Are top-tier celebrity influencers worth it for brands?

Dom Smales of Gleam Futures and Linqia cofounder and president Maria Sipka take sides on whether linking up with top-tier influencers is always a good look for brands.

(Image via Wikimedia Commons, by Dennis Hill from The OC, So. Cal. - misc 12, CC BY 2.0)
(Image via Wikimedia Commons, by Dennis Hill from The OC, So. Cal. - misc 12, CC BY 2.0)

Dom Smales
MD and founder, Gleam Futures
Founded the firm in 2012 with the goal of developing a new breed of digital-first talent.

With every new video, subscriber, tweet, and snap, social talent nurture a deeply honest dialogue with their audience.

Members of this new generation of top talent have fostered a fresh and totally unique relationship with their audience by organically building their careers on social media platforms. It’s a relationship born out of the total freedom of choice that audiences get on social media: there are no gatekeepers, schedulers, or filters on YouTube or any such platform.

It’s a dialogue that is absolutely unique and cannot be replicated by a media buy or any above-the-line campaign. It’s a dialogue that is an essential part of the advocacy process and one that should be viewed by any smart PR and communications agency or brand as rare and precious.

Don’t get me wrong; not all brands should work with social talent, and not all talent should work with brands. But when the right partnership happens, the results can be quite simply staggering.

Talent’s content can be enhanced by the addition of a brand, while the brand benefits from very real, very powerful, advocacy. The relationship between the two thrives when it’s based on trust, mutual respect, and an appreciation of what each other brings to the table.

I think the days of brands crowbarring products into YouTube videos, with any talent they find, are coming to an end. It’s time for agencies and their clients to start working much more closely with the top talent on social platforms. Rather than just have them participate in "stunts," the potential for brands and talent to work collaboratively, to create truly original content partnerships, is vast.

Any marketer who concludes that working with a generation of talent, that is undoubtedly the future of celebrity and entertainment, is "not worth it," is working with the wrong individual on the wrong ideas.

Gleam has proven time and time again that with the right partnerships, we can deliver positive, credible, and reliable results for brands and talent alike.

by Maria Sipka, cofounder and president Linqia
Previously the COO at Xing, a European business social network, before cofounding Linqia in late 2011.

Celebrity and top-tier influencers are appealing because they come with a seemingly massive audience and impressive potential reach numbers, but many brands are coming to realize that the hefty price tag associated with star power results in more buck than bang.

The success of influencer marketing depends on the influencer’s ability to forge an emotional connection between audience and product. Power-middle influencer content is appealing because it comes from everyday people – individuals with a social following of between 10,000 and 250,000 people – who have strong rapport with their audience and are incredibly effective at driving action.

There are at least three ways for brands to upgrade their influencer marketing programs from expensive duds into strategic investments.

Pay for performance; don’t pay per post. Brands should stop paying per post. Costs range from $1,000 to $250,000 – hello, top-tiers – per blog, video, or social post. All the while, there’s no guarantee audiences will interact with, or even see, the content. The full value of influencer marketing comes when you pay for performance, which guarantees an effective influencer program as the taken action, such as conversions, downloads, clicks, and shares, signals the audience is truly interested in being influenced by the content.

Tap the power-middle, not the top-tier. Go for quality, not quantity. Where is the value of a large audience if the majority doesn’t take action? Power-middle audiences are more likely to take action because they trust the influencers’ opinions and product reviews, similar to the way they trust friends or colleagues. Why pay $250,000 for one piece of top-tier content when that same budget activates hundreds of power-middle influencers who create a treasure trove of trusted content instead?

Amplify content that performs with paid media, not content that’s ignored. Use proven content to your advantage. Social campaigns with user-generated content see a 50% lift in engagement, five-times greater click-through rates, and 10% more conversions when included in the online purchase path. Partner with power-middle influencers so you can test hundreds of nuanced variations of the brand message, identify which pieces drive the best results, then amplify that content using paid media with guaranteed results.

Stop throwing away your budget on top-tier influencers that charge ridiculous rates per post. Instead, tap the power-middle and put paid media behind content that’s proven to drive results.

PRWeek’s view: As many brands have learned, influencers can be very expensive. As the business model continues to evolve, brands are going to have to decide whether this strategy of employing them to endorse products is worth the money.

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