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To sway the public and sell an image, some North Bay businesses seek social media influencers

Insights from the 2022 Influencer Benchmark Report

• In 2021, 18,900 businesses offered or specialized in influencer marketing services, an increase of 26% from 2020.

• 75% of brand marketers intend to dedicate part of their budget to influencers this year.

• Instagram was used by nearly 80% of the brands engaged in influencer marketing.

• 68% of markets intend to increase their influencer marketing budget in 2022.

• By 2025, social commerce is expected to account for 17% of all e-commerce spending.

• 49% of Instagram influencer accounts were impacted by fraud in 2021.

• More than 50 million people in the world consider themselves content creators.

• Influencer marketing industry is expected to grow to approximately $16.4 billion. It was at $1.7 billion in 2016.

Source: Influencer Marketing Hub

Their pictures, videos and words are designed to entice people to stay at a certain hotel, dine at a particular restaurant, drink a particular bottle of wine or wear certain clothes.

Their work, which is a multibillion-dollar social media effort to promote a certain product or lifestyle, is as influencers.

Clover Sonoma, the Petaluma-based dairy company, works with paid lifestyle influencers. They are willing to be paid in product. Some even write about recipes created with that product.

“Our target audience ranges, but mostly includes moms, dads and household decision-makers. We’ve also been focused on working with a more diverse group of influencers that offer a unique use of our products and that represent our diverse consumer base,” Kristel Corson, chief growth officer, told the North Bay Business Journal.

“Consumers are increasingly turning to social and new platforms like TikTok to engage with unique content that not only entertains, but educates and inspires.”

Some influencers blog, but others abound on social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok and YouTube, and sometimes Facebook and Twitter, to share words, photos and videos about products and places. Usually they have either been financially compensated or received something in trade for their positive promotions.

Brands paid influencers $1.7 billion in 2016 to promote their goods, and that number skyrocketed to $13.8 billion in 2021, according to Influencer Marketing Hub (IMH).

That number is expected to increase 19% to $16.4 billion this year. IMH is a private media company based in Copenhagen, Denmark, that specializes in producing how-to guides, courses and research reports in the social media and influencer marketing industry.

The largest audiences for these content providers are millennials (ages 26-41) and Gen Z (ages 10-25). Gen X (ages 42-57) and baby boomers (ages 58-76) follow influencers, but not to the extent of younger generations, who were essentially brought up with social media as a normal way to get information.

“Influencers are not that new of an idea. Basically, the idea is similar to an endorsement,” explained Apollo Demirel, assistant professor of marketing in the Barowsky School of Business at Dominican University of California in San Rafael.

“Influencers are people on social media platforms and most are not celebrities.”

The business of influencers

While influencers are paid spokespeople, it’s not always obvious in the way that a commercial is on television or an advertisement shows up in print and online media.

Still, the law states that if an influencer is paid or received something for free, she must say so in the post. The Federal Trade Commission is the overseer of such things.

“If you endorse a product through social media, your endorsement message should make it obvious when you have a relationship — material connection — with the brand. A material connection to the brand includes a personal, family, or employment relationship or a financial relationship such as the brand paying you or giving you free or discounted products or services,” the FTC website says.

The FTC says disclosure through hashtags like #paid or #sponsored is not good enough. It should be in the video as well as on a post that makes it clear the opinions were paid for.

The FTC goes on to say, “If you’re paid to talk about a product and thought it was terrible, you can’t say it’s terrific.”

Even so, people need to realize what they are reading and watching could be a pack of lies.

“Social media is a really interesting platform for young people. Anyone can say anything without having credentials,” said Demirel at Dominican University. “Many of the influencers do not have any credentials and that is important to realize.”

The Marin County college does not teach influencing as a career path. Influencing is part of the curriculum to educate students about another tool in the world of marketing.

Demirel says a social media site like Facebook is more about connecting with people you personally know by accepting them as a friend. People on Facebook are more likely to have privacy settings that limit who can see what they post. Facebook also has an older demographic.

Whereas Instagram and TikTok users — those putting up content as well as content consumers — are often engaging with people they don’t know. That is how they have thousands of followers; they aren’t friends.

