Under the Influencer: Branding and Buying Habits in the Age of Social Media

Grace Pinegar
Grace Pinegar  |  August 16, 2017

Modern Instagram can sometimes feel like scrolling through one of those revolving billboards displayed in a dentist’s office or a fitness center.

Sure, we’ve accepted sponsored posts as penance for seeing pictures from cousin Gerald’s trip to Aruba for free. But even friends and family members seem to be pushing products, brands and concepts toward the people in their feed as influencer marketing takes over.

When I see Khloé Kardashian raving about her latest diet trend or waist-training tool, I’m pretty positive she’s getting a kickback from that post. But when a mommy blogger tags Dove in a post about hair care, it’s difficult to tell if she’s sharing something that has worked for her or trying to pay the bills.

This matters because it affects our buying habits, whom we trust and how we view the social media experience. We want to accept recommendations from our friends as gold, and social media can make the world feel like everyone is a friend. Some blog or social media moguls have actually built a brand of themselves, successfully turning their well-lit photos and large followings into a business.

This begs the question: In whom do we place our confidence? As consumers — who want better skin or weight loss insight or advice on ingredients for the perfect chicken cordon bleu — how do we sift through the oversaturation of promoted, targeted, branded or sponsored content to get to what actually works?

Branding in the age of Social Media

Influencers are typically required to disclose whether a blog or social media post is sponsored. Consider this skincare post by lifestyle blogger Mattie James. She begins her product review with a sentence reading, “This post is sponsored by Neutrogena. All thoughts and opinions are my own.”

This lets you know she’s receiving compensation, but that she’s still the author of the post. It’s difficult to be an authority on something you know practically nothing about. A big part of selling or endorsing products is being able to describe your experience with it.

In the case of Instagram marketing, has the influencer mentioned or displayed the product in other posts? Can they prove a history with this product over time? For example, someone promoting a cookbook could talk about their experiences making some of the recipes over the holidays.

Influencers can make or break consumer trust with how accurately they discuss or advertise products. Someone pushing sports supplements should understand the ingredients and should know which athletes require which type of supplement. Although consumers aren’t meant to be experts, they should still be responsible buyers who have done a little bit of outside research. If a celebrity or blogger’s language makes them seem ignorant of a product, they probably are.

The cool thing about influencers is that consumers get to decide if they’re influenced. When faced with sponsored content, the viewer should consider the poster’s background.

Am I trusting an Olympic track athlete to sell me on a brand of running shoe? Or am I trusting a stylish celebrity with no running experience, but a large social following? “Influencer” is a job that has to be reapplied for with every individual. Each consumer decides who wins out in the end.

Especially in the case of fashion, sponsored content is so subjective. If you don’t like how something looks, or you feel iffy about a product, don’t buy it! Owning things you’ll use and enjoy is always more important than owning something endorsed by a perfect Instagram post.

We are a culture of people traditionally influenced by advertising, which is why this matters so much to businesses. The Media and Influencer Targeting software category was born out of this need to accurately identify important players in each space, helping brands find influencers who are already skillfully affecting large audiences.

While consumers should view influencers critically, brands should as well. Influencers are an investment that require just as much research as the ad campaign and surrounding strategies themselves. 

Grace Pinegar

Grace Pinegar

Grace Pinegar is a lifelong storyteller with an extensive background in various forms such as acting, journalism, improv, research, and now content marketing. She was raised in Texas, educated in Missouri, and has come to tolerate, if not enjoy, the opposition of Chicago's seasons.