The definition of an influencer has changed. The term used to be reserved for high-profile celebrities who dominate the media. Now the influencer label can be offered to anyone with a sizable and loyal digital following. What lesser known influencers lack in global recognition, they make up for in the bonds that they create. A digital influencer can offer something that celebrities cannot: real connections. Because they are not uber famous, their followers can relate to them on a more personal basis, and vice versa. There is an element of kinship between digital influencers and their followers, one that sparks trust and loyalty and, often, does not exist between celebrities and fans. A blogger’s readers visit their blog and social accounts on a regular basis because they share similar tastes, beliefs and aspirations. These shared qualities have the potential to develop into a natural trust. In this always-on digital content game, trust is quickly becoming the ace of the influencer deck.
As the definition for influencer has broadened, so too must a brand’s understanding of what an influencer can bring to the table. Global celebrities may have a vast reach across their social networks, but this reach does not necessarily translate to quality engagement or conversions. On paper, an actress with 10 million Instagram followers and a blinding personal spotlight eclipsing their every move may seem like the most valuable ally a brand can form; with a huge following and constant attention, the potential for brand exposure seems mighty. While exposure may be assured, long-term interest and engagement with the brand product is most definitely not.
Celebrity social accounts, often run by managers and personal representatives, can feel inauthentic at times. Fans recognize almost immediately if a celebrity’s account is not written in her own voice, and this lack of transparency translates to a lack of authenticity. A celebrity sponsored product post may produce a flash of brand awareness, but if the product does not really seem pertinent to the celebrity’s lifestyle or interests, it’s unlikely that it will generate widespread excitement among fans. Social media fans are now accustomed to seeing a random array of products appearing on various celebrities’ Instagram posts, often accompanied by impersonal and generic messages. Social media users are building up instinctive filters to those posts where it’s obvious that the celebrity influencer has no real affinity toward the product or stake in its success.
It’s difficult to resist the appeal of the celebrity allure – household names and widespread adoration are a kryptonic combination for brands. But as influencer marketing transforms into a more widely-practiced facet of digital marketing, the goals and KPIs must mature beyond the blinding spotlight of follower counts. Too many brands have learned the hard way that celebrity almost always translates to high budget, but does not always translate to more valuable results.
If a celebrity aligns with a brand’s mission, value and niche, then they may very well be a fantastic investment for an influencer campaign. But if all they have to offer is a massive following, than brands would be better off resisting the appeal of their spotlight. Finding smaller scale, highly engaging influencers who naturally align with a brand’s niche will, more often than not, deliver more value than a household name with little engagement and no correlation.