Social Media Influencers — The Good, The Bad, and The Science

Laura Shephard
Nov 14 · 6 min read
Clemmie Hooper is at the centre of an Instagram trolling scandal
Clemmie Hooper is at the centre of an Instagram trolling scandal
“Mummy blogger” Clemmie Hooper recently found herself at the heart of an Instagram trolling scandal

It’s been one year since I hosted a roundtable on influencers at Social Media Week and, still, it is one of the most hotly discussed topics in our industry. There seems to be a new story or thought piece published daily on the topic of influencers and this week it was Clemmie Hooper, better known as “mummy blogger” Mother of Daughters, who hit the headlines. It transpired that Clemmie had set up a fake account on Tattle Life to hit back at trolls, but admitted last week that she had begun writing negative comments on the site herself — even attacking her own husband, Father of Daughters blogger Simon Hooper, as a “class-A twat”. Who knew there was such a dark side to the “mummy blogger” world? So, as we look forward to 2020, I ask what is the state of influencer marketing and can it really help brands grow?

The bad bits

Vegan YouTuber Rawvana
Vegan YouTuber Rawvana
Rawvana faced a backlash for eating fish whilst advocating a vegan lifestyle online

I’ll start by looking at the some of the negative press influencers have attracted this year, including this headline from March — “Vegan YouTuber Rawvana Slammed for Eating Fish and Eggs”. Rawvana had to make a public apology to her fans when she was caught eating fish and eggs, blaming health reasons for veering away from the vegan lifestyle she advocated online. People were quick to question her apology since she posted a video of her doing a raw vegan challenge at the time she claims to have had these health issues. Her fans were not impressed, and she has now reinvented herself as a wellness blogger, apparently no longer vegan, she recently posted an egg-based banana bread recipe.

Another hot topic in the press this year has been the issue of “fake followers”. Back in 2018 Keith Weed issued a call to arms to our industry asking us to eradicate fake follower fraud and, after a NY Times investigation, the FTC shut down Devumi, a company that sold fake followers, issuing a $2.5M fine as punishment for their deceptive tactics. Sadly, it seems the Love Island UK team didn’t get this memo, as over half of this year’s contestants were found to have fake fans. Whilst progress has been made, it’s clear there is still much more to do in regulating influencer marketing.

The good bits

Of course, it’s not all been bad news for influencers. Recently, the BBC launched ‘Breaking Fashion’, the show that took us behind-the-scenes at fashion brand ‘In The Style’ to reveal the power of social media influencers. ‘In The Style’ was launched 6 years ago and has grown to a £40m brand through influencer-led fashion lines. In episode 1 we see Lorna Luxe shifting £65,000 of clothes within the first hour of her launch and Lottie Tomlinson brings in £210,000 over her launch week. There is no question their followers want what these influencers are wearing

It’s not just fast fashion where influencers are making an impact. M&S have put their coats on the backs of influencers such as @voguewilliams and @ericadavies, resulting in them selling out in all sizes and hitting the headlines with “the coat you need in your life”. They went on to work with Erica Davies to create the ‘Erica’ sandal and she now writes regular style columns for them.

Otis’s love of Natures Menu pet food shared on Instagram successfully persuaded others to try raw feeding

At my agency Hey Human, we have worked with influencers across a range of brands and demonstrated that, when done right, they can help brands grow. This year we’ve worked with mega influencers like Kelly Brook to give credibility to and prove the efficacy of SlimFast. Last month, we captured Sadiq Khan, as part of the Independent’s ‘Many Voices One Story’ campaign, encouraging people to share their views with the newspaper and persuading hundreds of thousands to attend the People’s Vote March. Working with pet food brand Natures Menu, we have seen the influence pet parents have online, by educating and demystifying raw feeding hundreds of their fans have gone on to buy from the brand. For all these brands the impact of influencers has been significant and they will remain in the marketing mix for 2020.

Here comes the science bit..

It’s been quite the rollercoaster for influencer marketing this year. To help brands navigate this we must go beyond the headlines and claims made about influencers — since we know claimed and actual behaviours can be very different. I have seen many an article using survey answers like “I don’t trust influencers” or “Influencers don’t impact me” as proof that brands should not engage with influencer marketing. However, the human word cannot always be trusted and it has been shown that 95% of purchasing decisions occur below the surface of consciousness. So, how do we uncover what’s really going on when people see influencer content? The answer lies in neuroscience.

Testing engagement and motivation using an EEG headset at HeyHuman
Testing engagement and motivation using an EEG headset at HeyHuman
Testing influencer engagement and motivation using an EEG headset

I set out to understand whether people are engaged by and motivated by influencers, plus whether the size (fanbase) of the influencer made an impact. To do this I worked with our in-house neuroscience team at Hey Human, using an electroencephalography (EEG) headset to record the electrical activity in the brains of people consuming content from micro and macro influencers versus the same content from brands.

This is what we discovered:

1. Content from both macro and micro influencers generated higher engagement than the same content share by a brand i.e. When done right, people connect with people better than brands.

2. There is higher positive motivation with micro influencers over macro influencers i.e. more followers doesn’t mean greater influencer, micro-influencers tend to hold more credibility.

— The full BrainKind Social white paper can be downloaded here

By using neuroscience to understand what is going on in the brain we demonstrated that influencer marketing really can help brands connect with people and drive behaviour change.

Lessons for 2020 and beyond

Now we know influencer marketing can work here are my top tips for success:

Instagram notifications GIF
Instagram notifications GIF

1. Like any other medium, influencer campaigns must be planned. Define your audience and the behaviour you want to change, know what your end goal is, the role influencers play, and how you’ll measure success. Influencer marketing is new but planning 101 still applies.

2. Your chosen influencer must be authentic. Much of the bad press facing influencers centres around them being inauthentic or, even worse, downright lying to their fans. People must believe they use your brand, that they would buy your products. Take your time researching potential partners to make sure they’re the right fit. Have they recently worked with a competitor? They’re probably not going to be the right one. Is every other post in their feed an #Ad? They may have sold-out. Do they share tips on frugal living? They probably won’t sound credible promoting your luxury 5* holidays. Producing a list of criteria will help you find the right influencer for your brand.

3. Invest time in building positive relationships with influencers. You can guide their content but be sure to give them creative freedom, make sure they have the all facts about your products including where to buy it, give them exclusive products that no one else has, share advice (if they need it) on being transparent and using #ads and #gifts. Ultimately, they will be representing your business so giving them a positive experience with your brand will ensure they rave about you to their fans.

Good luck and thanks for reading.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade