Does the decline in traditional media increase the use of Influencer Marketing?

Much has been said—and written—about the decline in the number of traditional media outlets. Cost pressures, consolidation, and generational changes in the ways in which people access and consume news are some of the many reasons cited for this decline. Regardless of the reasons, the challenge for PR practitioners is clear: how do you get your message out when the number of available channels is declining?

For many, the answer is to turn to influencers.

Influencer programs are not new to public relations and communications work. Some PR firms have had similar programs in place for years under slightly different names: peer-to-peer influence, grassroots marketing, brand ambassadors, and advocate programs all carry elements in common with what is now broadly referred to as “influencer marketing.”

Finding third-party voices with an impact and empowering them to advocate for an issue or brand has been a part of PR for a long time. The element that changed influencer marketing and made it a household word was the method used—the arrival of social media supercharged influence.

The rise, drop, and reshaping of Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing experienced a rapid expansion in the late 2000s, as social media platforms became ubiquitous. As more and more people joined platforms like Facebook and then-Twitter (now known as X), some users demonstrated an ability to garner large followings. People listened to what they said and perhaps more importantly, they acted on their suggestions.

Despite the clear impact of influencer marketing, there still can be some head-scratching over who exactly is an influencer. In season one of the Apple+ series Ted Lasso, Keely Jones provided what is possibly the most relatable description of an influencer. When queried by Rebecca as to what exactly she does for employment, Keely’s response was, “I’m sort of famous for being almost famous.”

With some prominent influencers commanding large salaries, interest in becoming “an influencer” ballooned, even if clarity surrounding exactly what that meant in terms of a career path did not.

Brands quickly recognized the benefits of partnering with people who had large followings, even if these partnerships weren’t always executed in the smoothest way. Backlash was typically fierce and immediate when followers discovered an influencer had been compensated to recommend a product without disclosing that information. Improperly vetted influencers were another problem.

An ongoing concern for brands is the simple fact that influencers are human beings who make mistakes—and some of those missteps could ignite controversy or even a brand crisis, or simply be off-message for your brand. Fake followers and bots have also surfaced as a concern.

While these issues are part and parcel to an adjustment period, some direct-to-consumer companies have scaled back influencer campaigns. This is a normal response, and follows a pattern of sudden interest, rapid expansion, problems, contraction, and then a leveling off, as brands learn what the best approach is for their particular industry.

Finding the right influencers to approach and engage is a critical part of a well-designed influencer program, and thankfully technology and monitoring have made it far easier to locate the right fit. This advancement alone will help to alleviate some of the mismatch/bad fit concerns that went along with choosing which influencers to engage for your brand.

Reels vs. Stories vs. TikTok

Some of the most effective influencer marketing is creator content. Instructional videos that showcase products are hugely influential, particularly in the fashion, travel, and beauty sectors.

Determining the level of efficacy is important, which is where measurement comes into the picture.

One key measurement challenge is the fact that a huge amount of influencer content is now short-form video. This is very different than assessing traditional media, and adding to the complexity is that some of this video content is short-lived (Instagram Stories are available for only 24 hours, for example), and not all content is publicly available to all audiences. Let’s break this down.

Reels Reels are public videos, with considerable editing capabilities. You can narrate your video, making these useful for “how-to” content.

Stories Stories are short-form clips that can be video, a static image, or a series of photos. This provides some visual flexibility, but the clips are short and as noted above, they disappear after 24 hours—and, they are visible only to those who follow you. Editing and audio choices are limited.

TikTok TikTok is a video-sharing app that started out primarily to share lip-syncing videos but quickly grew into much more. Video creation is simple, with editing capabilities and features such as filters and sound effects. Users can collaborate using the “duet” and “stitch” features, and there’s a green screen setting that enables users to swap out backgrounds.

Fortunately, the use of hashtags can help to both find and target content.

Measurement

The most immediate issue with measurement is monitoring for mentions outside of a branded account. In other words, if an organization has social channels (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok) and posts content on those branded channels, it’s easy and straightforward to access data collected about the performance of that content on those channels.

What is more challenging to quantify are the mentions on accounts owned by others. When you don’t have access to the analytics, you need a different approach. It’s clear that this is an important area to monitor, but the most accurate method—human review—can be time consuming. If this information is brand- or strategy-critical, it may be most effective to engage a service with an analytical team.

Other ways to measure the effectiveness of an influencer program include:

Engagement How are audiences engaging with the influencer’s content?

Affiliate Links This revenue-sharing model is extremely popular, and when done well can show how effective influence can be.

Discount Codes People love a coupon or discount. Having an influencer provide a specific discount code can provide a clear sense of who is willing to try a product promoted by an influencer.

Web Traffic Not every influencer campaign is about selling a physical product, sometimes the desired outcome is to drive audiences to learn more about a topic or issue, so monitoring web traffic is a good way to gauge effectiveness.

The economic challenges traditional media outlets face do not appear to be abating—if anything, media consolidation seems to be the new normal. Brands must continue to innovate and experiment with new ways of getting their messages out, including the use of influencer campaigns.

By establishing a robust monitoring and measurement program, brands will be able to quickly determine which influencers to pursue for partnerships, and then see how effective they are at reaching a brand’s core audiences.

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