[Estimated reading time: 3 minutes]
Over a year ago, The Harvard Business Review published “3 Reasons to Kill Influencer Marketing”, which forecasted the end of influencer marketing as a viable marketing strategy. A reputable publication like HBR is usually a keen predictor of industry trends. Yet they were certain that influencer marketing is doomed. Here are Harvard’s concerns with influencer marketing:
1.“It’s the wrong metaphor”:
“Just because someone might be good at getting an idea across, doesn’t mean that others are more likely to share the idea.” The idea here is that because influencer marketing requires subsequent action, then “collective behavior requires a collective.”
2. There’s insufficient scientific evidence that supports influencer marketing:
The data simply doesn’t support claims that influencers actually drive change. Because “influence is highly contextual,” the author claims that “so called ‘influentials’ are only slightly more likely to produce viral chains.”
3. Influence is precarious:
“We’ve seen powerful social epidemics erupt in the Arab Spring, the Euromaidan protests in Ukraine and the 2004 Orange Revolution that preceded it. Small, loosely connected groups overthrew powerful regimes.” This implies that social status and influence are unreliable, and may change. So it makes good sense to avoid reliance on tenuous prestige.
Despite these concerns, a year later, influencer marketing is thriving – an indispensable facet of quality marketing campaigns. Has anybody killed influencer marketing? Hardly.
The State of Influencer Marketing
Currently, influencer marketing is considered a powerful tool to achieve marketing goals based on new social media trends. Influencer marketing is PR 2.0 in action!
Influencer marketing is seen as essential tool– Forbes calls it a “golden goose” of marketing. Other experts expect influencer marketing to overtake the advertising industry’s reliance on display advertising.
Perhaps the most telling impact that influencer marketing has can be seen in its adoption by “classic” companies. Luxury businesses – the “old fashioned” standards like Burberry and Porsche realize the social value and monetary ROI possible with influencers. Luxury brands that were slow to realize the importance of digital and PR 2.0 are now trying to work with influencers. Not surprisingly (to us), many companies have increased their marketing budget spending on influencer marketing. Influencer marketing is alive and well.
What Harvard Business Review got Wrong:
The author doesn’t know what a real influencer is:
Popularity isn’t influence. Influencers are not only good at sharing ideas, but they benefit from a highly engaged community. HBR missed the whole point of influencer marketing. Influencer marketing’s primary goal isn’t to generate viral content – the purpose is to to speak to and engage with a target audience through the influencer’s voice. True influencer marketing is subtle. So while some influencers may drive content to viral levels, this is not a reasonable expectation for influencer marketing efforts.
Influencer marketing is supported by data:
An influencer is a trusted individual or organization who relays information to their audience. This connection between influencer and audience is seen as synonymous to word of mouth – and word of mouth is trusted. In fact, 81% of US online consumers trust information and advices they read on blogs. MarketShare found that word-of-mouth improves marketing effectiveness by up to 54%. An Ambassador survey showed that 64% of respondents mostly or completely agree that word-of-mouth marketing is more effective than traditional marketing. The applications of influencer marketing is diverse and effective: 82% use word-of-mouth marketing to increase their brand awareness, but 43% expect word-of-mouth marketing to improve their direct sales.
Context is everything:
“If Jack Nicholson refused to stand up at a Lakers game, would a wave stop in its tracks?” Of course not! Wrong influencer, wrong situation, wrong context! As the author also spotted later in his article, influence is contextual. People are following influencers for good reasons – for their input on issues, their artistic aesthetic, their lifestyle, and more. A tech brand looking for influencers wouldn’t generally be wise to ask a fashion blogger for a sponsored post. Sure, the fashion influencer would be able to raise awareness of the tech brand or product, but the context is all wrong.
While fame may be fleeting, quality contextual influencers are more than the flavor of the month. These people and brands have relationships with a large audience. If certain influencers fall out of favor, it’s not a blow to influencer marketing. Another influencer with relationships can deliver. Influencer marketing doesn’t build a brand on the backs of selected influencers– it leverages relationships to build awareness, social engagement, and drive sales.
Breathe easy! The sky is not falling. Influencer marketing is not dead (it’s not even injured). Word of mouth is trusted and drives action. And there is no better place to harness this in our new media than through influencers. Influencer marketing has a clean bill of health. Alive and well!