It’s getting harder and harder to stand out online with the creation of new platforms like TikTok, where you only have microseconds to impress and difficult algorithms to navigate on other platforms, like Instagram.
Many small businesses turn to social media to reduce noise (and costs), but they have become increasingly saturated.
It means that many companies have used social media influencers to try and give themselves a better chance of introducing their product or service to a new audience.
We look at how it works for small businesses and whether consumers are sick of seeing influencers get #gifted items.
Is the era of influencers over or do they still add value to small businesses?
Should you use an influencer?
The influencer market has boomed in recent years as more and more small businesses turn to social media for advertising.
Unlike traditional advertising, which tends to have big budgets and slick production values, social media marketing is more authentic. Paying influencers to promote products has been a popular way to market for both big and small brands.
Why has it worked so well? It’s usually cheaper for businesses that can simply give away products in exchange for an Instagram post, or pay much less than traditional advertising would cost.
Louisa Dunbar, who runs research agency Orange Grove, talks about “authority bias” and how small businesses can take advantage of it by using influencers.
“If we see someone we already know, already trust, and follow talking about a product, we’re more likely to trust that product or service.”
It doesn’t have to be a big name either. Dunbar says it’s “anybody in society that we look up to…if it’s a cosmetics brand, you might look for a doctor.”
However, it doesn’t always work, and in most cases, it’s a quick fix.
“The problem is, it may or may not work for those brands right now,” says Dunbar. ‘For those for whom it does work, it will be fantastic, perhaps for short-term quick sales. In the long run, as soon as the influencer stops talking about the products, it’s over.”
Emily Pomroy-Smith, who launched BamBonn hair care during the pandemic, found that the payoff from using influencers was well worth it.
‘I had a big, glossy magazine asking over £1,500 for a half-page addition, with limited guaranteed return on investment.
“I can guarantee that the same amount invested in influencer marketing would see a much higher return on investment and the reach would continue long after.”
Jo, who runs Collar Club, has had a mixed experience with influencers.
Should you give away your products?
Other business owners have not been as successful, and influencers accept free products without promoting them.
Jo, who runs Collar Club, said: “I found a few micro-influencers and sent them a few boxes, but got a bit of a mixed result.” I got some really cool YouTube videos, others completely ignored me.
“I was quoted between £100 and £2000 for having a single Instagram post and story.”
The problem with giveaways is that it’s usually an informal arrangement and the terms are set by both the company and the influencer. However, this informality has its own complications.
Hannah O’Donoghue Hobbs, who launched her business during her maternity leave and now works as a social media trainer, says she reached out to influencers when she started. ‘My strategy was not very good but the return was minimal. I paid someone £600 and got nothing in return, because the audience wasn’t the right one.’
Emily went viral with her BamBonn hair care brand and regularly uses influencers.
“You could give Kylie Jenner a product and it won’t sell just because she has it.”
Betsy Benn, who runs her own gift business, also had a negative experience after paying an influencer, which she didn’t end up posting on her Instagram: “That was a good amount, around £2,000.”
It gets murkier when there’s a misunderstanding between influencers and small businesses using the giveaways.
A major furor ensued after a small bakery was approached by a public relations firm and asked to make cakes for a client.
There would be no payment, but the “exhibition” company would be paid, which shows how, in some cases, the balance has tipped in favor of the influencer.
Betsy is cautious when approaching influencers for this very reason.
‘Sometimes I feel a little wary of approaching people with a question: could you work as a gifted? Because I really don’t know how to cast it. I know you know that some people work on the basis of talent.
Betsy discovered that when interior designer Sophie Robinson, who was featured in The Great Interior Design Challenge, had a product featured in one of her posts, she was bombarded with sales.
‘We’ve had quite a few times where someone with a large following, not necessarily an influencer, bought something and posted it simply because they like it. Then we have seen an increase in new followers.
‘With Sophie Robinson, she bought one of our wall planners…and just happened to have it in the background when she was doing a podcast. She mentioned that she bought it and then we had what we call the Sophie Robinson effect.
‘We had a huge spike in Google searches for us. He indicated to us that getting new eyes on our stuff that way could be a great thing.”
Betsy Benn runs her own gift company, but worries about reaching out to influential people
Do consumers already listen to influencers?
As Betsy’s experience shows, consumers are still willing to pay, but influencers may no longer be the best route for small businesses.
“If someone buys something out of a real desire, it just feels a little more authentic than a giveaway promotion, or something with a hashtag ad, or giveaway hashtag,” he says.
The CMA and ASA have published guidance on how influencers should declare an ad or giveaway, to ensure consumers can identify paid endorsements.
It means consumers are more aware than ever of how brands are using influencers big and small to promote their products.
Jo of the Collar Club agrees: ‘Times have changed. People are more aware of paid influencers. I feel like I’ve changed tack and 1692947139 Make an affiliate scheme focusing on my clients instead of contacting influential people.’
An affiliate scheme allows people to promote and sell a company’s products or services in exchange for a commission.
Emily of BamBonn haircare has had better luck when it comes to influencers, but she believes that smaller influencers who have independently created content work better.
‘I really don’t think much has changed. I’m sure some people are more cautious about trusting some influencers, but most I work with stick to their niche and build trust that way,” she says.
‘I also believe that even the most savvy shoppers get carried away by marketing. I studied marketing in college and still bought a dress I saw worn by an influencer I follow the other week. No one is immune.’
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