Is Integrity the Secret to Influencer Marketing Success?

You may have seen the recent Netflix documentary about Fyre Festival, the most disastrous festival experience of 2017. What was advertised as a ‘transformative experience’ that would ‘exceed all expectations’, was brought crashing down to earth by a single image of a sad cheese sandwich. You can read more about it here.

The event serves as a perfect case study for the dangers of misusing influencers. The brand messaging created around Fyre Festival, coupled with the extremely high price anchoring, skyrocketed expectations to a level that could never have been met. Especially not in 6 months, by woefully inexperienced organisers.

Billy McFarland is serving a six-year jail sentence for fraud, but the event raised many serious questions about the responsibility of influencers and those who use them.

A number of similar scandals, including Kylie Jenner’s promotion of FitTea without mentioning its side effects, have brought the discussion about the power of macro-influencers to the fore, with many calling for proper legislation. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has reached out to a number of influencers directly, demanding they adhere to its Endorsement Guide by disclosing sponsored posts as ads by using ‘#Ad’ unambiguous language.

However, part of the success of influencers, and what gives their content such prevalence in modern marketing strategies, is that when used appropriately they create a sense of authenticity that a brand alone could never achieve. This manifests as measurable data, like time spent on a brand’s website, number of pages visited, and average money spent at checkout.

Influencers also offer a way of making a somewhat controlled introduction to a new audience. But integrity is everything, and instructed promotions are becoming less and less effective. Successful brands allow influencers to pick and choose from their offering, and only promote products they have a genuine interest in.

The social power of influencers lies in their ability to save time on research for consumers who trust them.

Most of an influencer’s impact is subconscious. If you’re a mother of very young children, you’re are likely to want to spend your spare time asleep—not catching up with the latest fashion trends. However, you may well make time to check your social feed, and when your favourite fashion blogger pops up raving about a new range of dresses from Zara — it’s a no brainer.

Rather than marketing directly to a large group of consumers, inspiring influencers can result in key brand messages being spread organically — in turn creating greater engagement with the brand. Add to this the prospect of being introduced to new audiences, and it’s easy to see why influencer use by brands is on the up.

Companies with larger marketing budgets will often use influencers to amplify the brand proposition of their pre-existing above-the-line content, or to generate awareness of a new offering. Plus, most influencers create their own content, which can add value in itself when it comes to authenticity.

Influencers generate almost three times as many word-of-mouth messages as direct advertising.

However, the importance of trust in a brand/influencer relationship is a double-edged sword. Yes, allowing influencers to be objective in their reviewing of a product yields more genuine consumer engagement when it works, but it can also lead to half-hearted promotions.

Equally, trusting an influencer to represent a brand can be damaging if their other content runs counter to the brand’s values. Excessive posting can also be perceived as distasteful and deter engagement. If you’re really unlucky, you might end up with an influencer who posts their promotional content from a direct competitor’s tech device:

Tweet example

Oprah promoting the Microsoft Surface tablet from an iPad.

When it comes to brand suitability, there are three main areas that marketers should consider when choosing an influencer:

Reach: The size of their audience. This provides an indicator of success against commercial objectives. But be wary of ‘fake followers’. Engagement levels are the only sure sign of real, active followers.

Industry respondents rank ‘fake followers’as their number one concern with influencer marketing.

Resonance: When they create content, how far does it travel on the internet? Are others engaging with it? This metric helps separate real influencers from the ones that have large communities, but no engagement.

61% of consumers say that having the ability to create authentic,engaging content is the most important attribute in an influencer.

Relevance: Do they possess expertise in a relevant subject, field or sector? How often are they referencing topics and keywords that align with the business or describe the industry? Relevance will confirm that the influencer is ‘on topic’ frequently.

Businesses should research the platforms an influencer uses, their content themes, past brand collaborations and tone of voice, but only after their own content is ready to be propagated. If Fyre Festival teaches us anything it’s that expectation should at least bear a resemblance to reality. As is often the case, good advertising for a bad product can be disastrous.

Influencers have been shown to increase brand market share by as much as 10%.

Say what you like about influencers. They broadcast a false reality, live lives that their followers could never achieve. You won’t find much opposition to that. Yet they are adored, and large sums of money exchange hands on the basis their opinions matter.

Perhaps it’s precisely the unattainable nature of their lifestyle that appeals to consumers, as Nietzsche wrote: ‘Ultimately, it is the desire, not the desired, that we love.’

Or maybe it’s simply that most of these people are successful in a field they were once fanatical about themselves. That they’re being paid to promote products they may have previously promoted for free.

If you think you’re impervious to influencers, probably because you don’t follow any of the larger ones, it’s likely that you do still engage with micro-influencers —those with smaller followings and more niche interests. Brands are recognising this, too — many are opting for campaigns spread across multiple micro-influencers instead of one or two macro-influencers.

In many ways the role of the influencer is one that has existed forever, or as long as we’ve been relying on social cues to modify our behaviour. There are influencers in the school playground, on the television, in every social group you’ve belonged to.

For all we know, Plato was knocking about in branded robes for a few drachma on the side. It’s just that modern platforms have allowed for these natural leaders to reach far wider audiences than ever before.

Every year, 500 billion consumer opinions are shared online and in newspapers and magazines.

It’s difficult to predict the future of influencer culture, especially as Instagram are in talks to remove the visibility of like-counters on its posts in a bid to reduce the social pressure placed on its younger users. But for now, one thing is certain—there’s a lot of money to be made for brands who make the most of this growing channel.


 Influencer intelligence – What consumers think about influencer marketing
 British Vogue – what is an influencer
 The Drum Studios – Influencers – Have We Reached a Tipping Point – Sept 2018
 Influencer Marketing Hub – why influencer marketing is the new content king
 Twitter – key steps of choosing an influencer
 WARC – what we know about influencer marketing
 Admap – influencers beyond the hype
 WARC – 5 things to consider when selecting an influencer