Influencer or Ambassador – A subtle semantic difference?

Another hour, another thumb scrolling moment, a pause, followed by a twitter rabbit hole.  Of all the social platforms, the full spectrum of opinion is guaranteed on twitter, especially when it comes to the business of influence.  And make no mistake, we all know it is a multi-million Euro, Crypto & Dollar business.

The thought-provoking quote that grabbed my attention was; “Influencers, they call it a “selfie” because “narcissistic” is too hard to spell.”   It was no coincidence that my awareness was heightened on the same day that the ASAI announced that it was to employ AI to identify those within social media who are in breach of the ASAI code. Whilst this announcement is good news for brand transparency, it is by no means a solution to social media paid product promotion.

Which is why, back to the quote, my initial thought was that it was a bit harsh and unfair to stereotype a complete marketing channel and group of people in such a derogatory manner. It can be labelled a marketing channel on a media plan but it’s real people who just so happen to use their particular set of skills on social media platforms (& increasingly IRL), to market on behalf of a brand.  They do so on those same platforms that also charge handsomely to promote posts and “influencer audience reach”.

The “narcissistic” reference in the quote, in my observation speaks to an industry truth. It made me think of how many conversations and meetings, those of us in “agency land” have been in, that have had a negative undertone to them.  Discussions regularly focus on subjective opinion around authenticity, suitability, credibility and eventually costs.  It is at this point that the performance digital professionals ask… “So, what is the forecast CPA for this direct response activity?”.

It’s easy to understand the roots of some of the negativity, both personally and professionally, but it is not all about attribution modelling.  There are tens of thousands of victims arising from the Crypto shilling “rug pullers” (& their army of bots), those who “pumped and dumped” and walked off into the sunset to buy their Lambo.  Yes, they made sure to say DYOR (Do your own research) but much of the activity that the ASAI code is attempting to negate, has validated the opinion of the social influencer cynic.

Some brands have been burnt, and others have just burned money.  However, the opportunity to use social media channels and human talent to grow NPS and leads that convert, has never been greater. A comparison with the original slow adoption of social “brand pages” +10 years ago is appropriate, with many brands still experimenting, trying to navigate and position human influence within their social and content marketing mix.

Brand ambassadorship is universally understood in the context of sponsorship and image usage rights. To bridge any influencer or social media knowledge gap, it may be easier to connect thinking and minds in this area.  The evolved reality is then that a brand ambassador and a social influencer can often appear to be the same thing, or at least very close on the same spectrum.  It is not just a semantic cross-over, but it is also one were the role and remit of agents and agencies can become blurred.

The terms “brand ambassadors” and “social media influencers” have frequently been used synonymously. They both have the potential to be effective in promoting brands, goods and services but often their brand or campaign goals, target markets, and relationships with the brands they serve are very different.  One may also be retained and the other just engaged in the short term with a very specific brief. Just to confuse things further the terms nano, micro, mid-tier and mega are often thrown into the conversation. Claims that a micro-influencer will generate 60% more engagement than a macro influencer are ambiguous at best.

Why does everything have to be so complicated?  It doesn’t.

We just need create social communications that connect, from one human to another.

An opinion piece by OLIVER Digital Director, Gareth Irvine, published in The Irish Marketing Journal, January 2023.

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