Influencer marketing: how to separate fact from fiction

In 2018 influencer marketing and outreach now features heavily on most client PR briefs, demand for this niche is driven by marketing media and bloggers who are posting about the effectiveness of this supposedly ‘new’ way of marketing.


But despite the huge demand for influencer campaigns, there is still so much misinformation out there that we felt compelled to write a blog post addressing some of the most common questions we get asked about these types of campaigns.


What is influencer marketing?

Influencer marketing has become a catch-all phrase for a wide range of PR activities that have been used for decades.


The dictionary definition is as follows:


Influencer marketing is a form of marketing in which focus is placed on influential people rather than the target market as a whole. It identifies the individuals that have influence over potential buyers, and orients marketing activities around these influencers.


But in actual fact it covers a multitude of techniques, including:

  • Social media campaigns
  • Celebrity endorsement
  • Blogger outreach
  • Social media engagement
  • Events


What is an influencer?

Influencers come in all shapes and sizes and can fit any of the following descriptions:

  • Social media users, such as instagrammers
  • Bloggers
  • Vloggers (youtubers)
  • Celebrities


The other quirk of influencer marketing is that it seems to omit the biggest influencers out there: journalists. While it might be a popular trope to argue that journalists are not as influential as they used to be, one could argue that journalists are the original influencers. To this day we would argue that journalists remain the most influential influencers of all, and so our campaigns are designed to take advantage of all different types of influential person.


Now before you shoot me down and point out that influencers are generally individuals with large social media followings, I would ask you to consider the following points:


  1. By labelling those with a social media following as “influencers” are we somehow saying that journalists are not influential? Surely not.
  2. Journalists also have large social media followings, so why do we not class them as influencers?


Due to this thinking we like to look at influence and influencers in a much more rounded way.


What are the cons of working with influencers?

The downside for most marketing agencies is the frequency at which they are pestered daily by every Tom, Dick and Harry with an Instagram account wanting to be added to our influencer database so they receive free stuff.  Disappointment often follows as we only select influencers who are genuinely influential, have a large ‘owned media footprint, a big audience or are experts in their chosen specialist subject.


The next major down side is that most influencers expect some sort of payment fee or placement in order to cover your brand.  This can be expensive for brands but worse is that cynicism among consumers is rising as many are losing faith in influencers who are blindly exploiting their followings with ‘paid for’ posts instead of genuine content.


Influencers are also more effective in certain industry sectors and not others. Tech, fashion and gaming have huge influencer communities, but others put less importance on owned media in general.


Why is everybody now turning to influencer marketing?

While there is of course huge value in influencer marketing, it has become fashionable and we do feel that in some areas, too much weight or importance is being given to this channel.


Since 2015 we have seen influencer marketing grow and emerge from various different niches, such as blogger engagement and celebrity endorsement.

Fig 1. growth in awareness of influencer marketing

While influencer activity is certainly important, there is a bit too much emphasis put on it and it is seen by some as a marketing panacea.


We take the balanced point of view and think that influencer marketing is an important part of the PR and communications mix and which also has other benefits that we’ll discuss later, such as for search engine optimisation.


What are the objectives of influencer marketing?

There are a broad range of objectives that an influencer campaign be designed to achieve. These include:


Brand awareness – People follow influencers and their recommendations can be taken very seriously, in a comparable way to how people might listen to a journalist. The level of brand awareness that can be achieved will vary depending on how influential the influencer is and how big their audience is – which is why identifying the correct influencers to work with is such an important part of the influencer marketing process.


Reputation – Similarly, influencers can help build reputation via providing third party endorsements to help a brand become both known and trusted.


Thought leadership and consumer education – Influencers often are specialists in a certain niche or activity. A good example is online gaming, which is one of the biggest influencer niches, with certain Minecraft vloggers with hundreds of thousands of subscribers being akin to celebrities in the eyes of Minecraft fans. Technology is another niche where influencers have considerable product and technical knowledge.  Travel and home are also major niches, while other industries might be less well represented – for example while there is the odd insurance industry influencer, this sector is still more traditional and focused on heritage media outlets like Insurance Post.


Link building (SEO) –  It comes as a surprise to some that for many marketers the number one outcome for influencer marketing is not brand awareness but link building.  Bloggers can be used to increase the search engine visibility of a website. By earning links from high domain authority blogs owned by influencers, clients can see substantial and measurable gains in organic performance of a website for non-branded search terms.


Social media engagementSome brands simply want to drive engagement and conversation online, and increase their own following on social media. Given the level of followers most established influencers have, they are a natural way to achieve this – and clearly this can also achieve other objectives at the same time, such as reputation and brand awareness.


Customer acquisitionLet’s not forget that a good influencer campaign can drive hard, commercial objectives – including driving sales in store or online, with the latter being possible to measure via Google Analytics.


There are many other objectives that can be achieved using influencer marketing campaigns too – these are just a few of the most popular examples.


If you are unsure of what objectives you are trying to achieve via influencer marketing – or how to measure whether they have been met – then the likelihood is that you might be wasting your time and money, and could be guilty of jumping on a bandwagon because other brands are doing it.



What are the pitfalls, if any, of influencer marketing?

As an award winning PR agency, we know when to deploy influencer marketing and as part of a broader PR strategy.  But we find that many clients think that influencer campaigns are a panacea for all marketing challenges.

Clearly that is not the case.


The biggest pitfall of influencer marketing happens when it is given too much prominence, because it is the marketing flavour of the month.


Clearly, for many audiences, journalists and bloggers are still the biggest influencers out there and while influencers are increasing in importance, anyone giving up on classical media relations entirely should do so at their peril.



What budget should I allocate for influencer marketing?

Unlike journalists, who value their editorial independence, many if not all influencers expect to be paid to feature your client. It’s an ugly truth but a really quite sizable budget is needed to secure hugely influential Youtubers with millions o subscribers (£5,000 or £10,000 can be average fees for the bigger Youtubers), while smaller bloggers might agree to be involved for a free product, or a small fee of £100 or so.


Hopefully this post has answered a few of your questions and summarises our position on influencer marketing – which is, it is an exciting PR technique but one that needs to be carefully considered and implemented by skilled PR people, who understand the ins and outs of this niche.


To find out about our influencer marketing services please visit our website.

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