Should We Trust Social Influencers?

A social influencer is someone who has demonstrated a certain level of knowledge and expertise on a subject, such as fitness, fashion, or any combination of lifestyle factors. They do it so well, people follow their content through social media channels for inspiration in their own lives.

Influencers will create content online with the intention of inspiring similar thoughts and actions in their viewers, hence developing an influential personal brand. When corporate brands see this, they want in. Companies worried about the results from social analytics will want a way to boost their numbers. They see a popular personality speaking to their buyer demographic, so they send products to influencers and sponsor their content. In return, these large brands get endorsements from the influencers, which drives buyers right to their products and services.

So the question is, are influencers just misleading by nature? They’re receiving sponsorship, which then obliges them to give a positive endorsement for the brand behind that sponsorship. Sure, a lot of influencers genuinely feel they are promoting quality products. But how many people are going to feel negative about a brand that pays their way? It’s a lot easier to focus on the positives of a product or service when it comes with the promise of future sponsorships.

Brands and influencers buy followers and likes to improve their social media analytics.

Turns out, social media influencers will do anything to get that sponsorship, including lying about their identity and follower base. One influencer company even created their own fake profiles to demonstrate just how easy it is to pull off. The high number of influencers with fake followers has resulted in a serious crack-down on misleading profiles. Brands are vowing to be more strict regarding how they choose their influencer sponsorships, and they shun the booming influencer community for their lack of transparency.  This is pretty ironic considering many brands have purchased followers for their own profiles.

Brand accounts have turned to developing their own influencer profiles, sometimes inventing virtual personas for this purpose. Do these online personas truly reflect consumer viewpoints? If they’re made up by a company, they are more likely to be promoting the view or lifestyle that brand is trying to sell, rather than representing and identifying with the consumer base. Companies spend so much time on projecting an intriguing image that they think viewers will engage with, they may forget to monitor the customer response to these profiles. Social platforms give brands the opportunity to hear near-immediate feedback on their campaigns, so they should not just shoot for high engagement, but be aware of the kind of engagement their posts inspire.

[See why some companies are pulling away from social listening softwares to monitor CGC!]

All is not lost for social influencers, though. Many companies are setting their sights on microinfluencers, who have fewer followers and a more specific audience. This appeals to brands who want to attract a particular persona, rather than trying to appeal to consumers at large. If companies choose to portray an ideal consumer, they should focus on the response to their posts. By listening to the user-generated content that follows brand posts, they will see first-hand how their personas are performing. If their goal is simply cultivating a stronger online presence for their brand, inventing interesting personalities is a sure way to do it. It just means that they’re selling an idealized lifestyle rather than focusing on the quality of their actual products and features. Seems to work for a lot of consumer brands.