Influencers at Milan Fashion Week

Influencers at Milan Fashion Week GETTY

It’s hard to remember when social media feeds weren’t inundated by mega and micro influencers, but now experts predict that companies will begin targeting those with minor follow counts. Introducing: the nano influencer.

According to a recent viral article on the New York Times, every person in your immediate social media circle - be it a cousin, a work colleague, or a former flame - could become a vessel for advertisers.

The newspaper reports that any Tom, Dick, or Harry on your feed may soon start flogging things like shampoo or furniture in exchange for a small commission - even if they only have a ‘mere’ 1,000 followers. This is because nano influencers, as they are now known, are supposedly “easier to deal with”, “approachable”, “genuine”, and (here’s the worrying part) will “typically say whatever companies tell them to”.

Despite being a significantly small island, there is an array of influencers - both ‘mega’ and ‘micro' - operating in Ireland. Mega being those who not only boast follower counts in the hundreds of thousands, but also products bearing their name and perhaps TV slots or newspaper columns. There is an abundance of influencers of the micro sort too - that is those with maybe 15,000 or 50,000 fans following their every move.

The concept of nano influencers taking off in New York is one thing, but what would happen if Irish-focused agencies and brands began approaching said work colleagues, former flames, and cousins for shampoo and furniture campaigns? In a pool so small, wouldn’t it seem like your whole online world was becoming infiltrated by consumerism? Could boundaries still exist between ‘following’ your friends’ lives via social media when suddenly they are also mouth pieces for random companies?

Agency bosses and talent managers are unanimous in their agreement about one thing: influencers get the job done and influencer marketing is going nowhere anytime soon. However, each of the four experts I asked were skeptical about nano influencers and their ability to hold their own against those who have already risen to the fore.

Andrea Roche believes that nano influencers have a rightful place in the industry. As the founder of AR Agency, she should know too: her AR Influencer division's books read like a trophy cabinet of the most successful Irish influencers (almost 100 of them, in fact.)  

AR Influencers represents talent in areas like beauty, family, fashion, and acting

AR Influencers represents talent in areas like beauty, family, fashion, and acting

“I think nano influencers are going to become more popular and we have seen that already at AR,” Roche states. “From an advertiser’s point of view, follower count can be important but it’s not always a vital element. If the communication objective is mass awareness then follower count will play a role. However engagement is the measure of an influencer’s success.”

That engagement is where the real indicator of an effective influencer lies. Engagement can be measured in various ways - but it mainly revolves around how much consistent interaction a person receives on their posts. Without authenticity, there is little engagement - and as Roche says, “Without authenticity there is no longevity or plausibility.”

This is why she believes there will ultimately be a demand for all influencers - from the mega/micro set - who have built an audience on the basis that they will likely promote and endorse products they believe in - to this supposed new wave of emerging nano influencers.

Eimear McManus, Founder of the boutique digital strategy and content agency Digital Works, also believes that working regularly with influencers on behalf of her clients returns “high quality end results”.

McManus, who works with brands like Julien Macdonald and Goldwell in her London and Irish offices, points out that “most influencers” she looks to have a really strong understanding of each media platform and have invested in the right equipment like cameras and lighting.

While she applauds the resilience of Irish influencers after a particularly prominent “unveiling” effort (which almost veered into smear campaign territory) and notes that many are more transparent than ever, she also warns that a small minority are continually “ruining” the notion of influencers as marketing tool.

Eimear McManus

Eimear McManus

“Influencers should have a shared sense of responsibility to the consumer, and whilst for the most part I believe they do, a small minority are ruining what could be, in time, as traditional a marketing tool as print advertising. Whilst brands and agencies can ensure that regulations are adhered to, we can’t force an individual to be true to their following and with it authentic in their activity, sponsored or not,” she says.

Again, McManus cites authenticity and engagement as a draw to work with a particular online figure.  

“It’s really important that followers are responding to posts positively,” she states. “We also want to work with someone who enjoys putting effort into creating content and someone who cares about the brands they recommend - this type of person won’t be sharing #ad or #sp posts every single day.”

David White, a Dubliner working as a talent agent for mega-star influencers in New York City, agreed that there’s far more to an online personality than just the #ads and sponsored content you see.

“There’s a difference between getting likes and having influence,” he notes.

While White’s roster of YouTube and Instagram stars reach millions of people across the globe via their channels and ongoing side projects including TV shows, best-selling books, and product lines, the premise for his rationale to work with them is still the same as Roche’s and McManus’.

“Follower count is important,” he adds. “But ultimately what matters is the connection the talent has with their audience and how the talent’s messaging can impact their audience.”

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He notes that in the US, some brands “get it” and allow influencers to have full control of messaging (i.e. imagery and captions) when it comes to collaborations and campaigns. However, when brands view sponsored posts as “buying ad space” and control everything, White believes this impacts the authenticity of a campaign.

Nano influencers, he believes, will fall short because they simply cannot reach as wide an audience and create mass awareness like the big guns can. Particularly, if someone with a small following count begins to accept every offer that comes their way.

“An influencer, regardless of scale will lose credibility once they appear to be a sell out,” he points out.

