It’s 2018 and the media landscape is unrecognisable compared to what it once was. SVOD services have replaced Blockbuster, Instagram has replaced photo booths and now social media influencers are taking over the celebrity sphere.

For those of you that haven’t been paying attention, social media influencers are people (or sometimes pets) with strong fan-bases on popular social media applications like YouTube and Instagram. There are two types of influencer – micro and macro. Micro influencers usually have a small yet loyal base of followers whereas their macro counterparts are famous social media giants with huge followings.

Much has been written about the way these figures can build stronger connections with consumers and, ultimately, shift products – with some marketers reporting up to 11x returns on their investments in this space. That’s pretty huge.

But with these positive write-ups come some pushback against influencers as well – questions about the actual value they bring to marketing strategies. So are these brand-influencer collabs really as good as some marketers claim? Or is it just old snake-oil in new bottles?

Beyond Online – Influencers Enter the Mainstream

Let’s begin this conversation with a look at one recent event involving social media influencers that has really struck a chord with the UK public: the recent, much-heralded boxing match between Logan Paul and KSI.

Paul initially found fame on Vine, the gone-but-never-forgotten 6-second video app, and KSI is a British YouTube personality. Their fight took place in Manchester Arena following months of online feuding between the pair. Over 15,000 fans attended the match and a further 2 million tuned into the live stream online, 40% of whom paid £7.50 while the rest watched pirated Twitch streams. The punch-up was accompanied by viral Fortnite dances and theatrical chants from the crowd and eventually ended in a draw with the two YouTubers agreeing on a rematch in early 2019.

Social Media InfluencersThis hyped-up brawl was no great feat of sporting prowess, but it does tell us a lot about social media influencers and what engages young audiences in the digital world.

The fight night generated an estimated $11 million, proving the cross-platform and ‘offline’ potential of these online superstars. It seems that they are now coming into the real-life world of celebrity.

And boxing is just the latest ‘offline’ venture for social media influencers in 2018. For instance, Joe Sugg, Zoella’s younger brother and a popular YouTuber in his own right, was recently announced as a member of this year’s Strictly Come Dancing line-up. On top of that, massive influencer conferences from VidCon to BeautyCon have sprung up across the world in the past few years. These conferences showcase the diverse content creators produce on YouTube and other social media, and have attracted high-profile celebrities including Drew Barrymore and Hillary Clinton.

It’s clear that the cult of the YouTuber is now entering the mainstream. But how and why have these influencers become so incredibly popular?

Gen Z Rock Stars: YouTubers as Kids’ Idols

Today, YouTube is one of kids’ main sources of entertainment. With the opportunity to watch their favourite gaming vloggers, laugh at prank videos and discover the latest viral dance challenge, kids can easily access a huge variety of content in one place using the platform.

YouTube’s relationship with kids hasn’t been all plain-sailing though.

As the digital world becomes integrated into kids’ everyday lives, parents are increasingly concerned about the online safety of their children. And in recent years numerous stories about inappropriate, extreme content appearing on YouTube have damaged the site’s reputation with parents.

With YouTube controversies left right and centre, a number of big brands removed their ads and abandoned the site last year, bringing the platform’s reliability into question. Similar difficulties have arisen with the influencers themselves, with entertainer-cum-amateur boxer Logan Paul causing uproar by posting racist and offensive content on his YouTube channel earlier this year.

When dealing with these live-wire individuals, brands have got to ask themselves: is the investment worth the risk?

Social Media InfluencersIs it really worth it? Brands wrangle with influencer marketing

Marketers certainly think it is – 39% of marketers plan to increase their influencer marketing budget in 2018 and sponsored ads are on the rise across social media platforms. Unlike other forms of marketing there is a feeling that influencers can build real connections with audiences in a way that other forms of marketing cannot (to be precise, 89% of marketers feel like the authenticity influencers bring to campaigns is a powerful reason to use them).

As with many things digital, the true value of social media influencers is dependent on a number of factors unique to each brand: are the influencers engaging the right audiences? Do consumers think they are a right fit for your brand? Are you willing to tolerate some risk to your image in return for (the perception of) authentic endorsement? Marketers need to have answers to these crucial questions before sinking significant spend into these assets.

Regardless, as the trend towards increased social media usage and influencers entering the mainstream continues, this is an area that brands need to be considering very, very seriously. Influencers may not be clear champions of digital marketing right now, but they are certainly putting up a fight for the title.

Enjoy this blog? Take a look at our blog on Striking a Balance Between New and Proven Media for more insights. And while you’re at it, subscribe to our newsletter and follow our updates on LinkedIn and Twitter!

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