Whether you liken them to press or celebs, consider them peers or nobodies, social media influencers have been the rising stars of recent years, but are they here to stay?

1. Let’s start by clarifying who it is we’re talking about when we refer to social media or digital ‘influencers’.

Well, simply put they are, social media users who have large followings of engaged audiences. In short, a lot of people listen to what they have to say!

The rise of social media channels has allowed anyone and everyone to have a voice. In effect people with home-grown talent and entrepreneurial prowess have harnessed new platforms and forged a career for themselves built on the ability to generate a loyal following online.

Obviously there’s a little more to it than that – expertise and quality content are a must, but you get the idea!

2. For businesses, this has been an exciting prospect.

This level of accessibility to  powerful voices has opened up brand new marketing opportunities and as predicted; stories of successes through collaboration with influencers have rapidly spread through the industry.

In actual fact we (marketer’s) have influencers to thank for the selling of social media becoming a great deal easier! The concerns of using social media, often due to resource, lack of knowledge and the prospect of criticism, are now greatly outweighed by the promise of high reach, improved reputation and ultimately new sales for many businesses.

3. It’s all about perceptions

What’s interesting about influencers is that they kind of squeezed through the gap in-between press and celebrities – they have credibility in their field and are looked to for recommendations and opinions, but they also carry a great deal of ‘street cred’. They don the latest trends and show up to the hottest parties because after all it’s all about how you are seen…even if it is just a selfie to prove they were in attendance!

In my opinion this is exactly why digital influencers are such an asset to brands – they’re a hybrid between a journalist and a celebrity…people want to be them and people absolutely buy in to what they have to say.

Of course it could be argued that celebrities carry credibility too, but celebrities make much of their money through staring in ad campaigns and so when they show an affiliation with a product or service it’s easy to be sceptical. You can’t help but think, do they really swear by that face cream or have they just been paid a lot of money to post that on Instagram.

We’re now in a really interesting phase where influencers are also running the risk of scepticismthe more products they are seen to promote. As their followers exceed the 100k mark they head closer to celebrity status and begin to be paid serious money to endorse a brand. As a result their credibility is naturally in question.

4. Reach and relevance

What we now have are two very different pools of influencers, I refer to them as ‘reach’ and ‘relevance’.

The ‘reach’ network are talking to a large audience, they will absolutely raise awareness of your brand but you will pay a lot of money for the pleasure.

The ‘relevance’ network boast smaller audiences (anywhere from 1k to 10k) but generally their engagement rates are very high. Their audiences are specific to the subject matter and most importantly they are much less costly to work with!

What’s tricky is how ‘relevance’ influencers retain their niche. The more engagement they generate, the larger their audiences become and the more money they will be offered to promote products and services.

5. What next?

My prediction is that those ‘relevance’ influencers who choose to retain their niche and promote only brands they truly believe in will become more valuable than the ‘reach’ influencers whose feeds are already becoming saturated. The smaller ‘micro-influencers’ will create more impact and that ROI will shift the way brands view reach vs. relevance.