, bringing with them huge social followings that help brands influence consumers. Our purchasing decisions are now influenced every day from the army of social media lifestyle gurus working on behalf of our favourite brands. My wife and I are expecting our first baby and the mummy bloggers are hitting my wallet hard – every day I come home to a stack of empty cardboard boxes. If Clemmie Hooper and Giovanna Fletcher tell us that Ewan the Sheep will help our newborn get a good night’s sleep, then who am I to argue?

Joking aside, the real power of the influencer is that they bring authenticity and authority. Consumers are much more likely to be receptive to recommendations from a person they respect and trust than to advertising. It’s little wonder that brands are now diverting spend away from above the line advertising to develop influencer engagement campaigns that will help amplify their message to new audiences and communities.

I’m currently working with a client in the automotive sector where we are ramping-up our influencer strategy to humanise the brand, differentiate us in the busy manufacturer space and ultimately sell more cars. The suburban utility vehicle (SUV) is a rapidly growing area of the market place and we have been working with parenting bloggers to showcase the range as a family lifestyle choice. The SUV also brings a sense of true adventure and we have engaged with the active outdoor male through working with influencers in this space.

The strategy has given us the opportunity to position the range in a real life-setting, whether that be family trips to the beach or mountaineering in the Scottish Highlands.

What this brings is aspiration and relevance for people as they make their way through the purchasing funnel. The campaign has also enabled us to leverage a host of influencer followings, allowing us to deliver hyper-local brand-led content well outwith the boundaries of our client’s own social channels.

So you may well be asking, where do you start when identifying and engaging with the right social media influencer for your brand campaign?

Firstly you need to consider if the influencer has a following and is developing content that is relevant to your brand and the people you want to reach. Secondly it is important to consider the reach of the influencer and the engagement and conversations it can bring to your brand.

For me, you also have to have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve with the campaign and who your audience is. An influencer campaign isn’t about casting the net wide and hoping to catch a few more consumers along the way.

For example with our automotive client we wanted to position a test-drive incentive for an SUV model, targeting families. Alternatively you could be aiming to reach millennials looking to holiday in Dubai. There are also mums and baby products, a burgeoning growth market, as mentioned previously.

Taking all of the above into consideration, you will begin to build a picture of the influencer profile you need to be engaging with. Most importantly, consumers must trust the influencer you are partnering with, helping them make informed decisions on their lifestyle and spending choices.

It’s worth doing the extra due diligence on this before thinking about what you can offer the influencer. For the top influencers, they will look for investment, however you can add value your side through free products and experiences.

Above all, at the end of the work, you have to be able to measure the results. The influencer curve is on the rise just now, but it still has to justify its existence amidst your marketing mix.

Use analytics and reports from your influencers to track, measure and assess the effectiveness of your campaigns. Take the learnings and sharpen the focus to ensure you get the biggest impact on your bottom line and brand perception.

The influence of influencers will continue to grow – us PR people are no longer at the mercy of a good picture with Scotland’s goalkeeper dressed in a lollipop man’s outfit!

The social generation has given us a platform to build our own audiences and use real people to sell products and experiences. It’s becoming the most effective way to engage with younger audiences – the new batch of cardboard boxes welcoming me in my hall this evening is further evidence of this growing phenomenon.