By Dr Suhair Hamouri
Role of Educators in preparing the next generation of influencers
Last month, I got the opportunity to work closely with some influencers in an ambitious program that prepared them to differentiate themselves from the crowd of influencer “wannabes” who occupy social media screens 24/7. Today’s social media influencer market is moving towards the level of saturation and being part of the academic journey of potential influencers in the UAE made me appreciate the role of educators in preparing students for this emerging segment in a more constructive manner.
What is influencer marketing?
Influencer marketing uses endorsements and product mentions from individuals who have a dedicated social media following and are viewed as experts in their area. As a marketing strategy, it relies on the trust that these social influencers have built up with their followers to help steer potential customers towards a particular brand.
Until a few years ago, influencer marketing was limited to celebrities – then came the bloggers. Back in 2014, establishing oneself as an influencer on Instagram was easier than today, and some successful early starters have since turned social media influencer marketing into a full-time career. While Instagram still retains its popularity in influencer marketing, other networks like Snapchat, YouTube and TikTok have their own set of influencers.
In the marketing class with my undergraduate students, the words “influencer” and “fashionista” are frequently used interchangeably. This demonstrates one of the many misconceptions about the role and mission of influencers. Reflecting on my role as an educator and what I can do to get aspiring influencers started on a firm foundation, here are some fundamental lessons to share.
Start with the basics
Before starting to promote brands and services, influencers need to promote themselves to their intended audience. This only happens when there is content that is valuable, distinctive, interesting and engaging. It may seem like an obvious first step, but I see many young aspirants so caught up with ideas of sponsorships and branding that they neglect the basics.
An aspiring influencer should find their niche and become an expert in it by consistently posting good content. Their content should reflect themselves and their personal brand, making them relatable and accessible to their followers. It isn’t just about beautiful, filtered photographs (and their skills in using those filters) or the ability to record videos – it’s about producing quality content using these tools that provides value to their followers. In a saturated market, content is not just the king but the kingmaker.
Before attracting brands and sponsorships that would engage an influencer to sell their products and services, the influencer need to become saleable in their own right. This preparation goes beyond ambitions and dreams and requires consistent hard work. Authenticity, reliability, emotional intelligence, and adaptability to a continuously evolving social media landscape are essential attributes for a saleable influencer.
The sale-ability aspect can be further strengthened by finding a unique selling proposition that would make an influencer visible and attractive to both audiences and businesses. Readers, viewers and followers grow for influencers that are respected and trusted. Only then will they take an influencer’s advice, act upon their suggestions, and follow their lead. In turn, brands and businesses will respect that influence and pay them to endorse their product and services.
Successful digital influencers retain and showcase their human side, even if they’re always operating in front of a screen. They respond to comments, offer suggestions, interact with their followers, and other influencers and their personalities are visible in all their posts and interactions.
There are no shortcuts to being an influencer, and a huge following that’s not organic does not work. Networking, both on and offline, is crucial – staying visible with posts that are topical and useful, but also authentic and human. Influencers should be constantly looking for opportunities and seeking out situations where they can make real connections and find leads. A common factor that successful influencers share is openness, honesty, and transparency with their audiences, being comfortable sharing their true selves even while working with brands professionally.
Influencer as a profession
As educators, we teach the basics to help prepare aspiring influencers, instilling depth into what is sometimes seen as a shallow and temporary pursuit. The organic process of being an influencer starts with the good groundwork that includes academic study of marketing disciplines. As influencer marketing becomes a recognized ‘profession’, the opinions of businesses and media agencies are also changing. The journey of an influencer is a relatively transparent track of consistent hard and smart work, demonstrating expertise and then watching your influence soar.
Dr Suhair Hamouri is Associate Dean, Strategy and Business Development, Faculty of Management at Canadian University Dubai.