Early stage startups are hungry for growth, but they don’t necessarily have the means to buy it. They are eager to increase awareness, attract loyal customers, and impress potential investors. So, how do they effectively spread the word about their brilliant new operations without spending every last dime in their bootstrapped budgets? This is the persistent question today’s entrepreneurs are facing. With an influx of new companies and platforms flooding the market every day, it’s difficult for startups to distinguish themselves. Even more so than their large brand counterparts, startups have to be incredibly savvy when it comes to deciding when and how to spend their marketing budgets. Should they hire a PR agency to increase brand mentions in editorials? Launch a Google AdWords campaign? Invest in Facebook advertisements? Or, perhaps, take their message offline with physical advertisements? There is an array of options to choose from when it comes to generating awareness, but determining the value of each option can be murky. Startups do not have the luxury of spending money on every available advertising avenue. Unlike enterprise companies that have (seemingly) endless budget streams, and can afford to test a multitude of advertising and growth strategies, it’s crucial that startups ensure no dollar goes to waste on flat advertising campaigns.
So, what should early-stage entrepreneurs do when they are in need of fast growth on dime-sized budgets? Many have begun to let others tell their brand stories for them through influencer marketing. Rather than attempting to slowly and steadily build up owned audiences, influencer marketing allows startups to tap into already established and loyal audiences using the creative voices of social media authorities. And it’s not just brands who are warming to the idea of influencer marketing, consumers are now recognizing influencers to be trusted sources of information and entertainment. In fact, according to a recent Experticity study, 82% of customers say that they are more likely to follow the recommendations of a micro-influencer. That same study also found 94% of customers surveyed believe influencers are credible, believable and knowledgeable. Brands are taking notice of the high level of trust customers are placing in the hands of influencers; it’s a level of trust that brands will likely never be able to achieve on their own. Because of this, they are feeling a deeper inclination to partner with the right influencers to reach customers. Influencer marketing gives you high quality content plus distribution, and within today’s crowded new media landscape, distribution is key to achieving success. If you’re still not convinced that influencer marketing is nothing more than a trendy marketing scheme, consider the value of influencer campaigns in comparison to their paid media counterparts: influencer campaigns generate $6.85 in earned media value for every $1.00 of paid media. However, there is a trap when it comes to influencer marketing. Many brand marketers are under the false impression that the only way for influencer marketing to work is if they align with celebrities and social media personalities with millions of followers. Logically, this makes sense: the bigger the name, the more followers the individual is bound to have the more followers someone has the further their reach can extend. This is all true. But what startup marketers should recognize is that celebrity-sized reach does not equal value.
Celebrated but not trusted
In the world of influencer marketing, the debate regarding the power of non-celebrity influencers vs. celebrity influencers has long existed. Celebrities often carry with them household names, global reach and widespread adoration, all of which, on paper, are the perfect ingredients for influencer marketing success. It seems as though the correlation between celebrity and influence is not as strong as it appears. Despite how far-reaching celebrities may be, they often don’t elicit the same degree of quality engagement as their non-celebrity influencer counterparts.
Collective Bias recently surveyed 14,000 U.S. adults to gain more insight into consumers’ attitudes toward social media and influencer marketing. Surprisingly, the participants surveyed claimed that they trusted recommendations from non-celebrity influencers more than celebrity recommendations. 30% of participants agreed that they would be more likely to purchase a product endorsed by a non-celebrity blogger than a celebrity influencer. Furthermore, this percentage increased among the younger segment of participants surveyed, with 70% of 18-34 year-olds stating that they prefer endorsements from peers and non-celeb bloggers. On the other hand, just 3% of adults surveyed feel compelled to purchase products following a celebrity endorsement.
For the past year or so, there have been shifting priorities in the influencer marketing landscape away from celebrity influencers. Influencer strategists often see lower engagement rates as a result of celebrity sponsored posts in comparison to non-celebrity sponsored posts. Often, non-celebrity influencers are more in tune to their digital audiences and spend a greater deal of effort interacting and creating content tailored to their audience’s’ interests and characteristics. With this new research, however, it seems as though there may be another variable impacting sponsored celebrity engagement rates: trust. Trust is a fundamental pillar of influencer marketing. Without trust, influence cannot exist. For one to be compelled or influenced to take action, they must first trust that is spurring that reaction. Without developing a level of trust with their audiences through quality and consistent content, influencers would be mere noisemakers, clogging up our social feeds with invaluable content.
Startups with limited budgets can tap into micro-influencers who are, by most definitions, non-celebrity content creators with large, engaged fan-bases. There is a misconception surrounding influencer marketing that you must spend a lot to get a lot, and falling in line with that notion, many brands mistakenly think that if they spend a lot on a celebrity social partnership, their brand will grow in spades. However, that theory has been repeatedly proven wrong. In fact, many influencer marketing professionals have grown ardently favorable toward building sponsored content campaigns anchored by micro-influencers. Micro-influencers, although they may not be global names, have built rapports with their audiences based on the quality of their content and the authenticity of their engagements. They have successfully built their followings because social media users recognize their consistent commitment to creating content that informs, entertains and inspires in a way that remains true to their voices. It is because of this, that micro-influencers’ followers trust their opinions and suggestions much like they trust the opinions and suggestions of their friends and peers. Micro-influencers have successfully leveraged the power of word of mouth marketing into the online sphere.