Not another influencer engagement article – by Wavemaker’s Moaviya Zahid

Moaviya Zahid is Senior Manager - content and influencers at Wavemaker MENA

Since the boom of influencer marketing in 2016, brands and agencies have both been talking about the engagement an influencer offers. It makes sense because we live in an era in which decisions are driven by data. However, the principle of influencer marketing is to impact the decision-making process of consumers, which is intangible and goes beyond just engagement.

In many cases, we have seen an influencer receive high engagement on a branded post, despite the call to action of the same post getting a relatively low number of clicks. Does this mean that said influencer is not influential enough? Or that his/her content is weak? Or maybe he/she has fake engagement? Let’s not get into the topic of fake engagement right now; there’s already plenty of content around this subject. Let’s instead address the impact and credibility of the content.

We all have people who we follow on social media platforms and look up to for either aspiration, inspiration or both, whether they have 500 or 50,000 followers. What they do becomes part of our bucket list, what they say we listen to carefully, and what they endorse we believe in automatically. We as consumers go through a purchase journey every time we make a decision to buy a product or tick something off our bucket list and influencers play a paramount role in this decision-making process. 82 per cent of consumers are highly likely to trust and follow the recommendation of micro influencers, as per a recent study by ExpertVoice.

While consumers are sitting at home not necessarily actively looking for a specific product to buy (from here on referred to as the priming stage), they are constantly exposed to multiple brands through social media influencers. Subconsciously, because an influencer is someone they look up to, an endorsement from them easily puts the brand among the top three to consider when making the next purchase in that specific category.

Pairing the brand with the right influencer can tick off three boxes in one go: awareness, discovery and consideration, all of which take place while consumers are still in the priming stage. Since consumers consider influencers to be aspirational figures, the trigger for them to consider purchasing a brand can happen for one of two reasons:

1. A need to buy the product. This could be because they ran out of it or are not satisfied with the one they have.
2. A want to try the product. This could simply be because it was endorsed by a certain influencer.

If the latter is the reason, then the consumer will most likely go straight to purchasing the most likely go straight to purchasing the product. However, if this is a repeat purchase or dissatisfaction with a different brand, then the bias created by the influencer will play an important role in the consumer’s decision-making process. Consumers may spend some time in seeking more information about the brand, product or category before making a decision. They could even ask the influencer to share information that might sway their decision to buy the product. The presence of an influencer on-ground, the idea of buying from the same store that the influencer did or providing a personalized discount code from influencers are all incentives that can encourage consumers to make a purchase.

Knowing that influencers can have an impact on purchase decisions, it’s important to consider how we can build bias. We do this through content. The credibility of content will make or break your partnership with both the influencer and consumer. Credibility is a balance between two key pillars: authenticity and  being true to oneself. Authenticity is all about conveying the message as honestly as possible and personalizing it for the followers. Whereas being true is more about the category an influencer falls under. The credibility of an automotive influencer will not be questioned if he talks about cars, tires or even adventures that involve cars, yet the same influencer will lose his credibility if he starts talking about beauty or make-up.

Another factor that plays a crucial role is production quality. This does not mean that million-dollar equipment will better production quality. It simply means that the story telling technique needs to match a certain standard, achieved through great editing and shooting skills. Huda Kattan mainly shoots on a mobile camera but every tutorial she creates has something new to offer and a story to tell. On the other hand, Zach King uses many props, equipment, an editing studio, and a crew to shoot and his videos have a story that is as impactful as Huda’s. As long as the content has a story that the audience can relate to and our looking to consume, it will definitely create an influence. Many influencers in the market have a very strong impact despite creating content through their mobile cameras with the risk of potentially deprioritizing content quality. Brands tend to shy away from collaborating with such influencers either because doing so goes against the brand’s guidelines or because they simply don’t like the production quality that a specific influencer follows.

Brands that have strict guidelines should only work with influencers that have good production quality or approach influencers through an outreach program – giving influencers full control and keeping themselves completely away from the production process, treating the project as a non-branded content piece. However, brands that have a bit of flexibility should strive to find the perfect balance between utilizing influencers and having some control over the creation process. The ideal way to approach this is to work with a production team that has expertise in shooting influencer led content and cast the influencer as a talent in the video. While the production team works as the equipment operator, the influencer should juggle between the hats of talent, director, and script writer to bring his or her touch to the content while producing top-notch videos.

Finally, a major pitfall many brands fall into, is simply editing and cropping content to suit the platform they want. However, influencers are followed on different platforms for different reasons, and thus simply adapting the same content on an influencer’s different social platforms does not work in most cases. As such, influencer content should always be created with the platform(s) in mind first. For example, InstaStories or Snapchat can be used to give behind the scenes previews or tease the audience about an upcoming collaboration, YouTube can be used for long content, and Instagram feed posts can be used for shorter edits.

Finding the sweet spot between influential impact, content credibility, and the right use of platforms can set your brand up for smooth sailing from consideration to purchase in the consumer journey cycle. To showcase loyalty, it is critically important for brands to use influencers as ambassadors in long-term partnerships, so their followers believe in the brands they endorse.