Back in 2012, the cosmetics brand CoverGirl selected the popular Colombian-American actress Sofia Vergara as its new ambassador.
Four years later, teenage YouTube makeup guru James Charles became the brand’s first CoverBoy.
Celebrity ambassadorships were the original method of influencer marketing before marketing trends turned.
Influencer marketing is a technique that orients marketing methods and activities around influential people rather than the target market as a whole on social media. Modern-day marketing has been turning toward regular content creators with niche audiences to lead the endorsement of brands.
According to Jelle Fastenau’s article “Under the Influence: The Power of Social Media Influencers,” marketers were predicted to invest an average budget of approximately $25,000 to $50,000 into various different influencer campaigns in 2018. With an average of $7.65 in earned media value returned for every dollar spent on influencer marketing, the numbers truly do speak for themselves.
Because social media has made influencers so pervasive, brands have been using those with relevant interests and a large internet presence as the face of their advertisements.
According to Forbes, consumers are becoming increasingly skeptical of companies and their marketing techniques. As opposed to distant celebrities, influencers allow brands to promote through a sense of trust that has been built between the influencer and a specialized community.
Charles, who leveraged his massive social media presence into a brand deal, is just one of a growing number of social media influencers who have established credibility in a particular industry through access to a large audience of online users.
Social media influencers are not limited to one type of person – there are even influencers that are students at UCLA.
Fourth-year biochemistry student Vivian Yu has gained a strong internet audience over the years. While Yu originally started her Instagram account as a lifestyle page, she has shifted to posting more medicine-related content and posts about daily life as a pre-medical student at UCLA to her 175,000 followers.
Yu posts photos showcasing her daily routines and study tips, with captions that engage with her audience in the form of questions like “What are some challenging courses you guys are taking this semester?” These posts are primarily targeted toward other students who are pursuing a career in health care.
Yu’s trajectory shows how influencer marketing finds its success in its organic audience that is invested in the life of the influencer as well as their recommendations and opinions on brands, which seem more like “word-of-mouth recommendations on a world stage” rather than advertisements.
Similar to Yu, Jessica Lee, a second-year economics student, began curating her own audience organically through Instagram. A year ago, she posted a photo of herself at a subway station in Hong Kong and made it to the Instagram “Explore” page, resulting in a sudden rush of comments, follows and likes from users who became interested in Lee’s content. Today, she holds a following of over 84,000 users.
The easy accessibility and low stakes of social media make the lifestyle of an influencer a lot more flexible to uphold, as the influencer ultimately maintains it according to their own terms and conditions. How an influencer chooses to integrate their platform into their life varies from person to person.
Yu says that maintaining a social media account does not largely interfere with her personal or school life. Ultimately, she controls her flow of content, and can choose to post less consistently during midterms or finals week, which is convenient for a busy student like herself.
On the other hand, UCLA alumna Cindy Thai turned her busiest moments as a student into her own form of creative content. Known for her YouTube channel titled infinitelycindy, Thai took daily video-logs or “daily vlogs” for an entire year, showcasing intimate details of her life as a UCLA student.
“I was vlogging my study all-nighters, lectures, the walk to class, college parties and everything else in between,” Thai said. “Being a social media influencer, … you constantly are sharing and being plugged in to everything that is happening in your niche or category.”
While the work of social media influencers is amounted to a creative vlog on YouTube or a high-quality picture on Instagram, the behind-the-scenes processes in terms of brand communication and exchanges are widely unknown to those that are unfamiliar with the industry.
Companies will often reach out to influencers via direct-message on Instagram or email if they believe that this influencer can represent their products and overall brand vision well. Influencers will similarly reach out personally to specific brands that catch their interest.
When Yu communicates with brands, she sends brands her media kit, which includes her rates and how much she charges per post, and looks at their company contract as well. After the contract is signed, companies will send out their products attached with their guidelines for the post. After Yu’s post is live, she sends them an invoice.
Being a social media influencer in the limelight of the digital world often means that extra work and maintenance must be put into finding and capturing the aesthetic in the daily moments of our lives.
Fourth-year economics student Ally Gong, a fashion, travel and lifestyle Instagrammer, said this search for the perfect photo opportunity means she always carries outfit changes and extra accessories and makeup available for use when traveling.
In the digital age, it’s clear that social media and influencer marketing are becoming more relevant than ever. Perhaps most importantly, the audience perception of social media and influencer marketing is changing and transparency and honesty are being prioritized more than ever.
Thai said she values her relationship with her audience and is very strict with what brands she works with, leading her to respectfully turn down around 80 percent to 90 percent of the inquiries she gets her inbox and only working with brands she genuinely likes or is interested in.
“Generation Z is incredibly smart and can sense sponsored posts – even though it is now the norm, they can sense what is authentic, which requires better brand and influencer deals for social campaigns,” Thai said.
The multibillion-dollar industry of influencer marketing has undoubtedly opened up many doors to new experiences and professional opportunities that could not be found in other industries. While some influencers maintain their social media accounts purely as a hobby, an increasing number of Instagrammers and YouTubers have been making a full-time career in content creation.
“It can be difficult when people don’t respect the work of influencers, who often have to juggle this career with another job or studies,” Lee said. “But at the end of the day, being an influencer is so rewarding to my future career aspirations, and I have so much fun doing it.”