While the world of influencer culture retains a frivolous image, dominated by its first associations with fashion and beauty, it is a serious business.
Influencers, or content creators, have become increasingly important conduits for brands in any industry and sector between themselves and millennials and gen-Zers. Access to these two generations is critical, with estimates by Bain & Company consultancy stating that millennials and gen-Zers will account for 70 per cent of the $350 billion expected global spending on luxury goods by 2025.
The same report found that 70 per cent of luxury purchases are influenced by at least one digital interaction with the brand or the product before those purchases.
Influencers, a tarnished word in some quarters, are content creators who make a living through digital channels. There are several ways they can make money, through sponsored content, through commission, or through selling their own products.
The term covers all manner of creators who post about everything from fitness to physio to botany. And for the very few that have enough followers to make real money from their online activity, specialist agencies have sprung up in recent years to “put manners on the industry”, as Lynn Hunter puts it.
Hunter, who founded her PR agency in 2010, spun out a new business, The Collaborations Agency, solely focused on influencers in 2017.
She had been representing MMA fighter Conor McGregor, looking after his campaigns in Ireland and in Europe, when his follower count on social media was at the 20 million mark – he now has more than 45 million followers on Instagram, and a further nine million on Twitter.
“You could see the cut-through he was getting for brands, the engagement,” Hunter told The Currency podcast.
At the time, McGregor could wear a shirt and it would sell out, or endorse a product and it became a best-seller. The experience of working with him opened Hunter’s eyes to influence as a tangible thing.
“More and more people were asking if I would represent them, so I decided why don’t we make this into a proper business? We wanted to put manners and shape on the industry and compete on a global scale with influencer agencies,” she said.
Five years on and with 125 influencers on The Collaboration Agency’s books, the decision to focus on influencer marketing has been paying off. Around 70 of the influencers that Hunter represents are making a living entirely off creating content for social media.
Hunter’s influencers are divided into different tiers, depending on the number of followers they have. Tier One are those with more than 100,000 followers, followed by Micro, under 100,000 and Nano, under 50,000.
For any campaign, Hunter says she tends to recommend to brands to have a “smattering” of these Nano, Micro and Tier One influencers, involved in posting content. The fees Irish creators can command range from the hundreds of euros to low thousands for a single post.
The advantage for brands can be the intensity and specificity of consumer targeting, by demographic, interest, location and the feedback influencers are capable of delivering on the rate of engagement, and click-throughs an ad earns.
“It is an affordable way for brands to get their products out there,” Hunter says. “You can be smart with your budgets and get great content.”
While the association with fashion and beauty industries and influencers remains, there is also an increasing appetite within the financial and legal sector to make use of content creators as a form of advertising.
“When we started out it was an education piece, it was a big challenge, some brands were more open than others, but now you see financial institutions and insurance companies are all in this space and are open to it,” she says.
Hunter references Bank of Ireland’s ongoing “Big Move” campaign with Baz Ashmawy and his mother Nancy, which has been running across TV, radio and social channels.
The campaign is targeted at customers of KBC Bank and Ulster Bank, both of which are leaving the Irish market, and has been promoted heavily across Instagram and Twitter.
For influencers themselves, growing an online following can also be a way to breach more traditional mediums of commerce, book deals, clothing lines or music careers.
“Content creators make people feel good because they are aspirational but accessible,” Hunter says “People feel they belong to the community, and they back them.”
She gives the example of The Daily Dish, an Instagram cookery duo with almost 200,000 followers on Instagram, whose recipe book broke records last year with 5,000 pre-orders.
But there has been increased criticism of influencer marketing in recent years, especially in instances where influencers are promoting financial products, like cryptocurrency, or cosmetic surgery, or unproven health products.
As the crypto market has haemorrhaged in value in recent months, there has been a retrospective focus on the celebrity influencers like Kim Kardashian and Floyd Mayweather, who have earned significant amounts of money endorsing specific crypto investments.
Crypto entrepreneurs aimed, with the aid of celebrities, to push up the value of their digital currencies and create hype around them.
Both Kardashian and Mayweather, The New York Times reported, are now facing lawsuits from investors in a relatively obscure digital currency, EthereumMax, which they endorsed. The investors are accusing them of misleading advertisements and disguising their control and ties to the cryptocurrency.
While cryptocurrency advertising remains in a grey area in Ireland, the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland has put greater standards in place for influencers in recent years and has begun “naming and shaming” those who break the rules and don’t appropriately mark their content as paid-for advertising.
And while Hunter is effusive about the “really high” return on investment that influencer marketing can bring, consumers are becoming increasingly wary of influencer reviews and a lack of transparency in the process.
A 2021 survey from ASAI found just 7 per cent of respondents have “great trust” in what an influencer posts on social media, and 80 per cent believe that when an influencer posts an ad or review they are being paid to post positive content.
“This is a proper business and there has to be regulations in place. There needs to be more regulations around certain things that go up,” Hunter says.
“It’s not going anywhere, it is only getting bigger and bigger.”
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