This might be hard to believe — but you can be an “influencer” without Instagram. Or YouTube. Or even a blog.
In fact, influencers existed long before digital cameras and social media gave everyone a platform. And they still do. Think of the friend you always call for a restaurant recommendation. Or the guy who knows everything about the outdoors. Or the girl who can tell you what app to download. These are influencers, as in they have an actual influence on the major and minor decisions we make in life.
In the consumer brand world, influencers were once just athletes and celebrities; household names who wore Nike shoes and appeared in magazine milk ads. Today, the term influencer usually refers to a mix on models, nutritionists, unboxers, pranksters, moms, “travellers” — big time social media names with a camera and various levels of appeal. Where their predecessors sold their celebrity to a handful of brands for hefty sums, today’s influencers work with multiple brands and sell social media shoutouts in the 4 to 5 digit range. Agencies like to call this “influencer marketing”, and it’s become a literal full-time job that children aspire to.
So is it dead?
Much of the recent narrative (i.e. articles I see on my LinkedIn newsfeed) suggest that yeah, it might just be dead.
Why? Well, a few reasons.
For one, influencers now have to list their branded posts as endorsements, killing any shred of authenticity that their partnership may have held.
Second, a lot their social media followers are either fake or not in the right demographic for the brand.
Third — we, the people, all know what social influencers are now. It’s in the common vernacular. And that makes it just a little less special…doesn’t it?
But that doesn’t mean these brands will just stop.
It means they’ll innovate. And go small.
They’ll start focusing on people who are actual organic community builders; those who have maybe a few thousand followers, many of which actually like and know the person.
Think of those involved in a lot of causes and community groups. Essentially, they’re going for people who are actually listened to in real life.
Sound familiar? Think business owners and social entrepreneurs. Think people whose opinion you would trust unconditionally because you, like…actually know them.
Brands won’t stop there though.
Next, they’ll ditch follower counts entirely, in favour of actual brand affinity and loyalty. So those people with small instagram follower counts (think 500–700) will become potentials — so long as they are loyal to certain brands and products. Which, as everyday people…we are, aren’t we? Aren’t you loyal to your shampoo brand, your underwear type, and your coffee roaster?
For example: if you’re into running, and you constantly post about your runs, your times, and your hydration tablets, you could soon be a healthy target for brands. You’re already posting about all those things anyway, which means you likely also talk about them in real life.
So what’s to stop a brand from sending you some free samples in exchange for a few Instagram stories? Or better yet, offer you access to an exclusive running event, knowing that you’ll post about it?
Last year (and this year, again), lululemon hosted an event called the Ghost Race, an 8k “digital” race in difference cities around the world. The requirements are simple: you have to run a specific course in your city and use Strava to record and post your run. Your reward for pretty much doing a normal run?
A $25 Lululemon gift card, unannounced in the promo, but fulfilled via email a few weeks later.
Which I obviously told all my running pals about.
So what’s next? I could see a brand quite literally paying me to work out, sort of like lululemon did. I could see invites to exclusive events from the products that I already use on a daily basis (some credit cards already do this). I could see normal, non “social media influencer” people getting paid or treated to interact with brands, in hopes that they will talk about it somewhere, to someone, someday.
Because if you’re that person who always knows what app to download or trail to follow, you will organically talk about the brands you believe in — but only if they give you reason to.
So…are you ready to be an influencer?
Luc Doucet is a content strategist and executive producer in Vancouver, BC. He has been in content marketing space for over 10 years and has worked with brands like GMC, SaskTel, Bacardi, Molson Coors, Lavazza, Ford, and Accor Hotels (motel 6).