“Influencers,” or social media marketers with large online followings, have gained increasing attention among the general public as well as in the professional world.
Boston University’s College of Communication hosted the panel “The Rise of Influencer Marketing” Wednesday, which aimed to clarify the role influencers play in company advertising, along with their effectiveness in the industry.
Advertising lecturer Mike Proulx moderated the event, which featured two BU alumni and one current student in the marketing industry. The panel began with a discussion of the authenticity of influencer marketing.
Justine Bakhshi, a 2012 COM alumna, is now a senior influencer marketing manager at Socialtyze, a social media agency that collaborates with companies to advertise their products or services through the internet community. She said there’s a general stereotype surrounding influencers: that they are overused in marketing strategies.
“Influencer marketing can get a bad rap, because they’re people getting paid by brands to promote something,” Bakhshi said at the event. “But as long as they stay true to themselves and truly believe in the product or service that they’re promoting, I think the authenticity of a person’s full-hearted recommendation can be really powerful on social.”
Kate Weiser graduated from COM in 2019 and is the marketing manager for Massachusetts-based Life Alive Organic Cafe, where she strategizes ways to promote the chain’s restaurants. During her undergraduate years, Weiser started out as an Instagram influencer when, in 2016, she created the account @bucketlistboston, which has gained more than 20,000 followers since its inception.
Although influencer marketing has proven effective, Weiser said, businesses should take care not to get things wrong — certain brands contact Weiser for promotions, for example, even when she doesn’t envision them being a suitable fit.
“I get emails all the time from brands that don’t align with what I’m doing at all, and it boggles my mind that they would think that their product would match my followers and my feed,” Weiser said during the event. “It just feels very impersonal.”
Barbara Bickart, senior associate dean for MBA programs in the Questrom School of Business, wrote in an email that when choosing their influencers, companies should take into account how closely its values might align with the influencer’s.
“They should consider the fit between their brand and the influencers’ audience,” Bickart wrote. “For example, a fashion influencer sharing daily workwear might provide brands like Ann Taylor or Express access to young working women interested in building a career.”
Members of BU Marketing Club, a student-led organization that offers networking opportunities and hands-on experience to aspiring marketing professionals, shared their views on influencer marketing.
COM senior Carolyn Yee, president of the club, said building trust between a brand and a consumer is imperative.
“Especially with our generation, when you go on social media and you find someone that you like, you’re going to trust them more,” Yee said in an interview. “It helps promote your brand and raise awareness.”
The club’s Vice President Sabrina Ghosh, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, said she has noticed the way different companies target “influencers” best suited for the business’s line of work depends on the industry they operate in.
“With public health, their target market is going to be very different from, say, one of the apps that we’ve worked with in the past, and they are not going to primarily target young influencers,” Ghosh said in an interview. “In their eyes, an influencer may actually be the governor.”
The success of influencers, Bickart wrote, is evident in their relationship with consumers. Though they are not the only way consumers can interact with brands, they can play a large role in delivery companies’ messaging to a wider audience.
“Influencers have been successful because they are relatable and can develop relationships with their audience,” Bickart wrote, “making them quite persuasive.”