Are online 'influencers' losing their influence?


The appeal of social media marketing is obvious. In contrast to physical billboards, this form of digital real estate can be instantly used to transmit a message across the world through a single, often visual, post.

This was infamously brought to the fore earlier this year in the Netflix documentary on Fyre Festival. Although paid endorsements are supposed to be transparent, eg by posting #ad or #spon in the posts, few of the influencers involved made it clear they were being paid to promote the festival. The fallout from the event exposed the lack of caution, or awareness, these individuals had before putting their name, their face, and their personal brand, to a product. Despite the total failure of the venture it revealed the extraordinary power of influencer marketing.

It  has also led to what some have coined 'influencer fatigue' as people become increasingly skeptical of this form of advertising. 

So if brands still want to use social media to their benefit, is the answer a new type of 'influencer'?

Zyper is a platform that connects brands with "superfans". Founded by former reality TV star, and subsequent 'influencer', Amber Atheron, its technology identifies a company's top 1% of fans on social media. These fans (500-1,000) can then be invited to advocate for the company on their social media channels. In return, the fans get non-monetary rewards and experiences: an 'ultra' loyalty programme.

The idea behind this is that although these fans will have smaller followings, their engagement levels will be higher as they are seen as more genuine and relatable. It makes sense: this is the 21st century, technological version of being recommended a product by a friend.

Zyper recently raised over $6m in funding, a sign that there is backing and a belief in this new form of 'grassroots' advertising. This will resonate with startups who might balk from the negative connotations of using a professional 'influencer'. The real test however will be its effectiveness in a sphere which is already becoming saturated and its ability to retain the authenticity of these "superfans" .

The line between brand advocate and paid influencer is a fine one but the technology and metrics which platforms such as Zyper use, the comparatively low cost of engaging via individuals who might have a greater impact in generating enthusiasm in a product, and the communal feeling the chosen fans get in feeling a part of a brand they have an affinity to, might be able to sustain this new model.

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The influencer economy is increasingly in flux. Fraud is the no. 1 concern among US and UK marketers who work with influencers, according to eMarketer. There is also evidence that consumers increasingly distrust them. Even Instagram is worried: To incentivise more authentic, trustworthy content, the platform recently began testing the ability to hide the number of likes a post receives.
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