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The influencer age; how they shape our choices

We live in a world dominated by digital connections. Billions scroll through social media platforms like Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram daily – that’s over 3.96 billion daily active users on social media alone [DataReportal].

And let’s be honest, we’ve all been there: watching a captivating video, seeing an influencer rave about a new product, and suddenly feeling the urge to click “buy.” This, my friends, is the power of influencers.

These online personalities have carved a niche for themselves, shaping trends, opinions, and yes, even our purchasing decisions. A charismatic influencer promoting a new beauty product can spark a buying frenzy, while a tech reviewer’s glowing endorsement can turn a new gadget into a must-have. But the influencer landscape isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.

There’s a dire need for critical thinking before blindly following the herd.

In a recent engagement with students at Central University, Ghana, I discussed the deep effects of social media influencers on consumer purchasing decisions.

So, today. we’re diving deep into the world of influencer marketing, exploring the good, the bad, and the ugly. We’ll learn how to work around this persuasive space, develop a healthy dose of skepticism, and ultimately, make informed decisions as savvy digital citizens.

Truth be told, social media has fundamentally changed how we consume information and make purchasing decisions. Gone are the days of relying solely on traditional advertising through television, radio, and print media.

Today, a new breed of tastemakers has emerged: social media influencers.

The influence of celebrities and athletes on consumer choices has existed for decades. Remember Abedi Pele, the iconic Ghanaian footballer, promoting Fan Ice in the 80s and 90s? His endorsement likely swayed many a child towards the product.

Social media influencers operate in a similar vein. By building a loyal following, they establish a sense of connection with their audience. When these influencers endorse a product or service, it can feel like a personal recommendation from a trusted friend. Unlike traditional celebrities, influencers are often seen as more relatable and down-to-earth. A study by Tan et al. found that consumers perceive influencer marketing as more authentic than traditional celebrity endorsements. This perceived authenticity can be a powerful driver of purchase intent.

The Three Cs of Influencer Power

Research suggests that three key factors determine an influencer’s power over purchasing decisions:

Bond: A strong bond between influencer and follower translates to greater influence. Regular engagement and relatable content foster a sense of connection, making the influencer’s suggestions more persuasive.

For instance, Michelle Lewin, a fitness influencer with over 14 million followers on Instagram, has cultivated a strong bond with her audience by sharing her workout routines, healthy recipes, and personal struggles. This sense of connection makes her followers more likely to trust her product recommendations for fitness apparel or supplements.

Trust & Credibility: Consumers are more likely to be swayed by influencers they perceive as genuine and trustworthy. A history of honest and transparent content builds trust, amplifying the impact of endorsements.

Influencers who consistently disclose sponsored content and avoid misleading claims build trust with their audience. For example, Chiara Ferragni, a fashion influencer with over 27 million followers on Instagram, has been lauded for her transparency in labeling brand partnerships. This transparency fosters trust, making her followers more receptive to her fashion recommendations.

Authenticity: Does the influencer seem genuine in their endorsements? Can you see their flaws and vulnerabilities alongside their successes? Authenticity fosters a deeper connection and makes their recommendations more believable.

Influencers who share their personal experiences, both positive and negative, with a product or service come across as more genuine. This authenticity resonates with consumers and makes their endorsements more believable. For example, Manasseh Awuni Azure, a reputable Ghanaian journalist, shares a lot of verified and researched content on his timelines. Occasionally, he also shares products and services he has found useful. He likely does this not as a form of advertising, but as a way to help both his followers and the businesses whose efforts have been beneficial to him. Content from such a person comes across as authentic and not pushy.

Another example is the makeup artist Jackie Aina is known for her honest reviews of beauty products, regardless of brand sponsorships. Her authenticity has earned her a loyal following who trust her recommendations.

The Positive Power of Influencers

Influencers aren’t only about persuading you to buy the latest product. They might be an excellent method to find new items and services that you may enjoy.

  • Trusted recommendations: Influencers who share their honest experiences might be like buddies telling you about something interesting they discovered. You get a sense of whether it’s a good match for you.
  • Influencers often support small businesses. Following these relationships allows you to discover unusual products from firms you may not have known about otherwise.
  • Keeping It Real: Influencer Marketing Rules

There are laws in place to ensure that influencer marketing is honest. The FTC, a consumer protection organization in the United States, compels influencers to disclose sponsored content. This means that if an influencer is paid to advocate something, they must openly disclose it.

Look for terms such as “ad,” “sponsored,” or “partner” in their posts. This transparency allows you to better understand the influencer’s motivations and make informed decisions.

The Dark Side of Influencer Marketing

This is where several bad things happen online. Pay close attention! While influencers hold considerable sway, consumers must approach their endorsements with a critical eye. Here are some tips for responsible consumer behavior:

  • Do Your Due Diligence: Don’t blindly accept an influencer’s word. Research the product or service yourself. Read reviews, compare prices, and consider alternative options.

A 2020 study by Cheung et al., 2020, found that while influencer marketing can be effective, consumers who engage in more elaborate information processing (researching the product) are less susceptible to its influence.

  • Beware of Deception: The recent example of the Ghanaian influencer promoting a slimming Tea while having undergone surgery highlights the potential for deception. Be wary of endorsements that seem too good to be true.

The rise of influencer marketing has also led to the emergence of “fake influencers” who purchase followers and engagement metrics. These fake influencers can mislead consumers into believing a product or service is more popular than it is.

  • Question Motivations: Remember, some influencers prioritize fame and fortune over genuine product recommendations.

Influencers are often compensated handsomely for promoting products, regardless of their personal experience or honest opinion. This can lead to inauthentic endorsements that prioritize the brand partnership over the consumer’s well-being.

The Takeaway: Be a Responsible Consumer

Social media influencers are a powerful force in today’s consumer landscape. However, the power to make informed purchasing decisions ultimately lies with you. By taking a step back, critically evaluating influencer endorsements, and conducting your research, you can become a savvy digital citizen.

Empower Yourself: Take Action

  • Follow brands and influencers you trust and who align with your values.
  • Consider using ad-blocking extensions to minimize irrelevant influencer promotions in your feed.
  • Support ethical influencers who are transparent about sponsorships and promote products they genuinely believe in.

Connect with Me!

Let’s continue the conversation! You can find me on social media at @bernardkelvin and @bernardkelvinclive. I’d love to hear your thoughts on influencer marketing and how it impacts your purchasing decisions.

Bernard Kelvin Clive is a leading authority on personal branding and digital book publishing in Africa. Bernard is also the host of the highly-ranked Career & Business Podcast, where he shares his insights on branding and life. As a brand strategist at BKC Consulting, he runs the monthly Branding & Publishing Masterclass, helping individuals take their personal and professional brands to new heights. To learn more about Bernard and his work, visit www.BKC.name.

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