In 2014, the Argentine artist Amalia Ulman launched the project Excellences & Perfections, a collection of 186 shots posted on her Instagram account. Within four months, these images had earned her the title of influencer (and something like 94,000 followers). Smart photos, in carefully studied poses and attitudes, wearing outfits and immortalised in settings that appealed to an audience with a penchant for "bad girls" on the road to redemption (including a sudden focus on healthy life habits, such as yoga and natural products). Her aim was to make people reflect on the public's malleability. Four years later, similar dynamics have led to influncer marketing bursting on the scene. But what exactly is it? In a nutshell, it is the use, by a company, of an individual's presence on the social media, so as to sell products and services to the public gathered around this personality. Just take a look at the Instagram profile of Chiara Ferragni (influencer par excellence and entrepreneur by extension), and you'll start to understand which and how many product placements can be included in a single shot. But the most famous new mother on the Net is just the tip of an iceberg that keeps growing at the rate of one billion dollars a year, with brands investing up to 500,000 dollars for a 12-month campaign. According to ANA (the Association of National Advertisers), in the US this phenomenon sees the involvement of about 75% of advertising companies.
To give a clearer idea of the scope of influencer marketing, for the past four years Launchmetrics has been published a report, which in 2018 involved 600 marketing, communication and PR professionals in the fashion industry, as well as – for the first time – 200 fashion influencers in Europe and in the United States. "When we started out," said the company's CEO, Michael Jaïs, "many thought that this was just a passing phenomenon. Now we can safely say that this trend has not been as temporary as it was first thought; indeed, it has stabilized and become common practice". Just look at the figures: 78% of industry operators have launched influencer marketing campaigns, and 90% of these consider them effective tools to generate brand awareness.
The purpose of these marketing campaigns is to generate the best possible content and circulate it at the right time, within the right target audience. In this regard, the choice of influencer is all-important.
As regards the influencers themselves, the most salient element of the report concerns their business status: despite the growing emergence of a new professional figure, there are also forms of paid and unpaid collaboration. Indeed, sometimes the free, spontaneous collaborations generate the most interesting content for one's community of reference. To be precise, 48% of influencers are willing to collaborate for free with a brand they love, while 46% say it depends on the alternative compensation offered and 7% only accept if other influencers or bloggers are involved.
Companies actually use this last system to increase engagement for a given product. Two or more interacting social media accounts can improve visibility and the number of people reached. Because, of course, what really matters in the end is the return on investment (ROI). This depends on several parameters, and there is no one-to-one correspondence between the number of followers and the number of customers earned. Instead, the purpose of these marketing campaigns is to generate the best possible content and circulate it at the right time, within the right target audience. In this regard, the choice of influencer is all-important as it acts as a pivot to reach a slice of enthusiastic, sympathising potential customers.
One of the main pitfalls of any such advertising campaign, therefore, is being mislead by the many wannabes that fill the social media (especially Instagram). There are several ways to hunt these out. First, compare the number of likes per post with the number of followers, and check the interaction generated by each post: the risk of bots being used is always around the corner, although a 2.7% above average rate of participation in a post containing a photograph could be a sign of an excellent candidate. In a further attempt to unearth bots, analysing the community and its way of responding to posts can also raise the alarm: texts that are excessively brief and impersonal or that contain a slew of emoji may have been generated automatically. Finally, good influencers do not say yes to all and sundry. They seek profitable relationships because they know their followers better than anyone else, and therefore they prefer to vet their offers in order to ensure continuous growth.