Influencers. To some, the appeal of these social media celebrities is baffling and ephemeral. The idea that shouty YouTubers can have a bigger and more specialised audience than most primetime TV spots simply doesn’t compute, and isn’t worth thinking about.
This line of thinking has solidified in the wake of the PewDiePie scandals and YouTube’s unfortunate ad placements. These platforms seem scary, and many industry figureheads are willing to bet that ‘influencer marketing’ is a bubble waiting to burst.
However, this is short-sighted. Like any new trend or platform, influencer marketing is simply stuck between flailing infancy and market saturation, and yet to be utilised properly. Here’s how you can ride out the pessimism, avoid the mistakes, and use influencers to their full potential.
Reach =/= engagement
It can be extremely tempting to look at 3 million followers or a million subscribers and compare that to other industry metrics. Cost is a huge factor in many companies’ decision making process when it comes to influencers, and the reason why so many have gambled on their importance. Most YouTubers and social media stars don’t make nearly as much in ad revenue as you might think. As individual enterprises, many also lack the business and advisory structures to set prices that are proportional to their standing.
The main thing to consider when approaching influencers is that a large following doesn’t always equate to equal engagement. There are a multitude of factors that affect whether people actually see the content they put out: not just the quality of said content, but also the way it’s advertised, the channels they use, and the makeup of their followers. Social media figures are easily inflated by fake ‘bots’, who either auto follow big stars, or can be bought and paid for. Followers on platforms like Twitter and YouTube can also stop being active, or simply not watch certain videos.
The easiest way to circumvent this is to request hard data. Every social media and publishing platform offers engagement statistics in the back end, detailing the reach of a post; who has viewed it; how many comments and shares it has received; and in the case of YouTube, how long they have viewed it for. This will give you a better idea of how people interact with the influencer, and whether they have a community that will tolerate blatant advertising. And if most people stop watching your influencer’s videos before the halfway mark, you probably shouldn’t put the ad at the end.
Understand your influencer
Numbers in the millions (or even the hundreds of thousands) are big by modern TV or print standards, and they shouldn’t be ignored. But compared to a few years ago, the quantity of YouTubers and stars hitting these figures has increased astronomically. The presence of hundreds of millions of people on these platforms worldwide means a star with ‘just’ a million fans can be considered fairly niche.
What’s key is to not just chase the numbers, but carefully consider who you’re chasing. Look at their content, and carefully consider which audience they are gearing it to (stats and comment profiles can help here). Moreover, watch a number of their videos, look at their photos or read their content in-depth, and try to understand as fully as possible what its appeal is.
The success of influencers can broadly be broken down to their down-to-earth nature, offering a real slice of life through an entertaining and polished lens. Marketing naturally conflicts with this, and the trappings of that commercial culture are much the reason YouTube exists in the first place. Choose your influencers extremely carefully based on a consideration of these factors, and work closely with them to ensure that your partnership is mutually beneficial.
Offer creative freedom
The sense of reality and closeness is what draws people into social media and publishing, but the thing that keeps them there is creativity. Spaces like Twitter and YouTube are broadly risk-free zones, where creators can pluck ideas out of the air and publish them to millions within days, or even seconds. With a healthy mixture of chasing views and fulfilling personal objectives, YouTube content can be by turns irreverent, edgy and impactful.
If you’ve done your research, you should have a decent idea of the kinds of content your targeted influencers make. This is the point at which many companies bow out, unwilling to align their brand with individuals and companies that take so many risks. This is pragmatic, but you’re pitching your tent on ground that is falling away. The most attractive demographic for most companies is the young and free spending one – and they like you to take risks.
Take the YouTube channel Game Grumps. Their content is expletive-laden, comedic and entirely NSFW – surely a recipe for advertising disaster. Yet their deliberately ramshackle adverts are hugely popular, as is their ongoing Twitter love affair with restaurant chain Wendy’s. By embracing comedy and going where other brands don’t dare to tread, you can not only bask in reflected glory, but also humanise your brand.
The internet is above all else a space for humour, and maintaining a stony-face only opens you up to more jokes. Joining in on the fun and putting yourself out there shows effort and ingenuity, even when the risk doesn’t pay off. The best defence is a good offence, and diving straight into the memes and in-jokes will be your strongest shield.
Continue the narrative
Social media can be a nightmare, as you struggle to keep up with trends and make yourself heard. But it also afford us the opportunity to make a brand more personable, and create a story that outlives your ad spend. An influencer deal has the potential to create relationships that last well beyond your initial engagement, and carry through to bigger things.
Take the previous example of Wendy’s. In this case, the chain found an influencer who was already discussing their product without prompting. Establishing a rapport on social media, they publicly teased the Game Grumps for months over their request for a brand deal, before delivering with a branded segment. The effect was akin to an online soap opera, and the payoff was a video with millions of views across YouTube and Periscope, and a universally appreciative reaction.
The key here is that – hacky as it sounds – influencers are storytellers. The viewers’ investment in their content is also an investment in them as individuals, and their stories. Building this kind of genuine relationship between a brand and influencer might seem difficult, but the nature of YouTube means there’s a niche for almost every product. Somewhere out there, you’re likely to find someone who already loves your product, and will be genuinely enthusiastic to partner up. Using this to your commercial advantage is fine – as long as you treat them like a person first.