The introduction of high-speed internet has provided us with a variety of tools and resources to make interconnection and cross-border communication a seamless part of our lives. It is now routine for many people — including me — to continually check their social media feeds, respond instantly to messages, or participate in video chats with people across the globe. The internet has made it easier than ever to create and maintain relationships because we are no longer constrained by the proximity of our friends, family, or acquaintances.
On the other hand, the internet has also left us with low tolerances for traditional advertising. With the constant bombardment of media that surrounds our daily lives, we have to work to constantly filter our digital surroundings for the sake of maintaining our sanity. This means that we as a society no longer pay as much attention to traditional forms of advertisement, and this is not totally at the fault of advertisers.
People have limited amounts of attention and energy, so we all choose to focus on the interactions and posts that we find of value. This is why researchers are finding that, nowadays, the most effective forms of advertisement are through genuine, personal recommendations from trusted sources.
This shift towards focusing on genuine interactions and relationships building has helped lead to the rise of influencer marketing. Influencer marketing is, at its core, the utilization of these relationships and interactions both on- and offline to build or promote a given brand. Most often this type of marketing is associated with Instagram models or celebrity endorsements. In actuality, though, influencer marketing thrives when brands target smaller, niche communities because, fundamentally, the internet has changed what it means to be an influencer.
“The best influencers don’t have thousands of followers — they have thousands of friends.”
In the past, it was a lot harder to gain fame or influence if you didn’t already have an entourage of paparazzi . You no longer need to be a Kardashian, Kennedy, or Swift to find yourself becoming an influencer in your own community. Nowadays, the one true way to become an influencer is to earn people’s trust and interest. Even Stephanie Horbaczewski, the founder and CEO of the influencer network StyleHaul, stated:
“It’s all about authenticity… If you want to be entertained, there are a million places to be entertained. These are the people that are able to bring communities together.”
Don’t believe me or Ms. Horbaczewski?
Take a look at some of the case studies below:
Zoe “Zoella” Sugg
Since 2009, Zoe Sugg has charmed audiences with her deep interests in beauty and fashion. However, when Zoe began as a 19-year-old vlogger on YouTube, she was nowhere near becoming a professional makeup artist or fashion blogger. In actuality, the self-taught “beauty guru” drew people in for her bubbly personality and relatable nature, rather than for any self-proclaimed expertise.
Today, Zoe’s main YouTube channel has amassed nearly 11.8 million subscribers, and her vlogging channel — MoreZoella — has also garnered more than 4.5 million subscribers alone. She has also successfully branched out into other markets as the author of the hit Girl Online series, and her beauty line in the U.K.’s drugstore chain Superdrug has broken sales records. Additionally, her international success has earned her the #1 spot in Forbes’ Top Influencers List for Beauty.
Furious Pete is another influencer who got his start on YouTube, but he has garnered popularity with an entirely different audience. He is most well-known for his massive eating challenges and powerlifting videos, but he maintains an authentic side to his strong, food-focused brand. Pete has openly discussed his previous battles with anorexia and cancer, and his fans appreciate his courage and optimism when opening up about these very personal topics. Less than a week ago, he even posted videos on his vlog channel about his struggles with chemotherapy.
While Furious Pete is currently facing off against his second bout of cancer, he still has a loyal following of over 4 million YouTube subscribers on his main channel, and more than 700,000 subscribers on his daily vlog channel. He has also been able to successfully utilize his influence to promote his other endeavors as the host of multiple television shows, a sponsored bodybuilder, a weightlifting program creator, and even a clothing designer.
Grace Bonney has been blogging for almost 13 years, and while the 35-year-old may be considered traditionally old in the space, she has managed to make a name for herself in the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) and home industries. She first started her blog as a fresh college graduate, but at the time, traditional media outlets did not seem interested in her more handmade styles.
However, with the rise of the DIY culture and the popularization of sites like Etsy, she found that more and more people began to pay attention to what she thought of as her humble blog. Now, the blog Design*Sponge has over 75,000 daily readers, more than 150,000 RSS readers, over 587,000 Twitter followers, nearly 330,000 Facebook likes, and around 890,000 Instagram followers. Her widespread success has also led her to be named the Forbes’#1 Top Influencer in the Home category.
While the majority of her blog is dedicated to her DIY and interiors brand, Bonney still takes the time to utilize her influence to discuss issues such as politics and social justice, and her fanbase seems to appreciate it. In fact, her most popular post of all time is a personal closeup of her struggles with coming out. Even her partnerships focus around her values and personal passions. One of her most prominent partnerships is with Ann Taylor where she made sure to focus the campaign on supporting other women.
Grace also makes a conscious effort to ensure her brand remains a trusted and reliable resource for her audience. Bonney herself notes that, “If it’s not a brand I would use or support, it’s not one I would work with.” In the end, Grace realizes that authenticity is her and her audience’s priority.
So… what do they all have in common?
Obviously there are a lot of other possible case studies that we could examine, but if we took the time to examine each one we would be here all day. Nevertheless, even by examining just these three influencers from such varying fields, there are already some common themes:
1. They’re all relatable.
While each one is now wildly successful, they all still make sure to keep a level of relatability with their audiences. Zoe opens up regularly about her anxiety. Furious Pete shares his battles with cancer. Grace discusses her struggles and perspective as a member of the LGBTQ community. By actively sharing these personal obstacles, each influencer maintains an authenticity to their brand that makes their followers feel more like friends than a number in a follower counter.
2. They’re all trustworthy.
None of these influencers necessarily are local experts in their fields, but they have garnered trust from their supporters which allows them to be truly effective influencers. Zoella’s honest reviews as a self-taught makeup artist allow her opinions to better correlate to those of her viewers. Furious Pete is a bodybuilder himself, so when he sells his workout programs his followers weigh his views more heavily than other people’s.
Grace Bonney even explicitly states that she does not promote brands she herself wouldn’t, and her audience thereby see her views as trustworthy. This trustworthiness helps these influencers establish concrete relationships and rapport within their respective communities.
As aforementioned, we live in a world where we only have the time and energy to focus on the interactions we value — like those with our family and friends. This is why the most successful influencers are the ones who establish with their followers by being more relatable and trustworthy — qualities which we look for in our own trusted friend groups.
Zoe, Furious Pete, Grace Bonney, and many more influencers did not start out with fame or fortune, but they found success when they were able to utilize these characteristics to garner active followings in their own communities.
The internet continues to give us new and previously unforeseen ways of connecting with those we otherwise would not have, and this has completely changed the landscape of influence. While we can now quantify our follower count, more than ever influencers must focus on building and nourishing relationships. While it’s easier than ever to broadcast our lives through a rosy filter, influencers cannot succeed without authenticity and a pinch of raw reality.
In a world focused on instant gratification, influence with the internet is about bringing together communities, building connections, and maintaining strong, trusting relationships.