BLOG POST BY: Molly Collins
October 11, 2021


Influencer marketing is a term that feels relatively new, right? As social media has matured over the past decade, influencers have become ingrained into popular culture, as more and more brands turn to online creators to advocate for their products and services. The word ‘influencer’ was even added as an official word in the English language as of 2019! However, in truth, influencer marketing isn’t at all a new concept, it has simply evolved with the times. In this article, we explore this history and show how both the human and data-driven touch is crucial in delivering a successful influencer marketing strategy in 2022.

The Evolution of Influencer Marketing & Social

When you think back to the earliest form of influencer marketing, what do you think of? For sports fans, you’d probably think of Michael Jordan and Nike, or for fashion enthusiasts, you’d cite the early bloggers such as Chiara Ferragni. However, the concept of influencer marketing was actually first recorded in the Medieval Times. Swap your phones for crowns, as the influencers of these times were the ruling class.

According to Feudal Law, Medieval royalty had the divine right to rule, and the only person above them was God or his earthly representative, the Pope. Therefore, it was speculated that the King/Queen and the pope would wield their power to promote the earliest uses of medicine before they became commonplace. Fast forward to 1905, where Murad Cigarettes had the idea to feature film star and comedian, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle in their print ad, making him one of the first celebrities to publicly endorse a product.

Years later, we saw brands looking to leverage the celebrity, primarily using aspiration to drive sales of a product or service. As the use of social media emerged in the early 2000s, more relatable and authentic content was being consumed, forging a deeper connection between the consumer and the personalities/pages they follow. It’s commonly understood, that those closest to us, our friends and family, influence our purchasing decisions the most – and influencer marketing allows brands to shape this purchase intent at scale.

Influencer Marketing in 2021

The way people use social media has evolved significantly over the past 15 years, and influencers have had to continuously innovate to stay relevant. Many of the early influencers have gone on to build global brands on the back of their core audience, whilst others provide their platform to brands as a media channel. Both Glossier and Gymshark are great examples of brands that were early to leverage peer-to-peer recommendations through social media influencers – paying huge dividends today. Both brands are now behemoths, valued at over $1bn and impossible to avoid when consuming content on social media.

Becoming an influencer is now the new career of choice, with kids spending so much of their young lives consuming entertainment on their phones and computers, rather than TV, Film and Radio.

If we look at the U.S and UK influencer market, there are likely hundreds of influencers for any niche you can think of. However, not every influencer is created equal, not all provide value and not all have made it to where they are organically. So how do brands cut through the noise and find the perfect influencers for their products?

Starting with Authenticity

When looking to partner with an influencer, you need to look beyond their handle name, engagement rate and content type. The influencers you select need to be able to build an authentic touchpoint with your brand, with the partnership making sense to their audience. Both influencer and brand should have aligned values in order to ensure an authentic partnership. A good question to ask yourself is whether the influencer would talk about the brand naturally to their audience, without the paid promotion or partnership. If the answer is yes, the activation will likely be received positively. Understanding which influencers would work best for which brands, products or services, and the nuances to navigate around, requires a deep understanding of the influencer landscape.

Social listening is key. Understanding how specific influencers talk to their audiences and what about is important in understanding if a specific brief or creative fits in with their usual content. Additional factors are also crucial, such as looking at what competitors they are working with or use organically. Any information that could impact how a brand message is received is important to uncover.

A great example of a brand understanding which influencers organically care about their brand is Dunkin’ Donuts, who in 2020 started working with TikTok star Charli D’Amelio. Charli was already known for creating TikTok’s with her trusty Dunkin’ drink long before the brand decided to put any spend behind it. When the brand and TikTok creator partnered up to create ‘The Charli’, this set in motion a record number of sign-ups and a 57% increase in daily downloads of the Dunkin’ App. This resulted in hundreds of thousands of drinks being sold within the first five days, with a 45% increase in general cold brew sales which didn’t include Charli’s signature drink. The partnership was received so well because Charli’s audience knew that she genuinely loved the product.

Influencer Marketing - Starting With Authenticity

Cristiano Ronaldo’s infamous Coca-Cola diss is a great example of a sponsorship missing the mark. The footballer’s obvious disdain for the Coca-Cola brand came to light for the world to see when he replaced their bottle with water at a post-match Euro 2021 press conference. This move supposedly wiped $4bn off the company’s share price. The next day, France footballer Paul Pogba made a similar move, removing bottles of Heineken from his table mid-press conference. What is clear on both occasions is the fact players are not reaching for fizzy or alcoholic drinks after a match – and their fans know it.

But Is It Authentic To Pay Influencers To Promote Products?

Will an influencer’s audience perceive the brand as credible, if they know the influencer is being paid to promote a product or service? To tell the truth, everyone has become accustomed to the fact that there is an exchange in progress when influencers are promoting products or services.

It’s important to check how an influencer’s engagement fluctuates on sponsored vs non-sponsored content. Are they posting paid partnerships too frequently and how are their audiences responding in the comments. Another thing to look out for, are engagement pods – is the influencer receiving comments that are generic and irrelevant to the actual content? If so, this influencer is probably unlikely to provide any meaningful value. You also want to understand how an influencer’s audience reacts to certain conversations – is the influencer in the lifestyle vertical, but receiving huge engagement trends on interior or house renovation products? Sometimes an influencer has a hyper-engaged following on certain topics, which may not be overtly obvious at first glance.

The Data-Led Approach

The next step before aligning with an influencer is understanding the data they are seeing on their social accounts. Questions that need answering include:

  1. Where is most of the audience located?
  2. How many clicks can they generate through their social channel?
  3. What formats deliver the best reach and impressions?
  4. What times are optimal for posting?
  5. What is their audience retention rate on video formats and how does it fluctuate according to different types of content?

These are just some of the questions you need to answer to ensure influencers will provide value for your campaign. Obviously, product and brand relevance is critical but, if an influencer doesn’t have the ability to move their audience, then you are not going to drive any meaningful action.

Choosing an optimal creative and call to action is essential. This is far less academic and is sometimes in collaboration with the influencers chosen. More commonly, a creative is determined at a campaign level with influencers activating as part of it. Being thoughtful and diligent in your influencer selection and creative decisions can only take you so far – nothing is more useful than previous campaign performance. At Goat, all activations are tracked in full, giving us an unrivaled ability to plan and predict future campaign results.

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Written by: Molly Collins

Campaign Executive at The Goat Agency