The Changing Role of the Influencer in Marketing


User generated content (UGC) is recognized by smart marketers as a reliable way to confirm brand integrity and boost sales. With the proliferation of social media venues and the continuing crisis of fake news in this ‘post-truth’ era we live in, consumer trust in products and brands is eroding. The buying public feels adrift in a sea of dicey options, with no sure rudder guiding him or her. The old Latin phrase ‘caveat emptor’ — “buyer beware” — once again seems to be the law of the land. In response, internet advertisers have labored long and hard to bring to consumers information about their products that has the ring of truth and sincerity to it — something that convinces consumers that their bewildered complaints have been heard and responded to. And what better way to do that than to engage a well-known influencer to get behind the product? Whether it’s a sports star, a Hollywood celebrity, a popular blogger and/or podcaster, or one of the numerous talking heads on TV and radio, these influencers can be a powerful sales engine through their endorsement and presence in the mind of the public. They can be trusted, and so, by inference, the brands they talk/write about can be trusted.


“But,” says digital marketing firm Eraser Farm, “a nice balance must be observed in using this marketing strategy. If marketers and influencers don’t work together towards real organic content, content that people regard as useful rather than self-promoting, their target audience will remain skeptical and will continue to evaporate.”


On the other hand, when the influencer acts like a magnet by attracting all the attention to themselves, the product itself becomes lost in the shuffle and is in danger of being reduced to a mere footnote in the influencer’s triumphant (and often controversial) march towards immortality. When the advocate is the entire story, at the expense of the ad, marketers are in big trouble.


As mentioned above, it’s a balancing act that requires expert timing, teamwork, and constant readjustment. Using a one-size-fits all celebrity as your influencer usually means that the brand is in the shadows while the influencer struts in the spotlight. And if the influencer is seen as merely a tout for the brand, not organically integrated into the brand storyline, consumers are apt to turn up their noses at such flagrant commercial hooey and take their business elsewhere.


So while organic reach can be well-served with the right influencer, the organic story itself, the organic content that ultimately sticks in the mind of the consumer and logically drives traffic no matter who the influencer might be, is much harder to create and sustain — and much more important. What good is a widespread presence if it is viewed as merely presumption?


And that is why the big brands are asking their advertising and marketing departments to start thinking of the consumers themselves as ‘influencers.’ Identifying and targeting a niche consumer audience, then producing organic content that speaks directly to that niche in a personal way, can encourage consumers to become a brand’s advocate. Videos and podcasts that use real people in challenging yet optimistic situations, where the brand name is not even mentioned or displayed, is a viable and successful option in the never ending game of organic marketing. It can give a product a relevance and reliability that traditional influencers are unlikely to duplicate.