Influencers are becoming an integral part of the online marketing mix. How did we arrive here and should you board the train?
There’s been, and still is, a lot of talk about influencer marketing. Should you connect with your fellow social media celebrities to promote your products or stick to the tried and tested methods of online advertising?
The question further arises, why I specifically took Generation Z to frame this article. You see, I selected Generation Z on purpose because they are the new consumers and they define how media will be consumed in years and decades to come. Coincidentally, influencers are part of that same demographic. Statista reported that the age of 31% of Instagram users that post sponsored content lies between 18 and 24 years old. The consumer and influencer are moving and living in the same digital space.
A new generation of consumers
Generation Z is the demographic born between 1995 and 2010, this categorizes them closely together with Millenials who are born into a digitally centered society. Or as recruiters would like to call them, Digital Natives.
McKinsey separates Gen Z and Millenials through a set of overarching traits. Where Millenials are born in a world of globalization and the adoption of the internet, Gen Z is born in a world of social media and mobile connectivity. Millennials are self-centered, go for the experience of consumption, finding new ways for self-actualization. Gen Z on the other hand has what McKinsey calls the ‘Undefined ID’, the fluidity of the individual not bound by gender stereotypes. The person is free to become whoever they want. This results in a demographic that is trying to communicate and foster dialogue, instead of seeking confrontation. This differs from for example the Baby Boomer generation that seeks to generate change through idealism.
The changing societal views trickle down to consumer behavior. Gen Z prefers access over possession. Meaning that being able to access a good or service is more valuable than owning it. This translates into a growing demand for ride-hailing or streaming services. As a byproduct, the gig economy becomes a viable alternative to generate income.
Changing media consumption
As Generation Z is born into a digital world, it heavily impacts the way they consume media. Gen Z is an avid fan of video content. A survey published by Pew Research in 2018, showed that 85% of teens use YouTube. Google found that 80% of Generation Z teens go to YouTube to learn more about a particular topic. But it’s not all knowledge accumulation. YouTube helps teens to unwind and 7 in 10 felt more connected through the medium. Matt Anderson from Video Marketing at Google notes that despite the different ways of media consumption, Generation Z experiences the same coming-of-age struggles as previous generations.
Gen Z’ers spend an average of 4 hours and 15 minutes per day on their mobile devices
Pew Research further found that in 2018, 95% of 13-to-17-year-olds owned a smartphone, with at least 97% of the generation being active on one of the major social media platforms. Youtube is by far the largest, followed by Instagram which is used by 72% of 13-to-17-year-olds, Snapchat by 69%, and Facebook by 51%. Note that this research does not include Tiktok which has seen a significant rise in popularity among this demographic. In an earlier article, I’ve spoken about the disruptive nature of TikTok.
Snap Inc, the parent company of Snapchat performed an analysis of the Gen Z target demographic with GlobalWebIndex. They conducted research amongst 79,000 16-to-22-year-olds, slightly older than Pew Research. They found that 78% of Gen Z found their mobile phone the most important device. This is the highest percentage compared to the other generations like Millenials who came in with 74%, followed by Gen X with 61% and Baby Boomers with 37%. Gen Z’ers spend an average of 4 hours and 15 minutes per day on their mobile devices. Longer than any other generation. Not completely surprising as they consider their smartphones one of the most important devices. Although this doesn’t translate into more entrepreneurship among this generation, with only 29% having an interest in entrepreneurship, 2% lower than their older counterparts the Millennials.
The power of the influencer
A Google study dating back to 2016, reveals the impact of Youtube influencers. They looked at the perception of Youtubers in their community, showing that 70% of teenage Youtube subscribers find them more relatable than ‘traditional’ celebrities. Even more shocking, 4 in 10 Millennials experienced Youtube creators to be more understanding than their friends. This tight-knit community of fans around popular creators translates into high engagement figures. According to Google, dedicated creators generate 3 times more views and 12 times more comments on their content than celebrities on the platform.
When moving away from the Youtube space, a survey among US and UK internet users conducted by GlobalWebIndex in August 2019, showed that 22% of respondents from Generation Z (the demographic between 16 and 22 years old) said they’ve made a purchase inspired through an influencer or celebrity post, followed by 20% of Millennials (aged 23 to 26).
A study conducted by the Morning Consult among 2,000 13 to 38-year-olds from the United States, found that 72% of Gen Z follows influencers through social media. 52% of them indicate that they trust influencers’ advice on the products and brands they affiliate themselves with. One in four women within Gen Z have influencers as their main source for discovering new products. This identification and communication with social media influencers, aspires the younger Generation Z demographic to become influencers themselves, even if they have a small following. The Morning Consult observed that 86% of Gen Z was willing to sponsor content for money.
The rise of the fake influencer
We’ve seen that influencers can persuade audiences, build a connection with their followers. Although it would only be fair to highlight the dark side of influencers as well because as great a medium they are to sell your products to your desired target audience, in the shadows there lurks the danger of selecting the wrong influencers for your campaigns.
In an infamous case, a popular Instagram user called Arianne Renee had 2.6 million followers but was unable to sell 36 t-shirts when she released her clothing line. Experts who spoke to Business Insider said that the t-shirts were nothing special. Just regular t-shirts. The launch was meager and not engaging. The article rightfully pointed out that the amount of followers does not equate to sales. But, what is not being told, is the possibility of certain influencer accounts amassing fake followers to inflate their net worth.
Cheq found that brands lost $1.3 billion to fraudulent influencers, accounting for about 15% of the total investments made in this digital form of advertising
CNBC highlighted a report from cybersecurity company Cheq, who investigated the influencer economy and the impact of fake accounts on lost advertising dollars. Cheq found that brands lost $1.3 billion to fraudulent influencers, accounting for about 15% of the total investments made in this digital form of advertising. The first indicator of such accounts, who purchase followers and engagement figures, may it be abysmally low or unrealistically high, is to look at those ratios.
It comes as no surprise that this newly emerging form of advertising is drawing the eyes of regulators. In 2017 the FTC warned 90 high-profile influencers such as Rihanna and Billa Hadid about violating FTC endorsement guidelines. In several instances, it was unclear whether posts were endorsed or not. The FTC stepped up its game in 2020, calling out for stricter control on advertising on social media platforms such as Instagram, Tiktok, and YouTube. After several years, there’s still limited transparency whether a post is sponsored by an advertiser. Think what you will about the stance of the FTC, but regulations for advertising are clear and within the demographic, some of these influencers are thriving, a tougher stance is justified.
The new economy
The influencer space is new terrain for many advertisers. Famous companies are betting big on influencer marketing, like Estée Lauder who already spends 75% of their digital ad budget on influencer marketing. This is quite the bold approach and while celebrity endorsement has been around for decades, this form of advertising is new for online marketers. And it shows because the rise of fake influencers reveals how inexperienced marketers are within this space and how easy it is to increase social clout. So the question remains, should you get in the action?
There’s no reason to not experiment with this form of online advertising, but caution is advised. Doing your research on the influencers you want to include in your campaign will help you filter out the fake accounts, who are only there to scam you out of your precious marketing budget.
Another important consideration is how well your product lends itself to visual or audio storytelling. Is the influencer able to properly explain your product to their community and how easy can they reroute them to your storefront? More often than not, an endorsed promotion falls flat due to either the influencer being unable to create a strong and brief pitch or the product doesn’t lend itself to brief social media bursts which characterize the influencer marketing realm.