The high interest in social commerce through social media has drawn marketers to influencers, seeking opportunities to gain customer attention. Influencer commentary on products and services has developed into a critical growth factor for many brands on social media.
Today, the choice of influencers can feel as overwhelming as the platforms themselves. Thus, marketing managers must exercise savvy selection compared to years past.
The Evolution of Social Media Platforms
Influencers arose from high social media usage among consumers. They dominate on these platforms. People online have come to view and listen to influencer suggestions for their products and service choices. This evolution of behavior has caused social media platforms to redevelop their environments to keep influencers and their audiences drawn in.
Take YouTube, for example. An eMarketer article noted a Hub Research study in which 43% of surveyed US consumers watch YouTube videos from influencers weekly. As a response, YouTube is strengthening its reliance on creators to boost engagement on the platform. Given the high consumer interest in watching, it makes sense for YouTube to cultivate a strong relationship with its influencers. Doing so aids its competition with TikTok, which I covered in a previous post.
TikTok has combined the best features of video — which makes it a formidable presence against Instagram and YouTube — while establishing creative communities around particular topics in the same way Twitter has. This has made TikTok the best of both worlds and encourages an environment where influencers can build communities. Micro-creators — influencers who focus on creating a product — flourish especially well, drawing a hyper-engaged niche for which TikTok has become renowned.
All of this reflects the significant development of seeds for social commerce features. Social commerce lets followers conduct purchase activity, such as autofill of payment, without leaving the initial platform where the purchase is initiated — namely, the social media feed. This simplifies attributions and extends the customer experience a brand and influencer have cultivated.
Related Article: Why Your Brand Should Care About Influencer Marketing
The Evolution of the Social Influencer
Meanwhile, the ecosystem for influencers is being shaped by new sophistication in drawing followers to a profile. Some influencers are finding success by building followers into an active community rather than a follower audience. Having followers often means the communication feels one-dimensional — the influencers say a few observations, and the followers react and comment on those observations. With a community, more threads reflect everyone's participation.
A community audience result from real people who want to engage and build relationships with the profiles they follow. Many influencers are finding that the effort leads to potential long-term customers — a form of building long-term value and reducing customer churn. Moreover, people recognize that follower accounts can be mimicked or corrupted, so a profile may not speak to what the audience is aspiring towards. Thus, good influencer choices for managers are the ones who want to speak to their audience more frequently and naturally.
Plus, managers must recognize the growing proliferation of one type of influencer online. A class of influencers called the creator class is emerging. Creators are influencers using the products and services they describe in their videos and posts. They also create things from the products and services they mention.
For example, if I were an influencer of hobbies and crafts, I might mention a particular brand of store I go to to pick up my items or a particular toy or brand that I use in building my crafts. This creator class creates a different level of influence among their followers.
Influencers are sensing their growing presence online. As a result, they are starting to throw more weight onto platforms. The recent criticisms from the Kardashians against Instagram trying to be more like TikTok exemplify how high-profile influencers are starting to weigh in more on the directions platforms can take.
All of this comes as people's time on social media has peaked.
Daily social media usage, according to Statista, rose from 145 to 147 minutes over the last two years. This means platforms will likely continue to find ways to optimize their environments to keep influencers from migrating away from one platform. The more opportunities influencers have to make sales on a given platform, the more likely they are to remain and not shift resources away to a competitor.
Related Article: Is Influencer Marketing a Fit for B2B Marketing Plans?
Building Customer Experience With Influencers
The combined changes in social media and influencer trends lead marketers to a golden opportunity to pick an influencer that can enhance customer experience objectives. But marketing managers should examine a number of qualities among the influencers they are considering.
They should look at how influencers manage their audience online. They should review comments and engagement, studying posts to determine what kind of voice the influencers have and how that voice aligns with brand management plans.
Managers should also consider what sort of brand safety keywords should be avoided. These choices are not a matter of censorship: the objective is managing the algorithm on the platform. You want influencers using words that your team determines are best for the brand. The usage can be a guardrail rather than guidelines offering influencers the ability to work with the brand while retaining their creativity and independence.
Managers should look at the influencer's past posts and see if any controversy came up and how the influencer handled it at the time. Doing so helps the brand understand what risks they may be exposing their brand to. Oftentimes, influencers are criticized for what they may have said in the past.
Lessons from current influencer issues regarding how associations are handled abound. For example, CNBC reported that Kim Kardashian is seeking to be removed from a lawsuit against EthereumMax, a crypto token that created losses for investors. The suit, which also includes Floyd Mayweather, is that the financial failure, an alleged “pump and dump” investment scheme, would not have scaled without her endorsement on social media.
Marketers must also be aware of the growing interest in community building and what legality issues can arise that differ from that of attracting followers. Platforms have provided all the creative tools to build a community, but what happens if the influencer moves to another platform? Who has "ownership" of the community — the platform, the brand or the influencers themselves?
It's a sticky question. Platforms are working to provide more in-experience shopping for users, which draws more followers for the influencer who had started with followers even before being approached by platforms.
In simple terms, it means that the relationship could spiral into a vicious cycle that brands can be caught in the middle of. But marketers should be encouraged that more and more platforms and influencers are working together and most often see a mutual benefit in creating a community online.
Influencers have evolved from online entertainment into the right curators for customer experiences. The one marketers choose should reflect their brand's values to deliver an exceptional customer experience.