Influencer Marketing is one of the biggest marketing trends for the past five years.

If you spend much time browsing Instagram or YouTube, no doubt you will have come across an internet celebrity with a sponsored post or product placement promoting some random brand.

So how does it all work?

Are Influencers still relevant?

Or are we getting sick of unauthentic posts from celebrities endorsing a product they don’t use?

What is Influencer Marketing?

Social media influencers are individuals who create content promoting certain brands through social media sites like Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. This is a marketing strategy used by brands who hire these influencers to increase their interactions with their target customers online, increasing their brand awareness and recognition, increasing sales.

These influencers have built a following online through their prominent personal branding.

“Influence can be broadly defined as the power to affect a person, thing or course of events. Influence manifests itself in many ways, from direct purchase advice to subtle shifts in perception of a vendor’s credibility.” (Brown & Hayes, 2008)

Influencers are people who have built a reputation online for their knowledge and expertise on a topic or lifestyle or because of their status. This reputation gives them social influence in their specific niche or area of expertise/fame, their followers taking note of their actions and opinions.

An influencer taking a selfie

Unlike celebrities of the past who often lead very private lives, influencers give followers access to a snapshot of their personal lives. This glimpse into the good life creates a bond and helps influencers to win the trust of their target audience.

These social relationships become assets for influencers to collaborate with brands to help them reach their marketing goals, as they have the power to affect the purchase decisions of others through their authority and trust of their following. This provides credibility for brands with a shared target audience.

Social media uses love to feel like they can relate to the people they respect and follow. What better way of doing this than consuming the same products? Because of this, social media influencers can often create trends.

Influencers post content on their social media accounts to advertise the brands through product reviews and endorsements and commonly use product placements. This application of a brand into a “real life” situation (social media is often a little staged) entices their audience to view the product positively.

An influencer can have as little as 1,000 followers, or the top celebrity influencers now have hundreds of millions. Portuguese professional footballer Cristiano Ronaldo is the biggest, now at almost 240 million followers.

“Social media influencers represent a new type of independent, third-party endorsers who shape an audience’s attitudes through blogs, tweets, and the use of other social media channels.” (Freberg, Graham, McGaughey, & Freberg, 2011)

The Benefits of Influencer Marketing

The major drawcard of using influencers in a marketing strategy is their ability to give a brand a wider audience online. The following statistics are an indication of the effectiveness of influencer marketing:

  • 92% of marketers surveyed believed influencer marketing is effective at generating and converting leads in generating leads (Influencer Marketing Hub).
  • One study found that every $1 spent on influencer marketing produced an average return of $18 (Oberlo).
  • 80 percent of consumers surveyed had purchased a product after it seeing it in an influencer’s post (Oberlo).

The use of social media influencer marketing as a public relations and marketing strategy has removed many of the barriers between consumers and brands, changing the way they interact. Brands use influencers as a tool to attract and enhance relationships with their target audience, as many social media users use influencers to help guide their target market with their decision making.

The trusting relationship followers have with influencers means their recommendations are almost as trusted as a recommendation from a friend — one study found “56% of users surveyed said they rely on recommendations from friends, while 49% said they rely on influencers” (See Woods, 2016).

This recommendation from a trusted influencer strengthens a brand’s credibility and reputation, which can form a relationship with the brand.

Influencers help to increase brand awareness of their clients and broaden their audience through the exposure of the brand to their followers. Brands need to choose a relevant influencer who is popular and relevant to their target audience. They give brands a fresh perspective, as they are already regularly creating unique and engaging content for their audience. Their audience perceives this marketing content as more credible and authentic than traditional advertising due to the trust the influencer’s following has.

Brands can now target audiences through influencers that were previously unreachable through mass marketing. Nano and Micro-influencers often have strong followings and credibility in niche markets and communities that traditional marketing cannot reach.

