Comment counts: Why we need to protect influencer autonomy

Brands partnering with influencers must ensure to respect their individual voices to guarantee the exchange of natural, relatable and engaging messages says Georgina Rutherford of IMA (Influencer Marketing Agency).

influencer marketing

One of influencer Marta Riumbau’s posts for the #myhavaianassummer campaign

They started out as bloggers; new-age authors dedicated to growing devoted fanbases through their outward-facing publishing platforms marked as favourites in our internet browsers. Then with the rapid rise of social media, they transformed into digital influencers; a tribe of thought leaders with the power to engage interested audiences on a big scale.

What makes this tribe so remarkable? Influencers are a class of their own, a species that continues to evolve. They transform and adapt according to the consumer and that’s why nobody wants to miss out.

Everyone from broadcasting networks to big-name brands want a piece of the action. Influencer-brand collaborations take many forms, and industry players are continually looking to work out how they can claim such individuals as their own.

It’s time to take a step back and leave the power where it belongs: with the influencer.

Why? The beauty of influencer marketing lies in the fact it is online word-of-mouth. People influence people. A Nielsen study confirms that 84% of consumers say recommendations from friends and family are the most influential and trustworthy source.

Influencers have worked hard to earn their followers’ trust so they can be considered as important as friends or family members. It seems the industry forgets this when they expect to be able to acquire influencer power as part of their own brand image.

 

Good ☀️? Morning ☀️? Brasil #myhavaianassummer

A photo posted by Marta Riumbau (@riumbaumarta) on

Take NBC, for example. With the aim of inspiring millennials to tune in to the Olympic Games, the television network enlisted German YouTuber Flula Borg to feature in a series of videos starring US Olympic athletes. The content was to be shared across NBC Olympics’ owned social channels including Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram.

To enlist a popular content creator to connect with this particular target audience is a great idea. Perfect, in fact. However, if the content were to be shared on the influencer’s own social channels, where he has an intimate connection with his following, then they would have utilised the power of the collaboration to much better effect.

What NBC is doing is not ‘wrong’, but is would be advantageous for a brand to capitalise on the direct relationship between an influencer and their following. Without this connection, the influencer loses their most important weapon: authenticity.

Authenticity is the key ingredient to successful influencer marketing. Consumers are now savvy enough to sense dishonest online marketing, so influencers who are true to themselves appeal to an audience who seek a relationship built on trust and credibility.

It also plays a big role in ensuring that brands do not get lost in the noise of the influencer world. Many opt for short-term paid partnerships rather than manifesting long-term relationships with influencers who truly fit their brand, but the reality is that influencer marketing is built on real relationships and honesty. Finding influencers who know and are dedicated to their audiences is the solution to appealing to consumers in the most genuine way.

So why is it that brands seem to overlook the importance of this bond between an influencer and their audience, sharing collaborative content on their owned channels instead? To build their owned audiences. But things have changed and brands have to remember that consumers would rather listen to other consumers. The top ranked accounts on social channels by subscribers are testament to this – there are hardly any brands to be seen. This shift is what Douglas Holt calls “crowdculture” in the Harvard Business Review.

Social media allows individuals to become powerful cultural innovators, creating better content than brands ever could and pushing them out of the picture. For this reason, brands are better off letting the influencers do the talking instead of pushing branded content through their own channels.

 

Havaianas did this really well with its recent initiative aimed at introducing the iconic brand to a younger teenage audience (as pictured here). A number of European vloggers joined the brand on a trip to Brazil where they immersed themselves in the country’s cultural heritage. Each influencer shared their experience through video content unique to their individual styles with no e-commerce links, minimal product push and the simple hashtag accompaniment: #myhavaianassummer.

By keeping the ball in the influencers’ courts, allowing them the freedom to share original content through their own voices, Havaianas got the most out of influencer marketing. The brand was provided with a diverse range of exciting content that directly targeted a large percentage of its target audience. Furthermore, it also secured a set of strong ambassadors that can grow and develop with the brand.

The industry does not need any more cookie cutter brand-spokespeople or new-era media icons. It needs more content creators. More passion. More dynamism. More individuality. Because let’s face it, influencers still have the freedom to take an angle that most advertisers or journalists can’t.

It all comes back to the fact that people listen to other people, not brands. Brands have to accept that traditional branding models have been flipped on their head. They need to let go and allow influencers to take control, so that the message is conveyed in the best possible way and the influencer can preserve their own voice; the voice the audience connected to in the first place. Want to reach that audience? Trust the influencer.

Georgina Rutherford is marketing manager at IMA (Influencer Marketing Agency). Comment Counts is a series of opinion pieces from experts within the industry. Do you have something to say? Get in touch via info@fashionandmash.com.