It is time to stop calling Kendall Jenner an “influencer.” Jenner and hundreds of other celebrities with huge social media followings are simply paid celebrity endorsers — nothing more, nothing less. That’s why the FTC is cracking down on their failure to disclose payments they receive from marketers to participate in paid promotional campaigns that happen to occur on social media.
And it’s not just the reaction of regulators that is giving this kind of “influencer marketing” a bad name. Increasingly, consumers themselves are reading about marketing boondoggles such as the infamous Fyre Festival that used the social media accounts of paid celebrities to persuade thousands of people to sign up for a failed concert.
While this may work for some brands, others are beginning to question its efficacy. But in either case, paying celebrities to post about your brand on social media has nothing to do with authentic influencer marketing.
Marketers gain much more value from the organic recommendations from the “influencers next door.” These are the neighbors, friends and acquaintances that people rely on to recommend what movies to see, which restaurants are worth a try, which retailer has the best sale, or which new technologies are worth adopting early. These everyday influencers are on social media, but they also make powerful recommendations over the backyard fence and at the water cooler at work. These are the highly valuable consumers that marketers should deliberately enlist in their efforts to introduce new products and innovations.
I have been studying these everyday influencers for more than two decades since the publication of my book, The Influentials. Representing approximately 1 in 10 consumers, they are the ones who are most socially connected in the online and offline worlds. They have approximately four times the “social value” as other consumers, meaning a recommendation they make yields four times as much economic benefit to the brand versus a recommendation from an average person. And they tend to be among the first to try and evaluate new products and services. Marketers can significantly increase the return on their marketing investment by focusing on these real-world, everyday influencers.
A simple way to understand the value of influencers is the frequency with which they talk with other people about brands. Whereas the average person is involved in a brand conversation 9 times per day, an influencer has twice as many of these conversations —19 per day. These conversations reflect the fact that influencers have more social contacts in general and more interest in sharing information about the things and services they buy.
Another way to see the value of everyday influencers is to see how they react to successful product introductions. Consider the Nintendo Switch, which launched on March 3 this year. Influencers were talking about the upcoming product weeks prior to launch, at levels three times higher than average consumers. Those conversations among influencers helped make the Nintendo Switch the most successful gaming system of 2017 so far.
Recently, my firm conducted research to link word-of-mouth data to sales for about 30 brands. We found that about a quarter of the sales impact of consumer word of mouth can be linked to engagement with the brand from everyday influencers talking online and offline.
Everyday influencers count their online followers in the hundreds, not millions, as celebrities do. But they have something celebrities lack — credibility. That credibility comes from several sources: They are known personally to most of their followers; they write and speak with an authentic voice, and they are not being paid to shill for a brand. Those are the attributes that make word of mouth so powerful in the first place.
Whether your brand is being recommended online or via offline, word of mouth from everyday influencers remains the most persuasive form of marketing. Just don’t confuse those valuable influencers with paid celebrities who are all-too-willing to sell access to their social feeds.