Fashion influencers attend the Pitti Immagine Uomo fashion in Florence, Tuscany. Picture: Miguel Medina/ FP
Fashion influencers attend the Pitti Immagine Uomo fashion in Florence, Tuscany. Picture: Miguel Medina/ FP

Brands looking to embark on or develop an influencer marketing strategy need to think carefully about their choice of person and how believable the message is. That warning has been sounded by Anne Dolinschek, founder of specialist agency Nflu#ntial.

Influencer marketing, which is fast gaining traction in SA, is the practice of building relationships with people who can in turn build relationships for you via their blogs and social networks. They are not necessarily celebrities but savvy young people who have a high following and the ability to spot a product or service and to talk about it in such a way that it sparks interest and, ultimately, purchase.

Nflu#ntial has just completed a digital survey to gain insights into SA consumers’ social media behaviour and sentiment towards influencers. Says Dolinschek: "Our findings showed that Facebook remains the most popular social media platform locally, with Instagram and Twitter coming in second and third respectively. Though we know that Twitter has grown in SA in 2018, we see that Instagram grew at a faster rate. This correlates with the feedback received in the survey, with 78% of respondents citing Instagram as their favourite social media platform."

More important, she says, is who is creating brand messaging. Users are increasingly looking for authenticity and relatable influencer content. "Gone are the days when influencers could promote any and all brands on their timelines and not put much thought into the content and copy.

"This corresponds with the idea that consumers in general are losing confidence in traditional advertising," she says. "They want to see content to which they can relate — authentic, and not brand-heavy advertising. Influencers are the perfect hybrid. Not only do they post content that their followers can relate to or like engaging with, they are also good at weaving in product messaging that subtly provides advertising for brands."

The survey found that 77% of respondents were introduced to new brands through authentic and relatable content, which means awareness was created through influencer marketing. But they are concerned about the authenticity of influencers and their transparency when participating in campaigns, as well as about influencers having fake followers.

"So often we think that only brands have concerns, but in the digital age consumers aren’t easily hoodwinked," says Dolinschek. This is why strategy is important when brands want to roll out influencer campaigns. "The incorrect types of influencers with the wrong content can lead to campaigns falling flat."

Another warning about fake followers comes from analytical consultancy Humanz, which finds the average influencer account has 20%-27% suspicious or fake followers. Its "State of Influencer Marketing in SA 2019" report says there are 152,791 legitimate influencers on Instagram and 69,488 on Twitter. There are 63 influencers in SA with followings of over 1-million on Instagram and 53 with over 1-million on Twitter. The majority of influencers in SA have between 1,000 and 5,000 followers, making them "nano"-influencers, with over 200,000 of these across the two platforms.

According to a new study published by the US magazine Adweek, the influencer community is one of the rare sectors where women dominate the field. Across all industries — travel, fashion, technology, food and entertainment — women make up 77% of the total number of influencers.