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The Social Media Influencer

Who has more influence than the influencer?


I recently sent out a monthly newsletter to our M5 SportsPath members about the rise of the ‘influencer’. The purpose was to educate our emerging sporting talent on the role influencers play in the media and sponsorship mix in comparison to athlete endorsement.

It got me thinking more about how Social Media Influencers (SMI) have been impacting on my M5 business over the last five years and how SMI’s such as Kayla Istines with her 8.9 million followers are unsurprisingly taking a sizeable portion of the endorsement dollar. To put it in simple terms, currently SMI’s are competing and in many ways, winning the battle of the endorsement dollar - and it’s the elite/professional sportsperson that is feeling this impact the most.

As much as I admire the entrepreneurial flair of the SMI, I feel there is a distinct advantage that our admired sporting identities have in their favour. Here’s a few aces that sports stars and teams have up their sleeve.

1. Authenticity

Consumers are starting to question the authenticity of a SMI and their brand-related, highly staged posts. Despite the significant following and consistent posting, are they the real deal? Can SMI’s build the same level of rapport with consumers as our sporting personalities? In most cases, not.

Unlike SMI’s, sports personalities frequently appear in our mainstream media and their authenticity is on show every day. We all know this is a double-edged sword as they could be attracting good or bad publicity. However, we do know that their public sporting performances are REAL and not manufactured, and there is no editing in live sport.

2. Emotion

When I run a workshop with athletes or corporates I always begin my presentation with a quiz. I put a photo up of Cathy Freeman sitting on the track after winning the 400m at the Sydney 2000 Olympics or a photo of Mick Fanning about to be attacked by a shark and I ask three simple questions:

1. Who is it?

2. When was it?

3. Where was it?

It’s not very often I don’t have a full room with hands up high, ready with the answers. Dramatic sporting moments stick like super glue in our memories…. As a sport-loving nation, we live vicariously through our sporting stars, feeling the elation of the highs and the pain of the lows. This is an area that the SMI simply cannot replicate. You will never see a ticker-tape parade for an SMI returning victorious from a commercial engagement. Emotional moments in sports are recalled by brand consumers every second every day all over the world, and smart companies and brands who want to access the hearts and minds of consumers realise this.

3. Unpredictability

Adding to the scope of consumer emotions is the uncertainty of a sporting outcome. Highly saturated, competitive sports ensure that the outcome remains unpredictable, and in turn builds excitement and anticipation towards future events, which builds throughout each sporting season. The ability of sporting teams and individuals to compete on the field and co-operate off the field promotes a healthy rivalry that is embraced by the consumer. Australians love to discuss their favorite sporting teams and players, but you will never hear anyone ask, “Who’s your favorite SMI?”

4. Publicity

Despite the publicity high profile SMI’s generate, sport provides more depth and consistency. Constant accessibility in both mainstream and social media offers a continuous supply of information to consumers of varying demographics. Widespread viewership of sport can build brand awareness above and beyond what an SMI can offer.

5. Distribution

By tapping into the enormous fan bases attributed to popular sports, brands can significantly increase their exposure and distribution by leveraging a sportsperson’s popularity within that sport. This breaks down barriers such as location, religion, education and socio-economic status, and in doing so fast tracks a brand’s messages to reach further with deeper engagement. Savvy athletes build their profile, social media channels and following, ensuring sponsors receive maximum value.

6. Visual

Both SMI and sporting stars can depict strong messages through rich visuals that entice consumers. However, SMI’s are unable to effectively evoke the emotions related to sporting images. Impactful sporting moments captured through pictures convey strong messages to consumers who identify with the sport/team/individual or moment.

When evaluating the use of an influencer or athlete for your next campaign, who has more influence and the competitive edge? The SMI or the athlete…I will let you decide.

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