Social Media Influencers: A Risk Worth Taking?

A social media influencer is a user or on social media who has established credibility in a specific industry and has access to a large following who they can persuade others by virtue of their authenticity and reach. Influencer marketing is a relatively new way for businesses to promote their products or services online, which has become popularised over the last few years. Despite being in its infancy, it is maturing rapidly and constantly having to adapt to new regulations being implemented. 2018 was a turbulent year for influencers on YouTube due to massive controversy and changes in regulation, which influencers had to adapt to quickly or face losing millions of followers.

As we settle into the new year, it is becoming clear that influencers will have to ensure they are clearly stating if they are being paid to sponsor the product, following warnings from the Competition and Markets Authority. Influencers such as Zoe Sugg (Zoella) and Rita Ora have agreed to disclose if they have been paid to do a promotion. If influencers fail to comply with the regulations, this may result in heavy fines or even jail time.

YouTubers also take advantage of brand deals, as businesses are moving away from the ‘dated’ celebrity endorsement and turning to more relatable ‘normal’ social media personalities. Although many brands hope to receive organic online reviews without having to sponsor people to give positive testimonials, studies to show that there is little difference in engagement between sponsored and unsponsored posts.

Choosing the right influencer and researching them thoroughly is crucial to a great marketing campaign. Many businesses often make the mistake of just send out PR packages to whoever is popular. The internet is wildly unpredictable, and sometimes it takes only one good video and luck with the YouTube algorithms for new users to get millions of followers in a short space of time. YouTubers such as Emma Chamberlain have gained massive popularity through one viral video. These young teenagers are then often approached by brands to promote their products when they have a lack of experience to do so, which can lead to marketing failures. Moreover, it’s uncommon that your brand will fit in with every influencer’s aesthetic or brand and as such followers of the influencer will easily pick up a staged post.

By giving the influencer an individual discount code whereby their followers can save money, you can track the effect of an influencer on your sales, which facilitates constant monitoring and modifying of your campaign. Furthermore, linking products directly under YouTube videos in the comments section makes it easier for customers to quickly order the product after the video. Over 50% of YouTuber users use the platform to research products before purchasing them. This gives them a real-life demonstration of how they would be used and enables them to see if their preferred influencer approves of the product. Studies show that 66% of beauty consumers and 74% of electronic consumers watch YouTube review videos on products before purchasing them, proving the potential consequences of choosing the wrong marketing strategy or influencer.

The price of reckless influencers 

Despite the massive rewards your business could reap from influencer marketing, the decision to put your brand in the hands of an influencer is still a massive risk. In early 2017, the most subscribed to channel ‘PewDiePie’, ran by Swedish YouTuber Felix Kjellberg, landed in hot water when he uploaded a review video of another website ‘Fiverr’, where he paid underprivileged people to hold up anti-Semitic signs. This caused massive friction in the YouTube community, as major brands advertising on the site froze their spending, out of fear of unknowingly promoting their products on violent or hateful videos. Many companies who had contracts with the channel, including Disney and Youtube itself, cancelled them, resulting in a loss of jobs and profits. YouTube came under fire for its reliance on their automated system, which pushed controversial videos actually breaking their regulation onto the homepage of their users.

Currently, over 300 hours of video content are uploaded on to YouTube every minute, making the turnover of trending videos incredibly fast. Due to the expanse of content on YouTube, it’s harder for influencers to get their videos trending or recommended on user’s homepages. Choosing the right influencer to promote your business involves plenty of research and vetting to ensure they align with your values. Unfortunately, you cannot predict the behaviour of influencers, as they are their own business in themselves, and often make errors in their own work.

The infamous ‘Fyre Festival’ which scammed customers of out thousands of dollars, was predominantly advertised through social media influencers, including Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner. The Fyre Festival was advertised to be exclusive and expensive, offering private jets as travel and gourmet cuisine cooked by celebrity chefs, when in reality they were served cheese sandwiches. This event has highlighted the danger of social media influencers, and their lack of knowledge on what they are actually promoting. The event never happened, leaving 5000 customers to discover that the festival was a ‘dump’ and lacked even the basics such as toilets and accommodation. The organiser Billy McFarland is now in jail for fraud, reinforcing the need for regulations around influencer marketing, also stressing the power of social media influencers, as they were able to prove the events ‘credibility’ thereby selling out the event. We are yet to see the full effect of this disaster on influencer marketing, but consumers are now becoming more wary about who they trust on social media, leading them to research more about a service or product before buying.

How to use influencer marketing effectively

Although risky business, there is a reason why many companies still pursue this kind of advertising. Studies show that almost 40% of internet users use adblockers, in particular the younger demographic, so using influencers to advertise products on social media allows them to reach even more users.

Fenty Beauty, a cosmetic brand created in 2017 (by established singer Rihanna), uses social media influencers who work predominantly on YouTube, to advertise their products. By meticulously choosing who to collaborate with and entrust with maintaining their brand image, they have created a strong reputation online. Fenty Beauty has made very few mistakes in their continued persistence to become one of the biggest cosmetic brands globally, whilst being inclusive and innovative with their products by providing a foundation for every skin tone – something many brands fail to do even today.

Rihanna states on the cosmetic line’s website, that she wanted to create her own makeup line “so that women everywhere would be included,” and so that women and men around the world could enjoy it, emphasising that fact that “It should never feel like pressure”. By basing every online post around these values, they have created the feel of authenticity. Using influencers that have the same principals as their brand, it not only reinforces their message of inclusivity, but it gives influencers even more of an incentive to recommend their product to their audience if they actually believe in it. The brand goes as far to use makeup artists employed by Rihanna herself, to collaborate with YouTubers on their channel. This brings a personality to the brand and allows the makeup artists to showcase how to use the products correctly.

In summary

When strategising your next influencer marketing campaign, it is important to consider every pro and con. The choice of influencer may be the difference between gaining lifelong customers or having no return on your ad investment. Paying attention to influencers behaviour and own brand message is key to understanding whether their values align with your own. By choosing someone who shares the same qualities as your own brand, the collaboration will be more authentic, therefore increasing engagement from consumers. It goes without saying that finding the right marketing strategy for your brand is essential to success and although a more uncertain form of advertising, influencer marketing may be worth your time.

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