“You log onto Instagram and a celebrity confesses their love of Chipotle with a burrito in their hand. Later you are scrolling through Twitter and one of your friends tweets an image with their Starbucks Frappuccino. Both of these are examples of influencer marketing, the only difference being the first one is paid by advertisers and the second is not. This blurring of the lines between what is a genuine endorsement and what is a paid one through content-rich platforms is what makes influencer marketing so powerful.” (Woods, 2016)

How is influencer marketing so effective?

Social media has broken down the barriers between been brands and their consumers. Influencers have made this even more of a two-way relationship, where previously advertising was one very one way.

influencers promote brands by using them in their personal lives, it does not seem like advertising. The product placements they use in an everyday setting makes brands seem more relatable to consumers. In this sense, influencers serve are a connector between a brand and a consumer.

Through openness and honesty in their social media content, influencers seem authentic, giving them credibility with their audience (We’ll talk about this further later).

Social media followers learn from the example of influencers, and through this observation, people have a higher likelihood of adopting those behaviours. Social Learning Theory (see Bandura, 1969) proposes that people can develop new social behaviours through observing and imitating others.

Electronic Word of Mouth can also explain why using influencers is so powerful — this is any positive or negative statement made about a product or brand online. Word of mouth is one of the most credible and trusted sources of marketing and helps form consumers’ opinions on products and services. Consumers are more likely to have a positive perception of a message from a friend or a trusted influencer than a sponsored post that comes from a company.

Types of Influencers

Not every influencer has celebrity status. There are four broad categories of influencers:

1. Celebrities

2. Industry experts and thought leaders

3. Bloggers and content creators

4. Nano, Micro & Macro Influencers


The top tier of influencers is celebrities. They could be sports stars, actors, pop stars or just people who are famous for being famous. The Kardashian and Jenner family the perfect example of the latter, with three of the family (Kim, Kylie and Kendall) in the top 10 most followed on Instagram.

These celebrity influencers typically have more than a million followers and tend to have a wide range of followers rather than in one niche. The cost to use this celebrity influencers is extremely high, and their followers are not as defined — they often come from all walks of life.

Top 5 Instagram Influencers in 2019 (

top 5 influencers

Industry Experts and Thought Leaders

Influencers can also gain their status by gaining it through their qualifications, position, or experience in their area of expertise. They often gain this reputation and respect through having a prominent role in the workplace. For example, although now you could almost consider her a celebrity, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Adern, has a large following on LinkedIn and Facebook.

These experts and thought leaders include journalists, CEOs at large corporations, academics and industry experts.

Content Creators and Bloggers

Content creators are everywhere on YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and even LinkedIn. They typically post a variety of informational content about a topic of interest and build a following through this. These influencers differ from industry experts as they are not in a position of power or have widespread credibility because of their professional reputation. They can be small business owners or just passionate about a certain topic.

One such niche which is growing in prominence is gaming. Gaming influencers live-stream their games over YouTube or other video platforms and their fans watch to get better at the game. Brands can promote products and offers through these streams to generate sales. For example, a headset or controller brand.

A gaming influencer called PewDiePie has over 100 million followers on YouTube.

Bloggers publish content on topics such as travel, marketing, fashion, lifestyle or business and promote their blog content across various social media platforms. Those with a large following become a credible authority in their niche so their audiences are likely to trust their recommendations.

Nano, Micro and Macro Influencers

Nano and Micro-influencers are the other end of the scale from Celebrities. Nano influencers have small followings of under 10,000 and Micro-influencers are the next tier up with between 10,000 to 10,000 followers.

These influencers are typically are normal people with normal jobs, who have become well known because of their content and knowledge in a specific niche. They are credible and their social media following are people interested in that niche and engage often in their content. They have a strong relationship with their following and because of this, they usually do not want to harm their reputation through promoting something that does not fit.

They are likely to become vocal and loyal advocates for a brand and their audience are more likely to perceive their recommendations as an authentic testimonial, instead of the branded endorsement of a celebrity.