Millennials are the predominant Instagram users, while those in their 20s are on TikTok and Snapchat.

The 2022 Influencer Benchmark Report by Influencer Marketing Hub revealed that in 2021 influencers were mostly on Instagram (79%), then Facebook (50%), TikTok (46%), YouTube (44%), Twitter (23%), LinkedIn (20%), and Twitch (8%). Most influencers use multiple platforms.

It’s also important to stay on top of the ever-changing landscape of social media.

“A year or two ago I would have said if you were just on Instagram you were OK,” said Shana Bull, a marketing educator who writes a monthly digital marketing column for the North Bay Business Journal. “People are overwhelmed with Instagram just like they were with Facebook. People are moving toward TikTok.”

Wherever they post, Bull said the big thing consumers want is video.

“Really good content creators take one piece of content and subtly change it for every platform,” Bull said.

For the past couple of years, the Solano-Napa Small Business Development Center has been educating small business owners about influencers in its monthly social media classes. Executive Director Tim Murrill said it’s important for people just starting a business to understand all of the marketing tools that are available to them, and how influencers could be an asset.

Brands using influencers

Word of mouth has often been an integral component of how a business gets its message spread. Today, many of those personal recommendations are coming from influencers and not from friends or neighbors.

“Influencer marketing works because people trust peer recommendations over ads,” said Bull, who in addition to writing a North Bay Business Journal column and children’s book, is a blogger focusing on issues relating to moms.

“The best influencers only work with brands they believe in.”

Ian Deveraux White, founder and vintner with Smith Devereux Winery in Napa, started working with influencers during the pandemic as a way to “reach new markets and wine lovers when we were all stuck at home.”

He searched on Instagram for anyone with wine in their name.

“The most important thing in my view is they not be promoting a million other products,” White said. He prefers the influencers who sound authentic, aren’t doing a hard sell, but instead tell a story through their posts.

“My experience is to ignore the numbers and pay attention to the people. I have grown to believe the people with fewer followers have more influence,” White said. “If I send someone with 50 followers a bottle of wine, the amount of enthusiasm and excitement is going to shine through in their posts.”

Sonoma County Tourism also believes fewer followers can be beneficial to their mission of bringing tourists to the area. It’s about targeting a message to the right people and not the most people.

“Identifying and partnering with micro-influencers has been another change over the years, where overall reach is becoming less important while follower engagement is becoming paramount,” said Birgitt ‘Biggi’ Vaughan, director of public relations for the tourism agency.

Last year, as the county started to open up after the pandemic closures, the tourism agency knew working with influencers would spread its message faster than coverage through traditional media, which can have a lag time of 30 days. Influencers have the ability to post something the same day.

The agency’s budget, according to Vaughan, does not have a specific line item for influencers, so she was not able to say how much Sonoma County Tourism spends in this realm. What they pay in cash was not revealed either, but non-cash compensation could be a hotel stay, wine tasting, massage or some other freebie.

Visit Napa Valley tends to use influencers for a specific campaign.

“By connecting with influencers who have an authentic voice and point-of-view, we feel we can reach our audience where they are. For example, last year we had a five-month campaign called #NapaValleyDreaming, in which we highlighted one of the five Napa Valley towns each month,” said Sarah Gillihan, director of communications for the Napa tourism agency.

“We engaged with local bloggers and influencers to amplify the campaign, which included a giveaway each month, and showed the distinct character of each of Napa Valley’s towns.”

Insights from the 2022 Influencer Benchmark Report

• In 2021, 18,900 businesses offered or specialized in influencer marketing services, an increase of 26% from 2020.

• 75% of brand marketers intend to dedicate part of their budget to influencers this year.

• Instagram was used by nearly 80% of the brands engaged in influencer marketing.

• 68% of markets intend to increase their influencer marketing budget in 2022.

• By 2025, social commerce is expected to account for 17% of all e-commerce spending.

• 49% of Instagram influencer accounts were impacted by fraud in 2021.

• More than 50 million people in the world consider themselves content creators.

• Influencer marketing industry is expected to grow to approximately $16.4 billion. It was at $1.7 billion in 2016.

Source: Influencer Marketing Hub

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