Plus, how the industry has evolved and where it is heading
Written by Lara Holmes
Influencer marketing may seem like a relatively new term, but Social Soup’s Katie Palmer-Rose says the core concept of influencer marketing has been around since Social Soup launched 15 years ago.
Palmer-Rose is the managing director of Social Soup, an influencer marketing agency focused on word-of-mouth marketing for brands. Setting Social Soup apart from the influencer marketing of “overnight successes” in the ilk of reality TV stars who amass hundreds of thousands of followers in very short periods of time. Social Soup does not believe in transactional influence, and it doesn’t build transactional relationships.
Katie Palmer-Rose, Managing Director of Social Soup.
Mediaweek sat down with managing director Katie Palmer-Rose to discuss the industry’s roots and future. Explaining Social Soup’s 15-year tenure in the influencer marketing industry, Palmer-Rose says: “When we launched the business [15 years ago], influencer marketing was all about how to create advocacy. Influencer marketing is creating the right conditions for a recommendation for advocacy, and that real shortcut to trust that helps us make decisions about products and brands.”
When Social Soup launched in 2007, it would be a year before the iPhone would be released in Australia, and Instagram and TikTok didn’t yet exist. Facebook had only been around for three years, and Twitter was less than a year old.
Building an influencer marketing business before the term existed had Social Soup basing its business plan on understanding a consumer’s world. Palmer-Rose says that is still how Social Soup strategises and executes its marketing strategy today. Speaking of the evolution of influencer marketing since she started in the industry, Palmer-Rose notes that while platforms and engagements have changed, what has remained the same is the importance of building a marketing campaign from the root of your audience.
“Who is your audience? Where are they? What are they motivated by? That’s the very first part of planning out influence. From there, you look at what they need to hear. What is going to pique their interest, educate them in a way that allows them to move through a decision-making process?” she says.
The biggest evolution in influencer marketing is the platforms. Palmer-Rose uses the term platform loosely, as she notes it is the rapid advancement and invention of new platforms that have changed the original stages of influence creation.
Expanding on the evolution of platforms, Palmer-Rose says: “Your platforms could be a recommendation from a friend in a mother’s group. As you’re sitting on a blanket at a picnic, you’ve got that person that you trust, talking to you about a product that you’re interested in. It could be an online review at the point of purchase. So that platform evolves, depending on what you need to achieve. It’s not just TikTok and Instagram.”
The traditional forms of social media – think back to the days of updating your MySpace song or posting on your friends’ Facebook Wall – have changed drastically. With the saturation of the social media market, TikTok in particular has taken over Facebook as the most popular platform. This begs the question, is Facebook still relevant in the world of influencer marketing?
Palmer-Rose says: “Marketers need to be cautious – a new platform or a big platform doesn’t mean the right platform. So again, you need to understand your audience. Are they on TikTok? Are they engaging with information about your brand on TikTok? If they’re not, then you shouldn’t be there, just because everybody else is there.”
The evolution isn’t just a physical one of platforms and technologies, but how the market considers influencer marketing and campaigns. With the knowledge that influencer platforms can be the people in an individual’s social circle, how can influencer marketing harness that same level of trust? The short answer, says Palmer-Rose, is authenticity, “Without authenticity, influence is wasted.”
Though incredibly successful, influencer marketing isn’t without its challenges. A common issue in the industry is how audiences can be bought and sold, leading to an empty influencer reach that may appear to be large at first glance.
“We are not about indiscriminately selecting an influencer who’s got a large reach. It has to be about a genuine relationship or genuine impact that they can create,” she says. “We select our influencers by understanding the community that we want to reach and tracking back to an influencer that can achieve that.
“We then look at the quality of that influencer, that is; Do they have a point of view? Do they have something that they are communicating that they are known for? Are they represented as a whole person in the social space?”
Palmer-Rose views the democratization of marketing as a positive for influencer marketing, paving the way for the industry to allow consumers to discover brands and products in a relevant and authentic way.
The future of influencer marketing continues to shine bright, though regulations and disclosure agreements may present challenges for some in the industry. Social Soup views the biggest constant in the business as change. Through their market-led research and strong foundation of audience and influencer authenticity, the agency has evolved its strategies as people are constantly evolving in how they engage with each other.
Palmer-Rose added: “If influencers who popped up overnight – people from reality TV shows for example – don’t have a close relationship with their audience if what they’re saying is not authentic, or believed or trusted, it won’t result in conversions on a product. That’s why influencer marketing is powerful. It’s a shortcut to trust.”
Social Soup has a team of 26 people and has been operating for 15 years.