Influencers can completely transform the way a brand uses new technology to launch a product or campaign. Their reach can capture the attention of an audience. Their engagement with a new idea can see it become the stuff of legend. A recent survey by Annalect and Twitter found that 40% of respondents would buy an item if an influencer used it – 56% said they reply on a recommendation from a friend, 49% said they relied on an influencer. That’s a differential of only 7% between trusted friend and online influencer.

This relationship between potential customer and market leading influencer is not only beneficial when it comes to building brands or getting products to move off shelves. It can also be used to actually test new technology, assess how well your market responds to a specific medium and bring your brand into the public eye. A few instances which really underline this potential include Flying Fish, Coke, Sphero and Chewbacca Mom (an accidental incident that pretty much cemented the possibilities of Facebook Live).

When Instagram first launched in October 2010, this humble, free mobile app had more than one million users by December of that year. People were sharing pics of their dogs, their babies and their breakfast with that black-bordered Lo-Fi filter.

Brands could see the possibilities that the platform offered, but they were still grappling with the logistics and execution, never mind the costs. Of course, creative individuals weren’t hamstrung by these concerns, and so a new generation of visual artists arrived on the scene: IGers (Instagrammers).

IGers very much set the bar for Instagram content in the early days, and it made sense both logistically and perhaps even financially for brands to first partner with IGers to help translate their brand on a new platform.

Case in point: Flying Fish’s collaboration with Africa’s No.1 Instagrammer Gareth Pon in the #FlavourCollection. Flying Fish knows that its target market is very active on the photo-sharing platform, but had no idea what effect the compulsory age-gate would have on its efforts to grow a fanbase on Instagram. Today, the Flying Fish IG account far outstrips its competitors in terms of followers and engagement. The risk paid off.

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Coca-Cola took a similar approach when the iconic brand first dipped its toes into Snapchat, collaborating with influencers like Cody Johns as a proof of concept before going ahead and investing a large chunk of digital budget into the much-loved-by-millennials platform.

And let’s not forget Sphero’s now legendary influencer campaign on Snapchat, that raked in 10 million views in 24 hours, by working with influencers like Mike Platco and Shaun McBride. Sphero could have gone to the time and trouble of storyboarding an elaborate (and probably costly) adventure for their BB-8 Droid that was launched on the day.

But ask yourself: what did they have to lose by using these influencers to test the waters first? Nothing. The worst that could have happened was that their Snapchat campaign didn’t rake in as many views as they hoped.

Look at Facebook, who is rolling out new features almost weekly these days. How is a brand manager to choose which features to invest in? Instant Articles, Canvas ads, the new 360-video option?

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It’s safe to say that after the Chewbacca Mom video, brands are now hyper-aware of the opportunities that streaming live content to Facebook now has, and that Facebook Live is worth creating content for.

Here’s another example of brands using influencers to test new technologies: Warner Music Group formed an alliance with Nikon, as the headline sponsor for the SXSW festival, with the idea to live stream the event to a co-branded microsite. Nikon HD-SLR cameras were used to capture live performances from Warner’s artists, and some of the artists – many of whom are online influencers themselves – were given Nikon cameras to capture behind the scenes. The result: a viewership of more than 500,000 people watching the live streams, more than 166 million impressions across social media impressions and a number 1 trending hashtag on Twitter: #NikonWarnerSound.