Consumers are reluctant to trust online brand messaging: up to 25.2% of U.S. Internet users blocked ads on their devices in 2018. Instead, they turn to social media influencers: individuals who distinguish themselves through their personal style and their ability to attract a large audience. What influencers wear, where they travel, and who they listen to intrigue and inspire their followers. Increasingly, therefore, marketers look for opportunities to connect with their customers by inserting their products and brands into influencers’ dialogues with followers.

Marketers often treat social media as a low-cost advertising channel. From this perspective, an influencer simply executes the upstream part of a company’s brand strategy, driving sales by creating visibility through product placement on social networks. Brands select influencers on the basis of their audience size and negotiate each contract on a “per campaign” basis. Marketers then track the influencers’ performance at the campaign level with objectively assessed metrics. If an influencer does not meet assigned short-term goals, he or she is easily replaced for the next campaign. The management of the relationship with influencers is often delegated to specialized agencies, which use standardized approaches to select influencers, negotiate their contracts, and monitor their performance.

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