While we’ve become used to routinely double tapping imagery that is #sp or #ad, do you ever wonder what does the process looks like from the back end? What is it about a certain influencer that makes them an ideal partner for a product or service?

When it comes to picking somebody for campaigns, McManus and her team will brainstorm and discuss online personalities whom they enjoy interacting with themselves.

“When someone is identified as potentially the right fit, we’ll look back on their page with our business heads on,” she continues. “We want to see loyalty to brands, responses to followers, and strong engagement.”

“We will decide that an influencer isn’t the right fit if the portfolio of brands they work with contains conflicts - i.e. two activewear brands or three baby bottle brands. We want to work with influencers to help a brand stand out, not confuse the consumer.”

Gráinne Glenny, the founder of Northern Ireland-based Boola PR, looks primarily for a person who has the bona fide talent to conceptualise and deliver a brand's message.

“From understanding a brand's idea and objective, to storyboarding and editing a video or image while incorporating key messaging and understanding what content consumers are enjoying at any given time - I have to be confident that the influencer will nail the activity and that takes talent."

Gráinne Glenny

Gráinne Glenny

Glenny, who works on campaigns with clients like Copeland Gin and Mr. Price, notes that some influencers are an “immediate no” because their content is “frankly lazy” or has “the same setup every single time”.

“Grammar is quite important too,” she notes. “You wouldn’t believe how many posts I see with misspellings, poor use of punctuation, or bad grammar. ‘Sunday’s’ used instead of ‘Sundays’ is a very common one.”

Like the other industry pros, Glenny will then investigate a person’s transparency before she gets in touch.

“I’ll ask for case studies to get a better sense of what a partnership will look like, and I might ask for some initial ideas,” she reveals. “Some influencers are excellent at providing up to date presentations on their audience, past partnerships, and a projected return for job in question. Finally, I’ll consider the cost and whether it is a good investment based on estimated results.”

In terms of cost, she recalls once being quoted a fee of £18,000 (approx. €20,000) by an influencer - which she politely declined. The following week, they came back with an ask of £6,000 (approx. €6,700) for the exact same job.

“That really set alarm bells ringing," she says. "It made me lose some respect for the individual as a business person because of their inability to provide a solid pricing structure and the ease at which they were able to go back on the value they had initially placed on their product.”

For her, this moment highlighted the lack of regulation in the industry and showcased the need for more support tools for influencers as the industry continues to explode.

She also poignantly notes that influencer marketing is rarely her first port of call when creating a strategy for a brand.

“I always like to compare traditional media to influencer relations, and the conscious efforts of journalists to protect consumers versus influencer activity. Yes, brands send media product too and offer free stays and holidays. However, if this happens, a PR company or brand rep understands that if the journalist chooses to review it, the thoughts therein will be entirely honest. Furthermore, a journalist will often pay for their own meal to ensure they write an unbiased restaurant review. It’s a reminder as to why consumer trust remains strongest within traditional media," she argues.

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“Interestingly, a friend of mine recently said she had recently spotted a leading Irish hotel, of which she was a regular guest, have some influencers stay for a weekend. The influencers were lavished and experienced a stay nothing like what a regular, paying guest experiences. They received branded robes, endless free room service, access all areas... Seeing it on the influencers’ channels actually turned my friend off the hotel, despite once being a loyal customer. She said she thought it was very unfair that despite her loyalty in supporting the hotel, she would never have an experience like that."

“Influencers that understand their responsibility to consumers, are transparent about brand partnerships, and have put the work in to educate themselves on the various hashtags that should be used as indicators for paid content," Glenny concludes. "Of course it’s important for influencers to stay on-trend but it’s more important to be authentic, have a genuine passion, and understand their own unique brand. I’ve had influencers turn down working with a brand before because they felt it wasn’t the right fit for them at the time, and although disappointing –it was incredibly refreshing as a marketer.”

Glenny believes that the rise of nano influencers may be a positive thing - because they may just be the “final straw”.   

"There is, as it stands, not enough regulation and this is a problem. Nano influencers might bring about additional regulation when it comes to promoted content, or indeed, gifting in exchange for coverage,” she offers.

“In Ireland, regulative bodies are clamping down on unlabelled sponsored activity. Consumer protection must be taken seriously and nano influencers highlight how easy it is to disregard consumer rights.”

“I’d like to hope nano influencing won’t take off. Whilst I understand the intimacy it offers and perceived authenticity, it is rather shameless. I don’t think influencers need to worry. If they’re worth their salt when it comes to skill and creativity, and they will continue to rise,” she says.

“Influence and integrity are valuable commodities and will always win out ahead of shameless promotion. A consumer might think that becoming an nano influencer is harmless – but is deceiving followers, be it 1,000 or 100,000 ever worth it for just an inflated sense of status or a free beauty product?”

McManus agrees wholeheartedly, noting that nano influencers may have their moment - but it will be short lived.

“The reason why a brand might think a nano influencer would work is because of their perceived authenticity - the regular person posting their perceived favourite brand offers a kind of believability. However, it won’t be long before we’re all aware of what’s going on,” she states.

Ergo, while it might be cheaper to ask Tom, Dick, or Harry to promote that shampoo - it seems that the authenticity and engagement that a trusted influencer guarantees is priceless.

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