The rise of social media platforms enabled people — who were not previously well-known, who did not have celebrity status and who were not thought leaders in any given field — to become influential within a chosen niche.
In a previous blog post, I stated that having a huge following is not the most important requirement for influencers. This is because followers can easily be bought, so brands often look out for potential influencers who have earned their followers organically, according to Influencer agency Viral Nation. Also, the majority of sponsored posts are actually attributed to ‘micro–influencers’ (which, according to InfluencerDB, are influencers with less than 100k followers).
While bigshot influencers can be paid up to 100k per post on Instagram or Youtube, micro-influencers could actually start promoting products for free.
But as you scroll through any Instagram feed, sponsored content and adverts begin to take over your phone’s screen (especially since Facebook is starting to rely on Instagram for more of its ad revenue).
Then, friends-turned-influencers who we follow for a plethora of reasons — except to be exposed to paid adverts — started to recommend different products in their posts.
The bottom line? Online promotions are not always transparent; navigating the online world has become ever-more confusing, with the boundaries between genuine recommendations and sponsored content becoming blurred.
But the ones who make the cut are those that are relevant and credible to the individual follower.
As influencers try to grow their audiences, brands would likely start approaching them with deals.
This would often be part of a PR strategy — gifting products to influencers who will be inclined to sharing their thoughts on it, without being paid. In this way, influencers act as brand advocates, but presumably only if they truly like and recommend the product.
The degree of credibility will depend on the relationship that they have forged with their followers, but, if credibility lacks, their followers will get to know about a certain product that they were not previously aware of.
In this example, the aspiring influencer has shared her first thoughts about the product package that she received. She mentions positive things that her followers would be interested in knowing, such as the vegan-friendly label of the products and the recycled packaging, and promises to provide a post-usage review.
Most importantly, she discloses that the package is ‘#gifted’, adding to the credibility of her post. This indicates that she is not being paid to promote the product, in accordance with both the UK Advertising Standards Agency’s guide for Instagram influencers and the American Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) rules about disclosing all forms of endorsements on the app.
When influencers promote products for free — either through their stories or by posting on their feed — they may receive more PR packages from brands to try out their products and share them with their audiences.
Then they start to make money.
Established influencers, such as fashion blogger ‘nycbambi’, enters into partnerships with specific brands. In the example below, the influencer — who has attracted over 300k followers with her all-neutral style and interior content — is promoting the brand 7forallmankind in both a post and story. Both images are labeled as paid partnerships. The image is tagged and the story is linking to the product website.
Although she may promote a number of different clothing brands as part of her career as an influencer, she chooses to work only with those brands that are coherent with her personal style. Otherwise, she would risk losing followers.
The Advertising Standards Agency’s Influencer guidelines don’t only try to protect vulnerable consumers, but seek to maintain transparency within Instagram advertising.
Aspiring influencers can achieve credibility by distinguishing between #sponsored and #notsponsored content as they try to grow their audience. If they manage to make it to the top, they need to continue abiding by these regulations, or risk losing their credibility.
Instagram influencers may be all the rage at the moment, but they won’t be around forever.
We’ve seen major organisations earmarking a budget for influencer marketing campaigns. Influencers, however, are not simply a product of the digital age. While the advent of Web 2.0 has undoubtedly boosted the reach of influencers through social media — with the latest platform being Instagram — companies have been using personas to trigger emotive responses in consumers long before social media became mainstream, and will continue to do so even when Instagram becomes yesterday’s news.
This blog post is part of an online identity project submitted to the University of Malta.