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Marketing Through Influencers

With the advent of the Internet, marketers were given a new way of advertising their products. Moreover, unlike billboards, these ads did not have any physical constraints or labor costs; distribution amounted to finding a website willing to host the ad. Times were good for marketers. Unfortunately this is no longer enough as, according to a survey conducted by Goo Technologies, approximately 82% of Americans ignore online ads [1]. To combat this, companies have gradually begun to embrace native marketing using services such as Facebook or Twitter.

This type of marketing makes sense; ads are specifically tailored for individual segments of the market, increasing the chances that an individual will click the ad. However, there are problems. In an increasingly connected world, people are experiencing “social fatigue” leading to 61% of current Facebook users to take a break from Facebook, some of which never come back [2]. Perhaps more surprising and potentially troublesome is that the average of Facebook users is about 40 years old and that the two fastest growing user groups are ages 55- 64 and 65+ [2]. Since preferences change with age, companies’ ability to market to the younger crowd decreases. Most problematic, as more companies engage in native marketing, the more noisy this area becomes, and consumers begin to filter out the ads, even those they have “liked” or “followed.” Ads from the company that began as interesting for the user become useless noise. Moreover, although native ads can be utilized outside of social networks like Facebook, there is reason to believe that it is not sustainable outside of them, on other websites a person may go on [8]. Finally, native marketing is time consuming and difficult; In all honesty, it is difficult to find a good balance between posting too much and too little.

Is there hope for marketing and advertisements then? Before answering this question, information cascades need to be addressed. Information cascades occur when people act in a way that conforms to actions of others, despite their own individual wants and needs. Moreover, such cascades are self-feeding. As the group grows, so do the number of people who conform to the actions of the group; in one particular study, researchers found that if one person stared at the sky, very few others did. If this group was increased to size 5, some people began to stare at the sky as well, trying to find something that wasn’t there. Once the group contained 15 people, approximately 45% of people (random strangers no less) also looked up into the sky [3]. The lesson to be learned here is that people tend to “follow the crowd.” Now, if marketers could effectively leverage this, then effectiveness of the ads should increase.

So, what should marketers do? The current solution may lie with convincing certain online influencers, with at least 250,000 to 350,000 followers, who feel strongly about certain products to promote it (the influencer can be considered the first person in an information cascade for simplicity) [5]. With the popularity of Twitter, Instagram, Vine, YouTube, and Pinterest, companies can use charismatic individuals who are central to networks to advertise their product in a nonintrusive way; using YouTube as an example, a viewer would only see the advertisement if they choose to watch the video. Otherwise, the ad may as well not be there. However, this begs the question. Why would anyone listen to the suggestions of the influencer?

Perhaps it doesn’t matter as much on how much the influencer exerts influence, but more on how willing the observer is to be influenced. For advertisers, this problem would solve itself. Continuing the YouTube example, most viewers of a certain influencer would have at least some interest in listening to what is being said; this willingness is a willingness to be influenced [6]. Whether or not the influence is effective on any certain individual is a totally different matter. However, no one can deny that a YouTuber has a strong subscription base because people are willing to return and watch their videos over and over again, finding some value in the comments of the influencer, be they informational or for entertainment purposes (something 32% of Americans said would increase interest in ads) [1]. And, companies agree with this: 69% of companies stated that the actions of the influencers have been effective [7].

So, let’s say that the company has managed to reach out to these social influencers. What’s next? According to a study, there is a possibility that everyone is an influencer, even those who exert “average, or even less-than-average influence.” At least on Twitter [4]. There are questions as to whether or not this can be extended to other social networks, but there are reasons to believe that this is the case. All the better for companies! If the average individual is also able to cascade information to a certain extent, then the promotion of a product through a single influencer will have reached the ears of many. If even one person can influence two other people, then the growth is exponential, assuming that the cascade does not stop, which may be the case.

So far, this idea seems perfect for marketers. They are able to get their ads out to numerous people with minimal effort by using the benefits of an information cascade. However, care needs to be taken; the marketer themselves lose a great deal of control when advertising this way. People tend to inject their own personalities and perceptions into a product. An influencer influences because people find certain qualities in said influencer charismatic, or attractive in some way. These influencers, then, may spin a product differently from what the company originally wanted. And given the potential length of the cascade, the product image may end up being entirely different from what it was before, especially when considering an information cascade grows due to lack of information. The product may lose its position in the minds of the consumer completely. To conclude, I leave you with a humorous comic on this effect.













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