Their pictures, videos, and words are designed to entice people to stay at a certain hotel, dine at a certain restaurant, drink a certain bottle of wine, or wear certain clothes.
Their job, which is a multi-billion dollar social media effort to promote a particular product or lifestyle, is as an influencer.
Clover Sonoma, the Petaluma-based dairy company, works with paid lifestyle influencers. They are ready to get paid in a product. Some even write about recipes created with this product.
“Our target audience varies but mostly includes moms, dads and household decision makers. We’ve also focused on working with a more diverse group of influencers who offer unique uses for our products and represent our diverse user base,” Christel Corson, chief growth officer, told the Business Journal. “Consumers are increasingly turning to social and emerging platforms like TikTok to engage with unique content that not only entertains, but also educates and inspires.”
Some influencers blog, but others abound on social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube, and sometimes Facebook and Twitter, to share words, photos, and videos about products and places. They were usually either financially compensated or received something in trade for their positive promotions.
Brands paid influencers $1.7 billion in 2016 to promote their wares, and that number will jump to $13.8 billion in 2021, according to the Influencer Marketing Hub (IMH). This year, that number is expected to increase 19% to $16.4 billion. IMH is a privately held media company based in Copenhagen, Denmark that specializes in producing guides, courses and research reports in the social media and influencer marketing industry.
The largest audiences for these content providers are millennials (ages 26-41) and Gen Z (ages 10-25). Gen X (ages 42-57) and Baby Boomers (ages 58-76) follow influencers, but not to the extent of younger generations who have essentially been raised with social media as a normal way to get information.
“The idea of influencers is not that new. Basically, the idea is similar to an endorsement,” explained Apolo Demirel, assistant professor of marketing at UC San Rafael’s Barowski School of Business. “Influencers are people on social media platforms and most are not celebrities.”
The business of influencers
Although influencers are paid spokespeople, it’s not always obvious in the way the ad is on TV or the ad appears in print and online media.
However, the law states that if an influencer gets paid or receives something for free, she must say so in the post. The Federal Trade Commission is the overseer of such things.
“If you’re endorsing a product through social media, your endorsement message should make it obvious when you have a connection—a material connection—to the brand. A substantial relationship with the brand includes a personal, family, or employment relationship, or a financial relationship, such as the brand paying you or providing you with free or discounted products or services,” the FTC website states.
The FTC says disclosure via hashtags like #paid or #sponsored isn’t good enough. It should be in the video as well as in a post that makes it clear that the views are paid for.
The FTC goes on to say, “If you get paid to talk about a product and you think it’s terrible, you can’t say it’s great.”
However, people should realize that what they are reading and watching may be a bunch of lies.
“Social media is a really interesting platform for young people. Anyone can say anything without having credentials,” said Demirel of the Dominican University. “A lot of influencers don’t have any credentials, and that’s important to realize.”
The College of Marin County does not teach influence as a career path. Influence is part of the curriculum to teach students about another tool in the marketing world.
Demirel says that a social media site like Facebook is more about connecting with people you know personally by accepting them as friends. People on Facebook are more likely to have privacy settings that limit who can see what they post. Facebook also has an older demographic.
Whereas Instagram and TikTok users—those who upload content as well as users of content—often engage with people they don’t know. This is how they have thousands of followers; they are not friends.
Millennials are the predominant user of Instagram, while those in their 20s are on TikTok and Snapchat.
The 2022 Influencer Comparison Report from Influencer Marketing Hub revealed that in 2021, influencers were primarily on Instagram (79%), followed by Facebook (50%), TikTok (46%), YouTube (44%) , Twitter (23%), LinkedIn (20%) and Twitch (8%). Most influencers use multiple platforms.