Peddling authenticity: Social media influencers undermine traditional ads
Online stars can command big bucks if they appear to be 'sharing their own personal life'
Cailli and Sam Beckerman are twin fashion bloggers who tend to start and finish each other's sentences.
The 36-year-old Beckermans have parlayed their eclectic style, like layering a Chanel dress over long johns, into a lucrative living.
When they're not at home in Toronto, the platinum blond sisters, whose over-the-top style makes them hard to miss, jet to one fashion event after another and report back on the latest trends to their more than 300,000 followers, including Rihanna.
It's the kind of social sway that can command big bucks.
But there's a catch to the influence that's being peddled by the Beckermans and a growing number of their competitors — it requires at least the appearance of authenticity.
"So when they're delivering a brand message, it comes off to being a more authentic promotion than it would be coming from a brand ambassador who would be paid as a celebrity, or the brand itself putting out an advertisement on TV."
This trend is exploding on mobile devices, fuelled largely by people with huge followings on platforms like Instagram, YouTube and Twitter. They're called social influencers, and their job — yes, their actual job — is to post, post and post some more.
"Some social influencers are charging anywhere between $20, $25 to $200 for a single tweet, For an Instagram post it can cost $200 to $1,000," says Rubec. "Really, with the largest influencers in our database or in the industry, they get to sign their own ticket, what they get paid."
A competitive market
According to Cision, there are as many as 100,000 social influencers in Canada, bringing in up to $1 billion a year. As more up-and-comers try to create and cash in on their own content, Rubec says, the market is quickly becoming saturated and competitive.
Rubec says this economy is growing faster than media companies like Cision can track it.
With no shortage of likes, the Beckerman twins are at the top of the heap, Rubec says. They partner with companies like Chanel, Coach and Apple.
Aside from all the pricey freebies the twins flaunt on their endless posts and blogs, they don't like to talk about how much money all those deals bring in. But they say they do very well.
And, they add, they work for it. Staying relevant is a 24-7 gig. There's no real end to their day, or night for that matter. And they say that suits them just fine.
'We're making a great living'
"We're making a great living and we're enjoying life," they say. "It's been really great. Feel really happy."
But while it's one way to make a good living, there are concerns a social influencer's personal take on a product could become just another endorsement in disguise. It's why Advertising Standards Canada, the industry's governing body, recently released new rules that require social influencers to disclose whether they've received payment of any kind.
The Beckermans say clearly that they only partner with brands they like. What they put out to their followers, though, is not a sales pitch but their take on all the products that come their way, and often their own spin on them.
I feel if I'm just kind of promoting or showing about a product, it's not something anyone wants to watch.— Jeremy Rupke of How to Hockey
YouTube star Jeremy Rupke says being transparent is a social influencer's cred.
Misleading audiences can backfire and compromise the authenticity that is an influencer's virtual currency.
Rupke's How to Hockey tutorials capture up to a million views at a time. He says he's always up front about free products, like the $1,000 skates Bauer recently sent him to review.
"I feel if I'm just kind of promoting or showing about a product, it's not something anyone wants to watch," Rupke says.
The hockey equipment company says it can't expect to trade a pair of skates for a glowing review from Rupke or any of the other social influencers it works with. But if it means access to the demographic that follows Rupke, it's worth it, says Darryl Hughes, Bauer's marketing director.
He says the company's consumers, 10- to 16-year-old hockey players, gather their information "from their peers in the change room and from their tablets and what they see online. And for many of them, what they see from who they follow is influencing the product they're choosing."
That's why Bauer has ditched its traditional advertising strategy, killing its broadcast and print campaigns and banking on the future of social media.
A future that a savvy generation is cashing in on, one like at a time.