Newspaper article International New York Times

Cool Influencers, Now Pickier Than Ever ; Stars on Social Networks Are No Longer Jumping to Promote Just Any Product

Newspaper article International New York Times

Cool Influencers, Now Pickier Than Ever ; Stars on Social Networks Are No Longer Jumping to Promote Just Any Product

Article excerpt

So-called influencers, who have large audiences on social networks, are being much more selective in promoting brands for fear of appearing to sell out.

Ricky Dillon, 23, who is known for creating quirky online videos, has millions of followers on Instagram and Twitter. His YouTube channel has more than 2.5 million subscribers.

When he posted a picture on Instagram of two Coca-Cola cans -- one with the name Ricky on it, the other with Dillon -- many of his followers were ecstatic.

"Awesome!!!!!!" one user wrote. Another urged him to sell the cans on eBay.

But a few viewers were less enthusiastic.

"Was this a paid sponsor?" asked a user going by the name MikeVlogsYT. "Haha."

Indeed, it was: Mr. Dillon had promoted Coke as part of an ad campaign for MTV's Fandom Awards.

As advertisers struggle to connect with young audiences, many have turned to so-called influencers like Mr. Dillon: video and social media stars whose value essentially lies in the large numbers of their followers. Such influencers offer brands the ability to amplify their messages at a relatively low cost.

But the strategy is becoming a bit of a gamble. The more brands that use influencers for marketing campaigns on social platforms like YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, the less impact each influencer has. At the same time, many influencers, who once jumped at the opportunity to endorse brands, are being much more selective for fear of appearing to sell out.

"It was too easy money for a lot of people," said Tony Weisman, the chief executive of the digital agency DigitasLBi North America. "We feel that chasing the influencer has in fact generated people that aren't too influential."

Advertisers say they work with influencers to build brand credibility on social media and to turn promotions into more of a person-to-person conversation. And with consumers increasingly viewing -- and sharing -- content online, the tactic has only become more popular. Media companies like Viacom and Tumblr have developed marketing platforms that connect brands with influencers. At least one advertising agency is putting influencers directly on its payroll.

Most influencers are young, with a cool factor tied to the number of online "fans" they have. (The fans may or may not be real people - - bots are prevalent). Many do little more than talk into a camera or take eye-catching pictures.

Mr. Dillon, for instance, creates what he calls "fun videos" -- mostly comedy skits and music videos -- which he uploads to YouTube every week. In one popular video, titled "What's in My Mouth," Mr. Dillon is blindfolded and is asked to name the objects that are placed in his mouth, including a condom ("This is flavored") and an eggplant ("That is huge"). The video has received more than four million views, 6,000 comments and nearly 300,000 likes.

Those numbers can represent a gold mine for advertisers, especially for fans like Mr. Dillon's, who are young and active.

Data on advertisers' use of social influencers is hard to come by. …

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