From bedroom wall to digital screen - the evolution of the influencer

There have always been influencers. It’s just how we interact with them that’s changed.

Like Comment

The modern meaning of a ‘poster’ might be someone who uploads content to social media, but to a teenage version of me it meant a poster on the bedroom wall. Footballers, pop stars and TV faces all provided fashion and style guidance for my generation – I’m not embarrassed to say (or maybe I am) that I took a lot from Jaclyn Smith’s character Kelly Garrett in Charlie’s Angels.


But now we are in an era where digital platforms and social media mean that anyone with a passion or an opinion has the potential to become an influencer with a direct connection to audiences and this has brought a set of challenges for brands…


What’s the best approach to working with influencers? How do you find the right voice to partner with? Where are the boundaries in transparency around paid-for partnerships and what about the dark side – the pressures these young people come under?


Xeim’s Oystercatchers Club evening brought together a range of voices to discuss these issues. The line-up included Arjoon Bose, Head of European Marketing for new ventures; Natural and Organic at General Mills; Steve Parish, Chairman of Crystal Palace FC; Richard Morris, CEO of Initiative UK and Natalie Glaze, influencer, entrepreneur and founder of Stay Wild Swim.


The balance between passion and ROI


Influencers generally begin blogging or posting images because they are passionate about a subject - making a huge financial return is not the original driver. It’s a delicate balancing act to retain that authenticity and trust from the followers once brand partnerships come into play. The need to let go of rigid brand guidelines, so you can tap into the unique creativity an influencer can bring, is paramount. Otherwise it’s a waste of budget.


As Richard said: “Over time a lack of authenticity from an influencer will stick out like a sore thumb.”


Natalie was enthusiastic about the brand-influencer relationship and said cynicism was not the default opinion: “We’ve spent years creating our own brand and imagery so for a brand to want to work with us and trust us with their product is a great thing.”


Smart influencers know the regulations, as Natalie demonstrated with a succinct recital of the key guidelines.  She added: “I’m proud to say that I’m working for a brand and getting paid for it because ultimately I believe in it. Everyone I know who is a good influencer is happy to say they’re paid for it - and if they’re not that’s not a good connotation.”


Steve said that if you are going to be present in public life then resilience is going to need to be a touchstone. He reassured the audience that his young teenage players at Crystal Palace were actually savvier and more aware of the pitfalls of social media than anyone would expect. They also know that preening and boasting of their lifestyle is now passé.


He added: “Now it’s all about authenticity. Players don’t want to be involved in things they don’t believe in these days.”


Looking at how the brand-influencer partnership will evolve Arjoon said there will be a greater focus on metrics and the need for measurable ROI, while there is an agreement that the general public’s trust will be restored by the drive towards authenticity.


Influencers are here to stay


Influencers are not going away. Brands are diverting more budget their way.


So, to dive in deeper, Oystercatchers partnered with new influencer marketing agency The Fifth and iconic photographer Rankin, to hold a conversation with brand CMOs and agency CEOs. Our gathering included Fiona Spooner, FT Global Marketing Director; Emer McCarthy, Head of Brand, Paddy Power; Sian Brigg, Global Agency Strategy and Creative Transformation Leader, EY;  Ollie Lewis, Managing Director, The Fifth;  Xeim’s Group Manager Director, Steve Newbold.


I asked the question: Influencer marketing was a huge talking point last year, with Unilever’s Keith Weed claiming the system was broken, so one year on, what's changed?


“Influencer has become an incredibly dirty word because there are so many and there is such little faith in influencers on a massive scale - essentially because they have had no support. Brands jumped on the band-wagon because massive numbers of people can be reached – but they’re largely untargeted, very broad and it’s very difficult for us to know who they are.” said Rankin.


He continued: “I understand why the big companies are nervous because there are a lot of cowboys in influencer marketing but it is going to grow up and it is going to grow up quick. My thing is why would you not want to be part of that, why would you not want to be part of the growing up and getting better?”



Professional transformation

Given the very public mistakes of the past, unsurprising, trust is the over-arching threat to professionalism. For brands to succeed, complete transparency is crucial along with the need to share and declare data. Said Ollie Lewis, MD at The Fifth. “We have partnered with a really interesting Australian brand called q83 who has all the API access that we need and it allows the talent to prop all of their data into the platform. One way we get around that is with complete transparency.”


Brands doing it well

“I think there is a range, people like Boohoo who… identify the right type of talent that resonates with their audience.  Diageo did a really good job telling brands stories in much deeper high quality value which is becoming an area which the space is moving towards.” said Ollie Lewis

Influencer marketing really works when a brand trusts the talent to tell the story in their own way because they know their audiences. Try and push brand assets into an influencer feed and it won’t work.  The talent won’t believe in it, it ultimately puts them at risk and they’ll delete it from their feed the moment the contract expires.  We want our influencers to feel proud of the work and if they do they champion it.

As for me, what I can say is that if any fashion brand needs an authentic voice in support of the return of the catsuit, as worn by the Angels, do give me a call.

Suki Thompson

Founder / Chair, Oystercatchers

Suki Thompson is an entrepreneur and transformational business leader. She is CEO and co-founder of Oystercatchers and part of the Centaur management team where she is helping lead Centaur Media, the UK’s leading B2B media publisher, through a journey of transformation anchored in the ability to advise, inform and connect. Suki leads the strategic development of Oystercatchers and is the driving force behind the proprietary evaluation model Optimise™. She works with businesses on transformational change and is part of the team commercialising the ‘M3 model’ bringing marketing and digital together. Suki is also passionate about capability and learning.