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What is influencer marketing?

By Paul Wilson

Marketers have long acknowledged that what people talk about and recommend to each other is the most influential form of communication.

At a time when web users are switching on ad blocks and demanding authentic content, companies have begun turning in a major way to influencer marketers – people with large social media followings – to promote their brand and boost growth.

Multi-national companies – including Subaru, Target, Colgate, Pepsi, Ford, Kia, Nissan and Subway – have worked with influencers for promotional purposes.

Influencer marketers are people with high followings on social media who are contracted by companies to recommend their products and services.

Influencers can be people who have made a name and brand for themselves solely on social media by creating stylised, compelling or informative content. Or they could be celebrities, such as entertainers and sports stars.

Influencers generally speak to a certain demographic or on a particular subject – or both. The choice of social media is most often Instagram, the fastest growing social media platform.

Influencer marketing taps into different types of traditional promotional devices, such as celebrity endorsement/brand champions, product placement, content marketing and fan following.

How big is it?

Influencer marketing was worth an estimated $1 billion in 2018. That figure is expected to double in 2019. It’s proven to be a lucrative source of income for celebrities, with top earners commanding six-figure payments for just one post as influencers.

According to the 2018 Instagram Rich List, the highest paid celebrity influencer on Instagram was Kylie Jenner, who made an estimated $1 million per sponsored post. Selena Gomez, number two on the list, was able to fetch $800,000 per sponsored post while third place went to soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo who earned $750,000.

But mostly influencer marketing has created an industry out of ordinary people with large social media followings – anything from 10,000 and above. There is also a growing number of ‘micro-influencers’ – people with less than 10,000 followers. Micro influencers can be used in big campaigns to target specific audiences.

So powerful is influential marketing that in the US, anti-smoking lobbyists are accusing tobacco companies of using leading Instagrammers to subtly promote cigarettes.

They claim to have found evidence of promotions on Instagram posts across 40 countries that were paid for in return for payments, gifts or invitations to exclusive parties. The lobbyists claim the promotions resulted in 25 million impressions around the world. And in Australia it was a way of getting around the ban on cigarette advertising.


Using this powerful form of consensus building and validation, influencer marketing can be used by companies to improve:

  • product awareness
  • conversion of leads to sales
  • brand reputation and awareness and
  • the number of visitors to their website.

Even if viewers are not ready to purchase, seeing someone they respect using or endorsing a product can predispose them to purchasing it at a later time.

How it works

You can approach social media influencers who have followers that fit your target audience demographics. You can also be introduced to each other through specialised online platforms – just search ‘Influencer marketing’ and you’ll see a number of big platforms appear in the sponsored search results.

You can pay influencers in cash, free/discounted products or an incentive, such as an invitation to a special event.

Be warned though, some influencers have bought their way to the top – and the difference may only become apparent after you do a campaign with them, which can be both disappointing and costly.

For influencer marketing to be really effective, the message and positioning has to seamlessly fit in with the influencer’s brand and story.

Marketers have long acknowledged that what people talk about and recommend to each other is the most influential form of communication.

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