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One of the key roles of marketers has always been applying influence over customers and this includes influencing customers’ desires as well as their purchase decisions (Brown & Fiorella, 2013). Influencer marketing is a type of connected marketing and is defined as “identifying and involving the most influential consumers in a target market to turn them into brand advocates” (Brown & Fiorella, 2013). Using influencer marketing on social media provides a channel for brands to connect with their audience more directly, organically and at scale to their everyday lives. Social media influencers promote the brand on their platforms through their personal lives which makes them more relatable to an average consumer (Glucksman, 2017). One of the main benefits of using influencer marketing is its reach and engagement. When influencers amplify a brand’s message via a virtual word-of-mouth or influencer marketing, it can be effective in convincing potential buyers to take action (Woods, 2016). Furthermore, influencer marketing provides 11 times more return on investment annually than other forms of advertising (Swant, 2016). An influencer can be thought of as a friend who connects the brand with their target consumers and they also bring their followers network and not just their own. An influencer with a loyal following, can drive traffic to a company’s website, increase their social media exposure and sell company’s products through recommendations or a story about their experience with that product (Matthews, 2013).
A study by Coleman and Heriot (2014), where they interviewed entrepreneurs, showed that 46% of entrepreneurs use social media as a way to communicate and connect with their existing and potential customers. One of the goals for a start-up is to create brand awareness among people as quickly and as much as possible. One way to achieve this goal is to reach out to opinion leaders. The power of opinion leaders has increased over the years as well as has the ability for companies to reach them and other people through using social media platforms and in this way increase brand awareness (Kapferer, 2012). Moreover, in order to distinguish a company from their competitors, it is important that these companies increase trial and sales from the very beginning. To do so, it is important to increase consumer attitudes towards your brand as well as their purchase intention and social media can contribute to that (Barwise & Meehan, 2010). Social media also offers companies a way to interact with their consumers, builds awareness, encourages engagement and measures performance. Due to its potential reach, interactivity, credibility, and cost-advantages, social media is a great marketing method for a start-up. An example of a successful social media campaign by a startup is Daniel Wellington, a Swedish watch brand, which has cooperated with influencers worldwide, for example, celebrities or bloggers with a lot of followers. Daniel Wellington gave away free samples to these influencers as well as paid them small amounts and these influencers have advertised for the company (Pulvirent, 2015). This has also given the company a big reach, for example, they have 1.8 million followers on Instagram and over 380000 likes on Facebook and they also managed to increase their brand awareness and brand likeability. With the help of influencers, the brand gained credibility and this way is much cheaper than traditional advertising (Pulvirent, 2015).
As mentioned in the Daniel Wellington campaign, bloggers can be important influencers because most people see them as authentic and they normally have a large following. According to one study, where millennials were surveyed and interviewed, it is more trustworthy when a blogger recommends a product than traditional advertising. Nowadays, it is more important for bloggers to have a smart, well-executed Instagram presence than a blog (Brannigan, 2016). 65% of companies are using influencer marketing and 86% of those influencers are bloggers (Technorati, 2013). Influencer marketing can take many forms, for example, blog posts, videos or pictures on the social media platform of the influencer, which means content cooperation, or it can be content for the company’s marketing campaign with the influencer’s name or picture, which means providing content. An influencer can be also a brand ambassador (Biaudet, 2017). The right influencer should have the following qualities: knows the product/service, has an interest in it, is an expert and opinion leader in his/her field, has the right audience for the company, knows how to make suitable content, e.g. stories, videos, pictures, understands marketing, is interested in commercial cooperation, has a substantial amount of followers, has good cooperation skills and understands the value of their work. Influencer marketing can be earned or paid. It is earned media when a brand receives free media and customers are the channel, rather than the company having to pay for it, which would then be paid media. This can be also called word-of-mouth marketing. In 2011, 92% of consumers around the world said they trust earned media (Biaudet, 2017).
