Once upon a time celebrity endorsement was the go-to way to leverage celebrity for brand/product/service visibility and alignment. “Gifting” a product or service was the sure fire way to get maximum eye balls on your brand: whether it was a celeb wearing a dress on the red carpet, getting ‘papped’ toting a product or actively plugging a product or service.
The influencer and social brand advocate are the post-modern incarnations of celebrity endorsement.
They are, in essence, different parts of the same animal, however, how are they really different?
Simply put, the difference is money and audience.
Celebrity endorsements are paid. Kim Kardashian isn’t talking about chewable gummy vitamins because she’s particularly concerned about her followers’ health this coming cold and flu season; she’s getting a fat pay check (and free gummy vitamins, most likely).
Social media influencers and brand advocates are not (usually) paid. Yes, they are “gifted” the product or service for the purpose of reviewing, promoting or advocating, but they do not typically get a check for doing so.
Most often, influencers and advocates will happily align themselves with a product or service because doing so it mutually beneficial. There is a fine line between an influencer and an advocate; an advocate is an influencer, but an influencer is not necessarily a brand advocate.
The difference is that advocates don’t typically need or want to be incentivised with free “stuff”, they do it for the love of the product and their followers; they have a passion for doing right by their audience and will often only endorse things they are confident will be of greatest benefit to their audience. There’s a distinct philanthropic element to brand advocates, and they often stick with a brand for a long time. They’re also incredibly hard to come by!
Influencers are happy to take the loot. They’re happy to plug a product or service if it is a good fit with their online community. There is the suggestion that they’re slightly less valuable than an advocate due to the longevity of relationships.
When we talk difference in audience, we are actually talking about the quality of audience or following.
Celebrities, influencers and advocates have large audiences but the key difference is in the level influence they have over them. People who follow celebrities want to know where they shop, how they vacation and their favorite designers. This is brand awareness, yes, but it doesn’t necessarily translate into sales (because most of us can’t afford designer threads and to book a private island for their next summer holiday). It is brand endorsement that taps into our aspirational and voyeuristic urges.
Social influencers’ audience growth often happens organically over time and is born of alignment in beliefs, likes or attitudes. Therefore, influencer audiences are more authentically engaged than that of a celebrity. As a result, (effective) influencers and brand advocates will ensure they only align themselves with products or services that are useful to their unique following, leading to more meaningful engagement with the products or services and at the end of the day, greater sales conversion.
Again, there is the suggestion that people inherently trust advocates more than influencers because advocates are more helpful and sincerely passionate about the brands they promote.
The lines between celeb endorsement and social influencer seem to blur nowadays when influencers experience booming popularity, attract the attention of traditional media and then become celebrities in their own right. Or, when celebrities reverse engineer the process and try to become influencers “on the side”; but realistically, they’re likely being paid but want to appear as if they’re not!
Regardless, most of us don’t have the marketing budget to take on a big time celebrity endorsement, so influencers and brand advocates are where it is at. In order to do it well, it is important to first have a robust strategy in place so you can properly nurture your influencer relationships and get the most out of them for as long as possible!