We hear a lot about influencers in marketing circles today. It’s a relatively new term, but the concept is not a new one. When mass media advertising was king, brands used the term “endorsement.” The trend skyrocketed in the 1980s, leading to sports celebrities like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams and Cristiano Ronaldo, who reportedly earned more money from endorsements than from athletics.
The word “influencer” arose in the early 2000s along with the rise of reality shows like The Bachelor, Big Brother and especially Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Then came the great leveller, social media, where user-generated content transformed some everyday content creators into influencers in their own right.
Distinguishing Between Content Creators And Influencers
It’s become important to distinguish between content creators and influencers in our current social media landscape. Today, influencers typically focus on compensation from the brands they promote, whereas content creators engage in labors of love. Content creators produce their work because they’re passionate about self-expression. Brands may approach them with unsolicited sponsorship offers, but compensation isn’t their top priority.
I believe this distinction explains the backlash arising toward influencer marketing. Increasingly, social media users are demanding authenticity in content marketing while denouncing sponsored content.
From a hard-nosed business perspective, social media platforms produce audiences to sell to advertisers. They view content as the raw material that drives their audience-manufacturing processes. Media outlets have always chosen content that appeals to their sponsors’ targeted demographic. However, there’s a fine line between content that attracts an audience and content created to exploit it.
The difference has to do with intent. Social media audiences trust passionate content creators who have a sincere desire to share experiences. They also tend to shun those influencers they deem to be in it for the money.
Authenticity Outweighs Production Values On Social Media
Content that is raw, unfiltered and even amateurish can easily go viral if it has something genuine and heartfelt to say. That’s why industry watchers see video as the future of content marketing. It’s harder to be insincere on video, and video imagery is more difficult (although not impossible) to fake.
Raw footage uploaded straight from a smartphone has a distinctive authenticity. For example, heavily doctored videos depicting pristine tourist destinations lower trust, while unadulterated footage of locations in their natural state can inspire confidence. Recruiting paid influencers may work for massive, multinational brands, but I would argue that neighborhood businesses should focus their social media marketing on attracting authentic content creators.
For example, local restaurants tend to benefit far more from sincere online reviews from paying customers than from “internet-famous” influencers. Customer-generated videos capturing a restaurant’s ambiance may be the most trustworthy marketing content available today.
Case Study: Frankensons
Recently, Joseph Labour of the Today Show reported on an encounter between a local Las Vegas pizzeria, Frankensons, and an up-and-coming TikToker named Keith Lee. Without informing Frank Steele, Frankensons’ owner, an employee of the struggling restaurant emailed Lee, inviting him to sample the fare.
Lee received no compensation for his onsite video review, and paid for all the food he sampled, leaving him out of pocket by $86.73. He gave the venue a sincere, positive review, specifically recommending the lemon pepper wings and the garlic knots.
Only hours after Lee’s video review went live, Frankensons had a new lease on life. The TikToker’s review drew over 31 million views in its first week.
“Our phone never stopped ringing,” Steele told the Today Show. “I’ve sold more lemon pepper wings in the last two days than I have in the past four months. I made more garlic knots yesterday and the day before than I’ve ever made.”
This is just one example of the impact sincere video reviews from objective content creators can deliver to local restaurateurs. Lee’s unpaid recommendation did more for Frankensons’ traffic than any paid advertising could ever have achieved.
I believe content creators are the future for business promotion. Online customer videos can lift establishments above the deluge of questionable and ineffective reviews swamping the internet. To succeed, businesses should focus on finding ways to attract authentic content creators to their locations. It costs nothing, and the results can be priceless.
Feature Image Credit: getty