Beware the power of the influencers on social media

@IE University

Will a new makeup product be Jeffree Star approved? How will a new toy fair on the Ryan ToysReview YouTube channel?

These are the questions facing businesses in a new world where social media influencers can make or break a brand. With their millions of loyal followers passionate about niche markets, influencers offer a unique opportunity for advertisers.

Star, for example, a gender-bending makeup guru, is renowned for his brutally honest reviews when deciding whether or not to label a new product “Jeffree Star approved.” The American’s seal of approval can be vital for cosmetics companies, especially startups looking to plug into his 16 million Youtube subscribers. The same goes for Ryan Kaji, the eight-year-old whose toy review channel—with no less than 22 million subscribers—sees him earn more than $20 million per year.

But with great power comes great responsibility, and the power of the influencer should never be underestimated.

Lest we forget how when makeup mogul and celebrity influencer Kylie Jenner tweeted that she hated the new Snapchat interface back in 2018, the company saw its shares on the stock market fall dramatically. And worse still was when a slew of influencers were paid small fortunes to promote a music festival on a remote Caribbean island which ended up being one of the biggest scams in history. But more on that later.

So what is an influencer and why are they so important?

Influencers have emerged in the new age of social media by offering an alternative to the traditional, celebrity-endorsement marketing model. Younger generations, particularly Generation Z, have been drawn to relatable social media personalities who speak to them in a way the average A-lister does not. By cornering one market—be it food, makeup, fashion, or gaming—influencers build trust with their followers by becoming experts in their fields and communicating with their fans daily.

The trust and “reliability” of an influencer is absolutely fundamental to their brand. After years of blogging and building up a reputation, influencers with huge followings can direct millions of people towards buying a product, making it a success—or a failure—overnight.

And companies are well aware of this power. By next year, the amount spent on influencer marketing is expected to soar to between $5-10 billion, according to Mediakix.

Influencers have the power to set trends 

Influencers are able to build an amazing rapport with their supporters because they become experts in specific fields which appeal to a hyper-targeted audience. They are trusted by their millions of followers who look to them for inspiration—whether it be in fashion, skincare, gaming, or more.

Zoella Zeebo was your average British girl when she started her beauty and lifestyle blog back in 2009. While working at British clothing retailer New Look, she launched a YouTube channel, where she discussed skincare trends, beauty, and fashion. She now has 11.1 million followers on Instagram alone and another 11.8 million on YouTube.  In 2014, she launched a range of beauty products under Zoella Beauty, which was branded “the biggest beauty launch of the year” in the UK after millions of her followers rushed to stock up on the products. The now-millionairess went on to launch a range of homeware products in an exclusivity deal with Boots in 2016, one of the UK’s largest retailers.

Her success is an example of how influencers are constantly on the pulse of what’s hot and what’s not and are often the ones leading the conversations. While just a couple decades ago, a company would launch a huge TV campaign to attract trendsetters, they now can go straight to the source and plug into their well-established and hyper-targeted audiences on social media.

A force to be reckoned with

In the wrong hands and with enough money, however, the power of celebrity influencers can be dangerous for both brands and consumers.

The Fyre Festival was meant to be a game-changing luxury music event set in the Bahamas. Founded by Billy McFarland, CEO of Fyre Media Inc, and rapper Ja Rule, the festival was created with the intent of promoting the company’s Fyre app for booking music talent. However, as recent Netflix and Hulu documentaries have exposed, the whole thing was a fraud. The advertised “luxury suites” were refugee tents and the “five-star cuisine” wasn’t much more than a basic cheese sandwich. The majority of the acts pulled out, and thousands were left high and dry, stranded on the small island they flew to in private jets.

This came after what many have described as a “genius” marketing campaign, which wielded the power of influencers across Instagram, Twitter, and other social media networks. Jerry Media, the renowned US marketing company, came up with the strategy to pay hundreds of influencers to post a solid orange image at the same time. Models, athletes, musicians, Youtubers, and more were all told to upload the brash block of color, guaranteeing a huge swathe of millennials would be reached.

The plan worked, and soon enough, hordes of young followers were scrambling for more information. And when a video promo featuring celebrity influencers like Bella Hadid dropped, the FOMO became a pandemic, with thousands paying up to $5,000 up front to secure their place at the festival.

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Little did they know, they were being led to a disaster zone. Kendall Jenner, fashion influencer and half-sister of Kim Kardashian, is now being sued after uploading the orange square and promoting the ill-fated event. She was allegedly paid $275,000 to upload the picture. Other influencers, including model Emily Ratajkowski, are also being taken to court. It’s a bad look for the influencers who have been chastised for “selling out” after it became clear they knew little to nothing about the event they were vouching for.

But with social media showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon, and with the newer generations becoming ever-more dependent on their screens, we can only expect the power of the influencer to grow stronger. With luck, that power will be used responsibly.