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Influencers: Who they are and their ability to reach Gen Z

Written by Steph Strickland and Eve-Katherine Pithey, Illustration by Bryce Chan

You’ve seen them in your feed. You’ve maybe even purchased something based on their recommendation. There’s no getting around it — in the age of social media, influencers are everywhere. 

How do we understand these influencers in the context of the rising generation of consumers, though? 

Young audiences value relatability and authenticity from brands that support their personal values, which, you’ve probably heard before. In that case, what does it even mean to be relatable and authentic? 

For Gen Z, these characteristics involve feeling a connection to an influencer. It means saying, “my friend…” instead of “someone I follow on social media, but haven’t ever met in real life…” 

Seventy percent of Generation Z said they relate more to YouTubers than anyone else, and 63 percent of Gen Z would rather hear from everyday folk than celebrities. 

Our Take on an Influencer Search 

In the process of conducting our own influencer search for an international auto client, the importance of understanding the differences between Gen Z and their Millennial predecessors on social media became crucial. 

In fulfilling our task of representing an adventurous lifestyle (in a way that doesn’t feel cliche, tired or outdated) we came across hundreds of remarkable influencers with wide ranging audience size and tastes. 

Ingrid Wu, art director and account lead, said the team considered many factors when compiling influencers that accurately reach Gen Z. 

In creating our strategy, it was more important to consider the differences between Gen Z and Millennial in the very beginning…that boiled down to finding the tired Millennial content the client should stay away from and what is now the golden egg of Gen Z authenticity they could potentially tap into,” she said. 

Instead of looking at the cookie cutter perfect feed of many ‘adventurous’ socialites, we found a truly adventurous spirit in the stories being told by unique groups of influencers. 

For example, our search found female solo travelers, epic outdoor elopements and traveling pets that all told a new and interesting story and many of them took advantage of trends that resonate well with Gen Z. 

Gen Z prefers video and interactivity more than their Millennial predecessors, but only has an eight second attention span – so content has to be quick and digestible. Other trends such as sustainability and representation are more important than ever before. 

The team’s favorite influencers they came across in this search were @sighswoon because of her use of instructional storytelling, and @werenotreallystrangers because they utilize buildings and physical spaces to share stores, quotes and other copy. Both of these influencers thought of new and innovative designs to create a framework for their storytelling, and this grassroots effort is well-received by Gen Z audiences. 

In the end, the types of influencers we found may not have had perfect feeds, but there was something real about the content they create. Many of these social media gurus didn’t have existing brand deals and were generally micro influencers (see definition and examples below) that focused on conveying one message that matched well with their personal brand (see Advocate below). 

It isn’t enough to be on the same platform as Gen Z — you have to create an experience for them. 

Classes of Influencers

They may appear to clog your feed with promoted content, but there is more to influencers than meets the eye. 

With the vast number of influencers online, it is vital to consider the various types of influencers and the ways in which they reach audiences. This way, we can make accurate decisions about who is worth investing in to reach the desired audience. 

Mega Influencer 

10,000,000+

This is what we know and recognize when we hear the word ‘influencer.’ They are often celebrities with massive followings, and despite a lack of deep knowledge about a particular subject or product, they are able to influence through sharing their opinion. Taking on a mega influencer is equivalent to taking on a mass marketing approach with a ‘one size fits all’ mentality. 

Examples: Kim Kardashian, Gigi Hadid, Casey Neistat, Shane Dawson, Jeffree Star, Ellen  

  • Ability to reach Gen Z: Fair, Gen Z will surely see this message, but it isn’t targeted specifically to them. This influencer is rated as fair because they reach so many people that it can feel impersonal and their lives can be out of reach for many. 

Macro Influencer

1,000,000-10,000,000

These influencers take on a celebrity-like persona, but exist solely within the confines of social media. They gained notoriety through building their following in the age of social media. Macro influencers have a closer connection to audiences, and are considered direct to fan marketing. They have built their fan base out of similar interests, and possess a strong personal brand online. 

Examples: David Dobrik, KathleenLights, Tana, Emma Chamberlain, Kalyn Nicholson, David So

  • Ability to reach Gen Z: Average, again this influencer will reach Gen Z on the basis of sheer volume, but the message may be more refined than mega influencers. Gen Z seems to have unprecedented trust in YouTubers and internet celebrities, so these brand deals can go a long way – but may still feel too generalized to make a long-term impact on the viewer. 

Micro Influencer 

10,000 – 1,000,000

These influencers are built in the same way as a Macro influencer, but their following hasn’t quite reached the same level online. Their community is smaller and well-defined. For this reason, micro influencers have generated 85% higher engagement than those with 100,000+ followers. 

Example:  Joman Alexis, Danielle Marie Carolan, Alanna Doherty, Suzy Shattuck, Hey Nadine, Simon and Martina 

  • Ability to reach Gen Z: Above Average, more refined branding and targeting can make these influencers more effective messengers while still having the look and feel of a social media influencer. 

Advocate

Someone who advocates for a brand has a much deeper relationship with the organization they are representing. Advocates may not have the same level of fame or followers as influencers, but they tend to have significantly higher customer trust and satisfaction. Advocates exist in every online community.

Example: Patagonia works to create a community of social and environmental activists who support their brand’s stances and transparency.

  • Ability to reach Gen Z: Excellent, when someone focuses on one or two causes or brands and they have a close-knit following, their conversion rates for consumers tend to be much higher because of greater trust and satisfaction.

Referrer

Just as the name implies, Referrers tend to refer others to a specific brand or product. They tend to be dedicated to one brand over another competitor, and they tend to have close-knit follower groups composed of friends and family that consider their opinion in high regard. 

Example: World of Warcraft offers exclusive in-game rewards for when you refer a friend to their monthly subscription online game. 

  • Ability to reach Gen Z: Below average. This can work in getting other people involved, but often feels forced and inauthentic. 

Loyalist

Loyalists are built over months, years and even decades. They stick with a brand through thick and thin. Loyalists could be employees, followers or anyone with a deep connection to a brand. 

Example: Susan G. Komen Foundation 

  • Ability to reach Gen Z: Unknown, Gen Z’s long term commitment to brands has been difficult to pin down as they are just entering the workforce and consumer market. 

The Final Thoughts 

When it comes to Gen Z, effective brands may take a more personal approach to reaching audiences, or, may mix Micro, Macro and Advocate influencers to create an effective brand reach. 

For example, Curology is a skincare startup that sells direct-to-consumer products on a subscription basis. The young company has focused its marketing efforts on influencer engagement and digital ads. Signing a mix of influencers like Emma Chamberlain, Sofia Chang and Zackary Vang, the company was able to grow 500 percent during 2017 by adding a personal touch and greater customer engagement to their brand.

Utilizing the reach of influencers is an important field of marketing that many brands are tapping into because effectively reaching various demographics through social media has become vitally important to creating effective messages that reach the people it’s meant to reach.