When trying to find the right influencer for a brand there are five things to look for, namely relevance, engagement, reach, frequency and authenticity. Relevance means how well the influencers’ content is aligned with the message of the brand. It is important to look through influencers’ posts to find out what kind of customer they are and what they like. Engagement indicates how interactive influencers’ readers are with the posts in terms of responses, comments, and shares. Reach means that traffic and followers are only meaningful when the influencer reaches the target audience of the brand. Frequency is the correlation between how often an influencer posts and their traffic and rate of return visitors. It is therefore important for influencers to post frequently in order to gain more visitors and loyal followers. Lastly, authenticity refers to influencers having less sponsored posts since this makes them seem more trustworthy and authentic (Biaudet, 2017).
One of the platforms that can be used for information exchange is Instagram, which is an effective social media platform for influencer marketing because 75% of people using Instagram take action if a post inspired them and 60% of Instagram users said they find new products on Instagram. Instagram was also the best performing social media platform for social action in 2015 and had a social action rate of 3.21% compared to 1.5% across all social networks and this is good for influencer marketing. Social action rate is counted by dividing social media engagements with social media exposure (RythmOne, 2016). A study in Finland about Instagram influencer marketing has found that 73% of Finnish Instagram users follow an influencer on Instagram, for example, a blogger or a celebrity. The influencers are interesting to the consumers and the product tips are normally very useful. This study also found that younger people are especially influenced by Instagram influencers and they are more likely to purchase a product or a service based on their recommendations (Biaudet, 2017).
Instagram can be a useful marketing tool and there are three aspects to support this. Firstly, the number of smartphone or tablet users is increasing and with it also the use of mobile internet. In order to use Instagram, you need an app on your smartphone or tablet so you can participate on the platform and share photos. Furthermore, 30.5% of students stated they use Instagram on a regular basis, which was only at 20.7% in 2012. Secondly, Instagram reached 700 million users in 2017 and there are more than 40 billion uploaded photos. Lastly, 71% of Interbrand’s most valued brands use Instagram as a marketing tool (Geiser, 2017).
As mentioned above, it is important for start-ups to increase their brand awareness and become known to people and one way to do this is with the use of brand advocacy. A study published in the Harvard Business Review has found that the likelihood your customers, consumers or clients will advocate your brand to their friends and family is directly correlated to your business growth and brand awareness. The research has also found that companies who have a high rate of word of mouth advocacy grow fast, while those companies with a low rate of word of mouth advocacy stagnate or even shrink. In predicting business growth and brand awareness, brand advocacy is found to be more important than for example brand image or brand satisfaction (Kirby & Marsden, 2006).
Another study by Twitter and Annalect, where they (in the first stage) surveyed more than 300 users in order to gather responses towards brand influencers recommending a product versus their friends, and in the second stage studied responses of 500 users when exposed to traditional digital format ads versus watching content from an influencer also found interesting results. 56% of users rely on recommendations they receive from friends, while 49% rely on influencers (Swant, 2016). 40% of users purchased a product after seeing an influencer use it on Twitter, Vine or YouTube, 20% of users, shared something they saw from an influencer and a third of millennials follow an influencer on Twitter or Vine (Swant, 2016). Research has also found that 91% of people would likely use a brand if it was recommended by someone who has used it themselves and 92% of people say that word of mouth is their preferred source of information and it is valued twice as much as an information source compared to advertising. Compared to the 1970s, people value word of mouth 50% more today (Kirby & Marsden, 2006; Whitler, 2014; Fuggetta, 2012). The power word of mouth has, comes primarily from its credibility since 90% of people believe recommendations from their friends and family because they are not seen as having any vested interests. The second source of power for word of mouth comes from its exponential reach, for example, if one person recommends a product to two people, who then each recommend it to two more, then a recommendation chain of 30 links could reach every person in combined populations of the United States and the EU. Therefore, even if a company is small and has a product that is not known to people, because of the exponential and credible word of mouth, it can suddenly become the next big thing (Kirby & Marsden, 2006).