Today, checking and using social media websites such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram has become a part of people’s daily routine. Along with the development of Web 2.0 and mobile technologies, social media sites have transformed the internet from mono-function to multi-functional, allowing consumers to easily interact with each other online.
Through their ‘sharing’ activities, an increasing number of information consumers are becoming information ‘prosumers’, who do not just read or watch online content; they also create their own, and contribute to the conversations on social media. Influencer marketing, therefore, is becoming more sophisticated and more critical for a company’s social strategy. Interactive social media technologies have shifted the paradigm, and powered new e-marketing opportunities.
Unlike celebrities, most internet content prosumers are motivated by personal purpose or interests from sharing their thoughts, to expressing their experiences and emotions. They interact with their followers, such as answering their questions and chatting with them in a personal, conversational manner. Gradually, online content prosumers build rapport and emotional connection with their followers, which transform them into a brand or an icon. The followers admire and connect with the prosumers, because most of the information they share is interesting and useful, and content prosumers make followers feel ‘close’ to them. Influencer marketing leverages the popularity of existing content prosumers who have established followers for marketing activity partnerships. Information prosumers take guidelines and campaign objectives, and use them as a framework to create effective content that helps businesses connect and interact with their target audiences and customers.
While several experts claim that influencer marketing is able to generate quick and high returns, and an increasing number of online marketing marketers and content prosumers are eager to play the game, the possible risks and challenges of adopting influencer marketing to generate online content should not be ignored.
When personal interests become commercial, online content prosumers benefit from promoting products or services for specific businesses. The relationship between consumers and prosumers is highly built on ‘trust’. Some followers might leave the community/the content prosumer’s space when they realise the content could be biased. When prosumers start to run business campaigns, instead of genuinely sharing their thoughts, they compromise this trust. Furthermore, if a content prosumer takes the business offer, but has no comprehensive knowledge about the product/service, and the product or service is significantly flawed, the broken trust could cause serious reputation damage to the content prosumer.
In addition, finding appropriate prosumers and businesses is not easy. Finding the right match takes a lot of time and careful evaluations. Every content prosumer has their unique style, and every business has their culture and focus. A mismatch could hurt the prosumers’ and the business’ image. Marketers need to choose influencers wisely, as popular content prosumers might promote various product types, and even promote the competition’s product. As online content prosumers are relatively less constrained by a single business, working with them could lead to inaccurate product/service positioning, and cause business loss.
In order to mitigate some of the inherent risks associated with influencer marketing, it is essential that companies monitor what is being said about their brand by influencers. Sentiment analysis is a useful tool to gauge what influencers are saying about a brand and how this is being received by their followers. Along with this, brands must also be prepared to crisis manage if an influencer goes off-script or posts something that affects a company’s reputation.
Perhaps most importantly, brands need to get influencer marketing right from the start of a partnership. The loss of control over a brand’s messaging and execution can be minimised if an influencer shares the same values as the brand and that the type of content and tone of voice of the influencer is fitting with the business.
Even though influencer marketing is becoming one of the hottest trends of online marketing, and there are many benefits to influencer marketing whereby an influencer can provide a powerful endorsement of a brand while a user feels the post is less intrusive than a conventional sponsored advertisement, much consideration and analysis needs to go into selecting the right influencer for a brand to mitigate the natural risks and unpredictability associated with this type of marketing.
Dr Yu-Lun Liu
Dr Yu-Lun Liu is a Lecturer in Marketing at Kent Business School, University of Kent.