Opinion: How influencers make us feel individual

Can anyone become an influencer? To anyone with a little luck, drive, and an original sense of self and style, the answer would be “yes”. With 59% of 18-29-year-olds using Instagram, there’s a potential audience of millions for anyone producing content that people want to engage with. The influencer asks that their followers buy into their personalities first, and the brands they’re associated with come next.

Influencers move in different circles to conventional celebrities. To most people, the diamond-encrusted lifestyles of stars like Kylie Jenner and Bella Hadid are completely untouchable. The whole appeal of the influencer is that they are just like us—only more polished. This down-to-earth charm means that engagement levels on their social profiles are high. Comments are usually replied to, and recommendations are taken seriously. Influencer marketing uses this community relationship in a mutually beneficial way. The brand markets better, while the customer gets content on their Instagram feed they find much more appealing than a conventional advert.

It’s definitely a matter of quality over quantity when it comes to followers. The relatability, trust and cool-factor of many influencers are due to a smaller following that feels exclusive. If your target customers pride themselves on being unique, this dynamic is a goldmine—your product will come across as a hidden gem far from the mainstream. Clothing brand Reformation know that millennials love this, and have shaped their brand into an exclusive ‘club’ for followers to be a part of. Instagram followers are anxious to buy their products and share with the hashtag #refbabes—or else miss out on what the cool girls are doing.

A similar example is beauty brand Glossier. In their business model, the micro-influencer is everything. Packaging is designed to be Instagram-able. All customers are given a 10% discount code to share with their friends. By using Glossier products, the customer becomes an influencer, and therefore part of the lifestyle associated with the brand. Relying on word-of-mouth marketing, Glossier says that three quarters of new customers arrive due to peer recommendation—meaning the majority of their advertisers are completely unpaid.

Glossier was aware of the power of social following since its founding in 2014. Household name brands have attempted to hop on the bandwagon more recently, but it’s a notoriously difficult thing to get right. And now they have to be more savvy about it than ever. Millennials and Gen Z-ers are becoming more and more aware of whether they are being marketed to or not.

Influencer marketing can almost seem paradoxical—audiences want both authenticity and flawlessness. But is it sustainable to expect both of these things? It could be said that the reason this form of advertising works is the followers’ ignorance to what goes on behind the scenes. When audiences begin to feel exploited, the follower-influencer-brand dynamic will erode as quickly as it appeared. This makes it all the more important to play by the rules.

The trust that can form between an Instagrammer and their followers is the stuff of the advertising industry’s dreams. These tips will help your brand make the most of this relationship while avoiding any potential faux-pas.

1.A smaller number of engaged followers is better than large number of people who won’t care about your brand. Working with smaller influencers will also help cut costs.

2. Give the influencer creative freedom—they know their audience. Scripted captions and uncharacteristic overenthusiasm can turn followers away.

3.Keep your packaging and design social media friendly. This will encourage ‘micro-influencers’ to promote your brand at no cost to you.

4. Make sure the influencers you choose to work with are appropriate for the image you’re trying to promote. Sponsored content should fit seamlessly into their social media profile.

5. Do your research. Does your influencer have a good reputation, or might they bring negative connotations to your brand?

6. A long-term relationship with your influencer will be much more effective than a one-time deal. Going further than sponsored posts, in product collaboration for example, is a great way to get across that the influencer really believes in your brand.