Social Media Influencers: The Face of Marketing

By: Seth Hunter

(Photo by Kim Kardashian)

How many of your favorite celebrities promote a new product daily on their social media accounts? Social media influencers (SMIs) are becoming more prevalent in marketing practices and are changing marketing in all areas. The digital age has introduced a new career field for social media whether it’s being an influencer with millions of followers or a small business using these platforms to promote their brand. Companies that partner with SMIs have to understand the risks of it, how to disclose their sponsorship, and also reflect their brand’s image in the advertisement.

Risks of Influencer Marketing

            Partnering with SMIs is an effective strategy that many brands have started to use over the past few years. These sponsorships can be seen on every social media platform, but they first gained popularity with celebrities like the Kardashians posting SugarBearHair vitamins on their Instagram accounts. Now anyone with a social following can be sponsored by brands whether it’s in exchange for free products or being paid for their exposure.

(Photo by Audrey Champelli)

Having SMIs sponsor a brand comes with risks because if they do not have a good relationship with the public it can lead to the downfall of brands. “Cancel culture” has caused many social media influencers to leave the internet and lose any profit they previously received from social media. Cancel culture is when a person on the internet is exposed for things from their past and in turn receives hate from people on the internet, ultimately ending their social media careers. If a brand sponsors an influencer who becomes involved in a scandal leading to them being “canceled” has the risk of leaving a negative view on the brands that sponsored them. This can be seen with beauty guru James Charles who was dropped from brand sponsors after being “exposed” on social media.

Sponsorship Disclosure

            When a SMI is sponsored by a brand they must disclose that they are being sponsored by the brand they are promoting. Disclosing a sponsor is an easy way to tell their followers that anything they say is being paid for and to take this opinion with a grain of salt. These disclosures protect the influencers from lawsuits if a consumer sues a brand for selling products that don’t do what is promised.

The reason influencer marketing is so popular is because they are real people speaking positively about a product or a brand and their followers have a high level of trust in them. When this new marketing strategy began to rise on social media it was mainly celebrities advertising products and their followers had issues trusting whether they enjoyed the product or not. It was revealed that many of these celebrities didn’t use the products they advertised. Since then, some people refuse to trust influencers and the products they support. This is only a small percentage though because you can see hundreds of sponsorships daily even from small influencers who only reach a few thousand compared to millions.

Brand Image

            Many brands have realized the effectiveness of using influencers to promote their products hence why small influencers are now seen doing sponsorships without having millions of followers. Brands want to choose people that reflect the image they have created for their brand. Every brand has values that are important to them, and they would never purposely choose to do something that will diminish these values or their image. As indicated by the risks above, brands must be careful to avoid being caught in controversy when reaching out to SMIs. Hence the increase in brands partnering with small influencers who tend to have no controversies surrounding them and their followers support them fully. This is unlike large creators who have a large follower base but a lot of them are bot accounts or “haters.”

Smaller influencers tend to have a closer relationship with their followers, and this is a prime marketing opportunity for smaller companies. By paying for sponsorships with small influencers, which are more affordable compared to trying to get a television commercial or asking a popular influencer to sponsor their product, they can grow exponentially. This can be seen on the social media app TikTok which has launched many brands from small startups to multi-million-dollar companies.

(Photo by Boombod)

Social media influencers are not going away anytime soon, and they have become a popular marketing option for companies to use. Nearly every company has its own social media accounts and many of them will use SMIs. It is an easy and effective marketing strategy for companies to use and get the exposure they desire. As the marketing industry starts to move away from traditional strategies and platforms the world will continue to see the rise of influencer marketing.

Zhou, S., Blazquez, M., McCormick, H., & Barnes, L. (2021). How social media influencers’ narrative strategies benefit cultivating influencer marketing: Tackling issues of cultural barriers, commercialized content, and sponsorship disclosure. Journal of Business Research134, 122–142.