Kenzy Mohapi, host of the Best Weekend Radio Show, Jacaranda FM. Farah Fortune, director of African Star Communications & Brand South Africa Play Your Part ambassador. Mbali Ubisi, Biggest Twitter influencer of 2017 & 2018 Mongezi Mtati, Marketing Manager, Ornico Group. Atiyya Karodia, lead strategist, VML South Africa. Puseletso Radebe, member, junior board of rirectors, HDI Youth Marketeers.
Kenzy Mohapi, host of the Best Weekend Radio Show, Jacaranda FM. Farah Fortune, director of African Star Communications & Brand South Africa Play Your Part ambassador. Mbali Ubisi, Biggest Twitter influencer of 2017 & 2018 Mongezi Mtati, Marketing Manager, Ornico Group. Atiyya Karodia, lead strategist, VML South Africa. Puseletso Radebe, member, junior board of rirectors, HDI Youth Marketeers.

Today’s youth consumes a collective $44bn of spending power. However, traditional advertising appeals less to today’s youth than to previous generations. In this environment, influencer marketing has shown exponential growth in recent years.

To be successful, influencers must tell authentic stories that their followers can relate to, a panel of experts agreed at the recent Sunday Times 2019 Gen Next conference in partnership with HDI Youth Consultancy.

The field is not without its critics, with calls for influencers to be honest from the outset about which of their posts are sponsored and which are not. Last year mouthwash brand Listerine found itself the recipient of a social media backlash when a paid-for Instagram post featuring an influencer went viral for all the wrong reasons.

It’s time to redefine what successful influencer marketing is, said Atiyya Karodia, lead strategist at VML SA. Her definition? Brand ambassador campaigns that have evolved.

The panel agreed that there is room for both macro-influencers (typically people with a known name and a large audience following) and micro-influencers (with no more than about 10,000 followers).  Micro-influencers, given their smaller and more focused community, tend to come across to consumers as more authentic, the panel said.

An influencer with a large following but who does not engage much with his or her followers is less influential than an influencer who actively engages with them. “Engagement is the most important element of influencer marketing. People want to be spoken to and want to feel as if they are part of the conversation. Micro-influencers, because they are still trying to build their own brand, tend to engage more with their followers than many macro-influencers,” said Farah Fortune, director at African Star Communications and Brand South Africa Play Your Part ambassador.

“Influencers achieve different kinds of reach,” said Karodia, “and what I’m starting to learn is that their depth of reach is more important than their quantity of reach.” Micro-influencers, she said, frequently champion subcultures and micro-communities, and this provides a completely different angle and opportunity for marketers.

They’re also unlikely to champion a brand that doesn’t resonate with them, added Mongezi Mtati, marketing manager at Ornico Group.

The big take-out

Though there is room for both macro- and micro-influencers, the latter tend to come across as more authentic.

Social media is becoming an increasingly valuable way of allowing consumers to connect with brands. The communication flow works both ways, allowing brands to also get feedback from consumers.

The problem, said Mtati, is that many brands spend too much time looking outward, and are missing an opportunity to harness the efforts of current brand evangelists who already support the brand without payment.

Mbali Ubisi, SA’s biggest Twitter influencer of 2017 and 2018, said the key to being a successful influencer was finding the gaps, taking the initiative and approaching marketers with suggestions.