5 minute read

UNDER THE INFLUENCE?

DAYNA CLARKE speaks to RICHARD MUSCAT AZZOPARDI, chief executive officer of leading digital marketing agency Switch Digital, and TAMARA WEBB, a motivational lifestyle guru, on social influencer marketing and whether a business should invest in one.

With an incredibly fast-paced market in developments of technology and use of social media, it is only natural that the means of targeting an audience have worked in parallel to supplement the changing trends. Digital marketing has fuelled careers which were inconceivable just 10 years ago. One such job is “Social Influencer”.

Last year The Guardian called social influencers “the new stars of web advertising.” Forbes rated the profession by categories and announced them a new economic value. Countless companies clambered over themselves trying to capture online stars to promote their brand. Moreover, the numbers supported that decision. In 2012, there were 40 million users on Instagram. By 2018, there were a billion of them.

For those of you who may not be aware of the power of influencers, let us not forget 2017’s iconic Fyre Festival — the hyped-up fivestar event on a tropical island, which never happened. Kendall Jenner was reportedly paid up to $250,000 per post to promote Fyre through social media platforms. Despite the luxury event costing an eye-watering amount per ticket, it was sold out. Many social influencers snapped up the ticket of the year in return for free accommodation to document the lavish festival, yet the reality

couldn’t have been further from the truth. The masses arrived in the Bahamas to find no such glamorous affair but tatty old tents for high-class accommodation, and no private luxury jets or gourmet food.

The organiser, Billy McFarland, is currently in prison for fraud. Social media has the power to make any topic viral, and not just influencers, festivals or celebrities. Last year a ‘humble’ egg broke the record for the most followed and liked image on Instagram, garnering some 53 million likes. It started as merely a marketing experiment.

One hotel in Ireland gained considerable attention for banning all social influencers after a 22-year-old YouTuber asked for a five-night free stay and broke down in tears when she was bluntly refused. Elle Darby, a UK-based social media influencer, with 87,000 YouTube subscribers and 76,000 Instagram followers, reached out to the owner of The White Moose Café, Paul Stenson, asking if he was interested in a possible collaboration. The owner’s response went viral, stating who would pay his staff and bills. Darby received a considerable negative backlash and was accused by many of ‘freeloading’.

Over the pond, in the US, a popular Instagram blogger with 100,000 followers could earn up to $5,000 for a single ad publication. Everyone wants to be a social media influencer. Bloomberg news nailed it: one-third of British children aged 6-17 expressed their wish to become YouTubers in a recent survey, which was three times more than those who wanted to become a doctor or a nurse.

Malta isn’t exempt from an influx of influencers either. Tamara Webb, a motivational lifestyle guru who documents her daily updates, from life and love advice to enduring personal health issues, has got some 30,000 followers. Blogger and TV presenter Grazielle Camilleri is another local Instagram success story, sharing everything from travel images and outfit photos to red carpet snaps with her 78,000 followers. However, do you feel that social influencers are a good fit for your business?

Richard Muscat Azzopardi, CEO of leading digital marketing agency Switch Digital says: “We work with influencers for brands regularly. Brands tend to use them because they offer the opportunity of endorsement and exposure in one message. When you're paying an influencer to promote your brand, you're getting to their followers in a way that is natural to the influencer and with their explicit endorsement. It is a riskier route to take than regular advertising since you have the potential of bad publicity if an influencer goes rogue or if they do something that does not match your brand values, even when they're not talking about you. Therefore, we always advise our clients to be very careful with their choice of influencers. Having said that, we’re entirely behind the use of influencers as an agency, because, when used well it's an extremely cost-effective way of marketing for brands, informative for audiences and rewards influencers for their hard work.

Richard Muscat Azzopardi

“But I can understand why some may express some concern. Influencer marketing has the potential of being exploitative and dishonest. However, it all depends on the influencer and the brand that's working with them. Regulation, and making sure that ads are marked as such, are not good protection from dishonest influencer advertising. Just like regulation does not stop dishonest advertising in any other medium. There are dangers, as with anything else, and it would benefit people if they could take more time to be aware of the content they come across in general and the agenda behind those who posted the content. Sensationalist coverage of the danger of influencers is naive and only helps to drive attention towards an issue that's a current symptom of a much larger problem.” 

INFLUENCER MARKETING HAS THE POTENTIAL OF BEING EXPLOITATIVE AND DISHONEST... HOWEVER, IT ALL DEPENDS ON THE INFLUENCER AND THE BRAND THAT’S WORKING WITH THEM

He adds: “One pivotal issue with influencer marketing is that the commercial relationship is not always appropriately disclosed, making it difficult for consumers to distinguish between editorial content and advertising. In response to this, within the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an investigation into the failure of influencers to properly declare the promotional or paid-for nature of some of their social media posts. Within the Maltese islands, it is not apparent if any such regulation is currently in place.

Tamara Webb shared her opinion regarding the issue of authenticity and the collaboration between the household brands she works with.

Tamara Webb

“To be honest, in my case it was always being authentic with whom I am primarily, meaning that I love collaborating with brands that fit in with my lifestyle. It all happened so quickly. I've never imagined this could ever be something you can get paid for. Having said so, it is a lot of work. You must be dedicated and above all passionate to share and create content. I have grown to understand what my followers aka “Queens” love to follow. Ultimately, I'm incredibly glad that they love to follow what I also enjoy following. I can come across as a real-life series on Instagram — that's what I do. I share my life with all the obstacles I might face.”

Essentially, transparency across the board is key; consumers must understand when they're absorbing an advertorial rather than editorial content. This notion is particularly important when applied to the social media accounts of individuals who may use their account for a mixture of personal posts (at the gym, dining out, or humble-bragging) and paid-for posts.

A company should also be wary of fake followers. An influencer can purchase fake followers, making them appear to have a much larger fan base than they do. When picking an influencer, first ensure their followers were obtained organically. Although this can be done manually, it is much easier to use a tool that checks for you, such as InstaCheck. The tool is designed to detect fake accounts by analysing their engagement, spam and overall activity.

Equally, social influencers have a considerable level of responsibility in maintaining honesty in their partnerships and upholding an image in line with a given brand goal. In most instances, they are expected to sign a contract of terms with the brand in question. So, if you are considering using an influencer for your brand, demand greater authenticity and invest in influencers only if you are confident that they will bring about results. Ensure the influencer’s content aligns with your overall image. Don't forget to prepare alternative ways to attract more customers to enhance your campaigns. M

Dayna is a senior speech therapist by day and feature writer by night. When she’s not busy fixing words, she is travelling the world to add to her fridge magnet collection.