Influencers cash in on Twitter

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 06 Apr 2016
Social media influencers with many followers can earn a fantastic living, says Mike Wronski, director at Digital Flow.
Social media influencers with many followers can earn a fantastic living, says Mike Wronski, director at Digital Flow.

Celebrities, bloggers, sports stars and even political figures are not the only individuals keen to endorse a specific brand or product on their Twitter profiles.

The immediacy and accessibility of social media apps like Twitter not only created a gap in the advertising market that is benefitting companies, but has also seen the rise of the social media influencer.

Social media influencers are individuals who have influence over potential buyers, and orient marketing activities around these influencers. Influencers may be potential buyers themselves, or third parties.

The rise of these social media influencers is not only about how many followers one has but is now a new way of earning a living.

Mike Wronski, director at Digital Flow, a strategic technology development firm, says brands desire access to highly engaged and receptive audiences, and one of the best ways of doing that is through social influencers that have these kinds of audiences.

"Influencers have built up loyal audiences that trust the content they produce, making it exceptionally valuable for brands to strategically align with," says Wronski.

"People that amass large amounts of followers and subscribers can earn a fantastic living, with top global influencers earning many millions of dollars just from advertising on their content."

Show me the money

As the growing culture of brand endorsement is becoming engrained on popular social media platforms like Twitter, global influencer marketing platform Webfluential is tapping into this culture.

Webfluential, which provides marketing technology for brands to connect to social influencers, has created an online calculator tool that calculates what a tweet is worth and depicts the monetary value a social media influencer could potentially earn for posting branded content to their targeted audience.

According to Webfluential, the calculator uses geo tracking and algorithms to assess the exact monetary value of each tweet, based primarily on the number of followers an influencer has.

The tool is freely available to all Twitter users. For those who have 500 or less followers, the tool will send tips on how to raise their influencer status.

In a statement, a company official says Webfluential created the Twitter Calculator to help people understand what their ability to reach an audience is actually worth, but also highlight that the dream of earning a living being a social media influencer isn't as farfetched as people think.

Thozamile Sejanamane, account manager at Webfluential, says: "In the digital age where we have an attention economy, building an audience, holding their attention and moving them to action by creating content which is either informative or entertaining is a definite means of earning a living.

"Brands are struggling to reach consumers in the ways they did in the past, as much of their consumers' attention has moved towards other mediums. In the same way brands have to pay to reach audiences on television or printed media, they have to pay to reach influencers' audiences," Sejanamane adds.

Consumers' attention is moving away from traditional forms of media, he says. "Brands need to move with their consumers to stay in communication with them."

Where to draw the line

According to Sejanamane, endorsements by influencers have a higher return on investment than when a brand promotes itself on its social media channels.

"A friend telling me why I should get the latest iPhone is more likely to have an effect on me than any direct iPhone advert; purely because it is coming from a friend who I trust more than a brand."

Although this form of advertising presents a new revenue stream for those individuals with hordes of followers, there are questions about the authenticity of getting paid to tweet.

Wronski says there is a fine line in the ethics of influencer marketing, but if the influencer truly endorses the product and believes the content to be valuable for their audience, then there is no reason they should not be paid.

However, if they tweet for the sake of earning money, irrespective of what they post, they run the risk of being seen as a "corporate sell-out" and would potentially lose trust with the audience they have built, notes Wronski.

Influencer marketing is nothing new; what's changed is who can become an influencer, says Sejanamane.

"From the early days of advertising, brands used movie and sport stars to endorse their products because they could influence a large audience. Nowadays, anyone with a smartphone and data can build and influence a large audience. The mechanics of how people are influenced have changed.

"What's important, as an influencer, is to endorse brands that you truly believe in. Before being paid by a brand to tweet, you need to consider whether there is a meeting point for you and your audience's ideals and expectations, and the brand's vision and goals. Authenticity keeps your audience engaged and the great influencers have an open relationship with their audiences, letting them know when content is paid for."