Influencer marketing (also known as influence marketing) is a form of social media marketing involving endorsements and product placement from influencers, people and organizations who have a purported expert level of knowledge or social influence in their field. Influencer content may be framed as testimonial advertising; influencers play the role of a potential buyer, or may be involved as third parties. These third parties can be seen in the supply chain (such as retailers or manufacturers) or as value-added influencers, such as journalists, academics, industry analysts, and professional advisers.
Most discussions of social influence focus on social persuasion and compliance. In the context of influencer marketing, influence is less about arguing for a point of view or product than about loose interactions between parties in a community (often with the aim of encouraging purchasing or behavior). Although influence is often equated with advocacy, it may also be negative.The two-step flow of communication model was introduced in The People's Choice (Paul Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet's 1940 study of voters' decision-making processes), and developed in Personal Influence (Lazarsfeld, Elihu Katz 1955) and The Effects of Mass Communication (Joseph Klapper, 1960).
Influencer marketing is also important through social comparison theory. As psychologist Chae reports, influencers serve as a comparison tool. Consumers may compare influencer lifestyles with their imperfections. Meanwhile, followers may view influencers as people with perfect lifestyles, interests, and dressing style. As such, the promoted products may serve as a shortcut towards a complete lifestyle. Chae's study finds women with low self-esteem compare themselves to the influencers. As such, they elevate the status of influencers above themselves. When using an influencer, a brand may use consumer insecurities to its benefits. For this reason, influencer marketing may lead to faulty advertising.
There is a lack of consensus about what an influencer is. One writer defines them as "a range of third parties who exercise influence over the organization and its potential customers." Another defines an influencer as a "third party who significantly shapes the customer's purchasing decision but may never be accountable for it." According to another, influencers are "well-connected, create an impact, have active minds, and are trendsetters". And just because an individual has many follows does not necessarily mean they have much influence over those individuals, only that they have many followers.
Sources of influencers vary. Marketers target easily identifiable influencers, such as journalists, industry analysts, and high-profile executives. For most business-to-consumer (B2C) purchases, influencers may include people known to the purchaser and the retail staff. In high-value business-to-business (B2B) transactions, influencers may be diverse and might include consultants, government-backed regulators, financiers, and user communities.
Forrester Research analyst Michael Speyer notes that for small and medium-sized businesses, "IT sales are influenced by several parties, including peers, consultants, bloggers, and technology resellers." According to Speyer, "Vendors need to identify and characterize influencers inside their market. This requires a comprehensive influencer identification program and the establishment of criteria for ranking influencer impact on the decision process." Influencers can play a variety of roles at different times in a decision-making process, an idea developed by Brown and Hayes.
Market-research techniques can be used to identify influencers, using predefined criteria to determine the extent and type of influence. Activists get involved with organizations such as their communities, political movements, and charities. Connected influencers have large social networks. Authoritative influencers are trusted by others. Active minds have a diverse range of interests. Trendsetters are the early adopters (or leavers) of markets. According to Malcolm Gladwell, "The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts". He has identified three types of influencers who are responsible for the "generation, communication and adoption" of messages:
- Connectors network with a variety of people, have a wide reach, and are essential to word-of-mouth communication.
- Mavens use information, share it with others, and are insightful about trends.
- Salesmen are "charismatic persuaders". Their influence is the tendency of others to imitate their behavior.
Most current information about influencers focuses on consumer, rather than business-to-business, markets. Word-of-mouth communication is prevalent in a consumer environment. In business marketing, influencers affect a sale but are typically eliminated from the purchase decision. Consultants, analysts, journalists, academics, regulators, and standards bodies are examples of business influencers.
Influencers may be further categorized by the number of followers they have on social media. They include outside celebrities with large followings and internet celebrities on social-media platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.Their followers range in number from hundreds of millions to 1,000. Influencers may be categorized in tiers (mega-, macro-, micro-, and nano-influencers), based on their number of followers.
Businesses pursue people who aim to lessen their consumption of advertisements, and are willing to pay their influencers more. Targeting influencers is seen as increasing marketing's reach, counteracting a growing tendency by prospective customers to ignore marketing.
Marketing researchers Kapitan and Silvera find that influencer selection extends into product personality. This product and benefit matching is key. For a shampoo, it should use an influencer with good hair. Likewise, a flashy product may use bold colors to convey its brand. If an influencer is not flashy, they will clash with the brand. Matching an influencer with the product's purpose and mood is important.
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