Social media influencers: more effective than celebrity endorsement?

“PR and marketing professionals in the UK are now more likely to use social media influencers than other types of ‘traditional’ celebrity for brand building campaigns,” according to research by Takumi, published here in Campaign. The survey of 500 PR and marketing professionals showed 38% of them were using social media influencers, ahead of sportspeople (23%), TV actors (20%), models (16%) and film stars (14%). YouTube was the most popular channel for social influencer campaigns (used by 58% of respondents), followed by Twitter (51%), Facebook (52%) and Instagram (38%).

So, does this mean the days of celebrity endorsement are over? Yes indeedy according to Takumi’s founder and CEO, Mats Stigzelius, who comments, “We expect influencer campaigns (will) become a standard element of the marketing mix, and predict social media influencers will be the go-to for authentic message distribution”. But then he would say that I suppose, as he runs a social media influencer agency.

Here are some thoughts on the merits and limitations of using social media influencers.

1. Social media influencers can be cost effective

There is no doubt that the right social media influencers can be cost effective in terms of reach per £ spent. Stephen Bartlett of influencer marketing agency Social Chain demonstrated this in his recent Marketing Week Live presentation (below). Snoop Dog might have a huge social media following of 13.2million. But getting him to Tweet about your brand will set you back a cool £3,000. The dude on the right (whose name I can’t even remember) is a social media influencer with much fewer followers, but these followers are more engaged and he only costs £100 a pop. Social Chain use a “T-Score” to show the higher online engagement per £ spent for the lesser know social media influencer.

So far, so social.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 16.51.47

2. Reach vs. depth

The first watch out with social media influencers is reach. Market share growth is driven not by loyalty and how “deeply engaged” your users are, but rather by penetration, as I’ve posted on several times. Many so called social media influencers risk having limited impact as they lack the reach needed to drive penetration. For example, I posted here on a campaign by clothing retailer, with a Youtuber called Beckii Cruel, who has an audience of  c. 100,000. As a result, the “Wear it four ways” campaign video seems to have been watched by under 8,000 people. To put this in context, the monthly traffic to is 5 million, or 170,000 a day. So its hard to see this campaign having a big impact.

There are a few social media influencers with big reach, such as Zoella with her 7 million followers. But Zoella and her Youtuber buddies are really just celebrities for today’s younger generation. They have big reach but come with a big price tag if you want to work with them.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 17.05.00

3. Spikes vs. sustained presence 

The second limitation I see with social media influencer campaigns is that they seem to be largely one-off, tactical campaigns that create a short-term spike in brand “noise”. The study quoted in Campaign found an average spend of £6,000 per campaign and an average of seven campaigns per year”. But running a total of 14-21 social media influencer campaigns over two to three years is unlikely to create distinctive memory structure for your brand. This requires two to three years of sustained and consistent marketing.

In contrast, done well, celebrity endorsement is a proven technique for building distinctive memory structure. For example, Sainsbury’s created 10 years of “fresh consistency” with chef Jamie Oliver on over 100 campaigns, as I posted on here. The investment in the campaign was significant, but so was the payback, with an estimated £200m incremental revenue in the first six months alone, according to the IPA here.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 17.16.32

4. Brand noise vs. brand equity

Relatively unknown social media influencers can create valuable short term noise for your brand. And they have the benefit of being seen, so we are told, as “authentic” (although as they become famous, and achieve the reach needed to be effective, I question if they maintain this authenticity). However, they are likely to be less effective than celebrities at providing “borrowed memory structure”: a set of positive associations which can help enhance the equity of your brand. The trick here is of course choosing your celebrity wisely, in a way that does indeed fit with and amplify the brand image you are trying to build.

Nespresso have done this masterfully with the long-term endorsement of George Clooney, who has exactly the right personality attributes for Nespresso (suave, international, sophisticated, charming, witty), as we posted on here. And Nespresso have made the most of social media to amplify the TV campaign, including one of my favourite ever youtube films below with Clooney and John Malkovich. Genius.

In contrast, Magnum spent a lot of money on a recent global campaign with Hollywood actor Benicio del Toro. However, our IcAT study showed that he only “activated” the brand with 21% of UK consumers, with more people associating him with Häagen Dazs. In contrast, Eva Longoria was much more effective at activating brand recall, even though she was last used by Magnum in back in 2008. I suggest this may reflect the fact that Eva Longoria has a much better fit with the Magnum brand than del Toro.

In conclusion, I suggest that brand endorsement is like most things in marketing, and in life and general. You do tend to get what you pay for. If you want a short-term spike of brand noise, then a tactical campaign with a social media influencer might do the job. However, if you want long term brand and business build, a strategic partnership with the right celebrity might be more expensive, but also more effective in the long run.