These influencers are perfect for small businesses with modest marketing budgets.

Macro Influencers sit between Micro-influencers and Celebrities, sharing characteristics of both, usually having a following of between 100,000 and 1 million people. A bigger audience than micro but not the same loyal following. Often Macro Influencers found their fame online, through being a content creator on YouTube for example.

The use of influencer marketing has exploded over the past five years. But there has recently been some backlash against influencer marketing (more about that soon), however, the online search for “influencers” search term itself has seen a 1500% increase between 2016 and 2019 ( This shows influencer marketing still has a massive relevance to businesses.

There are still plenty of businesses investing in influencer marketing according to Oberlo:

  • Nine out of 10 marketers believe that influencer marketing is effective
  • 93% of marketers used influencer marketing in 2019
  • 57% of marketers plan to increase their influencer budgets in 2020.

Influencer Fatigue

Even though social media users know that brands pay influencers for their endorsements, many are still able to remain a trusted and authentic source to their followers. However, this is starting to change. People are getting sick of plastic and unauthentic social media posts that are obviously staged, where a promoted product is different from an influencer’s niche that they do not even use it.

Why would you trust somebody just saying something just for the money?

influencer cartoon

The growing demand for authentic content from Gen Y and Z has means that some brands are starting to move away from the use of influencers. They want REAL content and that is what they enjoy engaging with.

‘Faking’ Influence

The use of fake followers and likes has become increasingly more widespread, where a person pays for artificial engagement and growth to boost their social media accounts. Bots often used to inflate these numbers — Numerous influencers were caught using these services. This artificial following used to ‘trick’ brands into collaborating with them

I too have been approached many times by direct message on Instagram, asking if I want to increase my number of followers and get a certain amount of likes per post, for a fee.

“For social media influencer’s whose focus is on lifestyle branding, authenticity is key… The influencer being genuine, honest, and open with her followers. Authenticity allows an influencer to relate with followers on a new level and aids in building a relationship between followers and brands.” (Glucksman, 2017)

Celebrity Influencers are out, Nano-influencers and Micro-influencers are in

The influencer game is changing. Celebrity influencers are no longer as popular as they used to be, as brands move toward the use of teams of micro-influencers instead of using one or two celebrities. Nearly 80 percent of the brands surveyed by Linqia said they want to work with micro-influencers in 2020.

Celebrity influencers require a large pay-check, sometimes of hundreds of thousands or even a million dollars per social media post. If the content does not come across as authentic, then the return on investment is not going to be as high as using micro-influencers with a more genuinely engaged following.

Contrasting the perfect image portrayed by many celebrity influencers (how can that be real?), micro and nano influencers create content that is not glamourous or staged. This is a lot more believable.

Influencers are employed for their ability to influence people. Not just because they have a following. Having the ability to influence the decision-making of consumers in a niche is key.

Businesses must weigh up an influencer’s following with their credibility with their target audience.

The internet has allowed the fragmentation of media into small niches and communities. Because of this, Nano and Micro-Influencers are becoming more attractive; with their penetration into these communities where they have engagement and credibility.

The use of Employee Advocates as influencers

A study by MSL Group suggests that brand messages are re-shared 24 more often when distributed by employees than by the brand itself.

Employees can be immensely proud of where they work and happy to spread positive messages about their company and brands. They live and breathe the brand, so often have the tremendous insight they can share that does not come across as staged or inauthentic and they become the perfect candidate for an influencer. Therefore, businesses should encourage their staff to be advocates — especially on a platform like LinkedIn.

They might not have much of a following, but it costs nothing, and a team of enthusiastic staff can have as much reach as one or two paid influencers in their niche.

That is the lot for this week’s blog about Influencer Marketing! I hope you enjoyed this week’s content.

If you’re thinking about getting an influencer to promote your brand’s products or services, make sure their audience aligns with your target market.

Read more: Klout, Kred, Peer Index: The Year of Online Influence