We are in the age of amplifier marketing, not influencer marketing

With Instagram shifting the dial by removing ‘Likes’ and Influencers clearly having very little influence, it’s clear that we’ve never truly been in the age of ‘Influencer Marketing’. Instead ‘Amplifier Marketing’ seems more apt.

The world has gone crazy for Influencer Marketing. Well it likes to think it has. According to Marketing Week the number of Instagram posts using the hashtag #Ad rose 150% in 2018 compared to the previous year.

Trust me, I’m not taking these stats with a pinch of salt. Living and working around London and Soho I see it for myself. There has been a growing number of so called ‘influencers’ out on the street with some poor guy or friend lying on the floor or in the gutter to help get the best shot whilst the ‘influencer’ in question poses in some sort of rigid ‘I know I’m standing still but in the final shot it’s going to look like I’m walking’. And it seems that every Instagram profile I click on that has more than 20,000 followers seems to call themselves a ‘Public Figure’ which is of course debatable, but in the world of Instagram it is considered to be the norm.

But having worked in the digital and social space for some time, I’m beginning to lose my patience with the mindset that having a large following makes you an influencer – when in fact, if you dig under the surface, these individuals are anything but influencers. In fact, I would prefer to categorise them as ‘Amplifiers’ because ultimately the end result of their post is anything but influential. Here are my reasons why:


This is something I’ve talked about for some time now, but it seems that the whole industry, and particularly brands, are transfixed with ‘likes’ as a measurement of success. Of course, a like is a good indication that someone has seen the post so in essence it is a modern day ‘impression’ – but more often than not we like a post in the very first few seconds we see it. It is almost a knee-jerk reaction to seeing something for the first time and therefore not something that is the result of deep thought and consideration – hence me labelling it as a ‘shallow engagement’ mechanic. In contrast a comment requires much more thought and effort (unless the response is an emoji) and is therefore a deeper and more meaningful engagement and for me driving comments and responses is a true sign of influence. Generating a like is a simple sign that you’ve posted content – so a like is proof of amplification not influence. Take the influencer with a two million strong follower who was unable to sell just 36 t-shirts – it is certainly proof that a large following and a strong track record of likes will not always convert into engagement.


OK I’m going to need to talk about Kim Kardashian here. Whilst I’m not a fan, as she is one of the world’s biggest ‘influencers’, she’s the ideal example. And don’t get me wrong, we would all love to be in Kim Kardashian’s position of being able to charge an extortionate amount per post. However, to the point above, does this deliver true value to the brands willing to pay for shallow engagement? Kim Kardashian has 137 million followers which is more than the population of many a small country but looking at her stats – with an average of three million likes per post – she is only ever reaching one percent of her following at any given time. Whilst that is an impressive number it goes back to my point that ‘influencers’ can offer reach in terms of numbers but it starts and ends there. Again, using Kim Kardashian as an example, she sees on average 15,000 comments per post. When looked at in the context of the size of her following she is only securing deep engagement from 0.01 per cent of her following. Is that worth $1 million? If the average cost for a single impression (or reaching one consumer) is $0.007, then to reach Kim’s entire following you would need just slightly less than $1 million. But that’s not what you get when you pay $1 million for a post from Kim – you just get a percentage. Again, it proves that brands are paying for amplification and not influence.


I hope I can explain this effectively, but simply put how many people really, truly care for these so called ‘influencers’ in such a way that whatever they say or do is considered influential? When I started in influencer marketing I spent a lot of time with the amazing ladies at BritMums– these group of parents were truly influential because the content and stories they posted and shared were built on real-life experiences that other parents wanted to hear about. Here was an audience primed to receive the words of wisdom and experience in each blog post or story. But now we are in a world where Instagram is the platform that everyone is turning to, I cannot say that the content here is as influential as those platforms where content is specifically tailored to a specific audience segment or group.

At its heart Instagram is about the image not the individual. It’s about how the image looks – the editing and the filters – and less about the copy. Whilst this article argues that the current Instagram aesthetic is over it proves that there is a broader trend at play that drives us to like a post based on what aesthetic is currently ‘on trend’. With this point in mind, it doesn’t matter who is in the shot as long as the shot plays to the desired aesthetic – so I do wonder if in these instances the image is the star and not the influencer (but we should give praise to whoever shot and edited the image or video)


Maybe I should have added this point first – after all, influence is based on the idea that you are able to pass influence. But if this story from The Drum is true then only four per cent of consumers trust what an influencer says online – meaning 96% don’t. So, if most people don’t believe an influencer then their supposed ‘influence’ is reduced to zero meaning that they are solely a channel for getting the messing in front of the right people but not necessarily influencing them.


With many news outlets you can’t have missed the fact that Instagram is planning to remove the ‘Like’ count on users posts. But in essence ‘Likes’ were never more than an indication of the minimum number of people who had seen the post. Without insight into post impressions, ‘Likes’ were the only marker brands and users had to indicate the extent in which a post had been seen. Because a ‘Like’ is a shallow engagement (one that does not require thought – as I always say just think of how many posts you like on the way home after a few drinks…) it serves very little purpose outside of making the user feel good (or bad) that what they had posted has approval from those that have seen it.

So what is my advice to brands?


As Business Insider recently reported, more and more brands are shifting to micro or nano influencers (those with between 800 – 10,000 followers). Nano or micro influencers are often a far more interesting proposition to brands as nano influencers will usually have a more niche-down following that’s interested and far more passionate about a specific topic or category – meaning engagement will likely be higher than usual. For me this is the right strategy and allows brands with even the smallest of budgets to reach some sort of scale by engaging with multiple lower cost influencers (assuming that they charge less due to lower follower numbers).


Going back to my earlier point about how blogging felt more real and relevant to the audiences and communities who grew around certain bloggers such as Parent Bloggers, brands need to identify those influencers whose following is built of the people who they want to reach. Those who have built a following of like-minded individuals should be prioritised rather than those who just have a large following. Yes this means you need to lean into an individuals social profile analytics more so than you do now but, if the aim is to drive deeper engagement that converts to sales, identifying if they have the right audience in sufficient volumes will reap rewards in the end.


If you get the above right then this should fall into place much easier. If you have a product that is relevant to a certain audience or demographic type then engaging with ‘influencers’ who are from this audience and have a similar following will drive greater engagement. These individuals are also more likely to drive content that is built around how and why they would use your product or service. This has far more credibility than a post that comes across as cold and unbelievable due to the fact that the person in question is only using the product because they have been paid to.

Written by Gareth Davies, VP Digital Strategy at MWWPR




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