As I scroll through my Instagram feed, it’s hard to escape the endless advertisements and paid promotions deliberately placed throughout my feed. In the past few years, it seems that bloggers, YouTube stars, and the infamous Instagram model have begun to replace actors and actresses as the faces of global brands. Why is this? And, when did social media turn into another way for brands to push their products?
Majesty Acheampong is a blogger, online boutique owner, and brand coach based in Charlotte, NC. She began blogging long before the rise of social media and has managed to grow her following across multiple platforms. A self-described “influencer,” she has partnered with companies like Rent the Runway, LIKEtoKNOW.it, and Cracker Barrel to create and promote content featuring their products or services. Social media marketing and influencing have not only changed the role of bloggers, but it has caused companies to reevaluate their tried-and-true sales techniques. Exclusive press events have transformed into lively parties that are encouraged to be shared with everyone—through the eyes of influencers. The presentation of marketing materials has also had to change, leaving companies to answer the question: “How can I set my content apart from the hundreds of other posts a potential customer will see today?”
The phrase “content creation” has become a buzzword associated with social media, but the process of creating content for advertisements used to be the sole responsibility of hired marketing and advertising teams. Now, the power has shifted, and anyone can create and promote their own content for free. Social media has blurred this line between marketing and PR and what it means to be in those fields, creating a new realm of integrated marketing spearheaded by bloggers and influencers. To keep up with this transition, some PR firms are gearing more toward facilitating relationships between brands and influencers, rather than brands and consumers. “The blogger [and] PR relationship has changed so much, we almost depend on each other fully. They need us for the social media content and for the brand collaborations and for the sponsored posts. They need to reach our audiences, and we need them to bring us those partnerships.” Says Majesty of how PR influences her career.
While influencer and brand collaborations have become a calculated money-making machine, there is a delicate balance of trust between followers and influencers that brands were not able to achieve before. People are generally more trusting of the quality of a product if their friend recommends it rather than a generic commercial. Through their work, influencers create a feeling of friendship with their followers by sharing their vacations, makeup tips, and clothing discount codes. However, the balance is easily disrupted if a single influencer is promoting too many products. If most of the influencer’s feed is sponsored, followers begin to not trust the message, and thousands of potential customers are lost. In the past, if a commercial was overplayed, the TV could be muted, or the channel could be changed; but when something similar has happened with an influencer, it’s as if a friend has misled you.
Influencers can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the number of partnership offers they receive, so Majesty constantly performs check-ins with herself to make sure she stays transparent and authentic with her followers. She often asks herself, “If I had nothing sponsored, what would my content look like? [I try] only promoting brands or attending brands’ events or testing out brands that I would normally try on my own.” The willingness of influencers to consider both the company and their followers is the only way that such partnerships can thrive. “If you don’t stay authentic your followers can feel that. If you’re selling everything, joining everything, and at every event, it doesn’t feel authentic.”