From YouTube and Snapchat and Vine to Instagram, brands have been turning to popular social media personalities to connect with a new generation of consumers who are often difficult to reach via traditional channels.

But is it worth it?

From YouTube and Snapchat and Vine to Instagram, brands have been turning to popular social media personalities in an effort to connect with a new generation of consumers who are often difficult to reach via traditional channels.

The market for connecting popular social media users – often referred to as influencer marketing – is now big enough that a number of agencies and platforms have sprung up to connect these users with brands. One of them, Niche, was acquired by Twitter earlier this year.

Niche focuses on a number of social platforms, including Vine, which Twitter bought in 2012. T

he short-form video service is particularly popular with younger demographics and brands working with Niche have developed campaigns that feature Vine standouts.

For instance, Niche and HP developed a Vine campaign to promote HP laptops:

That Vine campaign was later extended to television even though the Vine stars at the center of it – Robby Ayala, Zach King and Brodie Smith – probably won't ring a bell if you're over the age of 25.

HP's decision to feature social media stars in an ad for the small screen highlights the influence of digital platforms and social media on the broader brand marketing stage, but it also raises strategic questions for brands. 

Recognizability versus brand power

Celebrities, including Hollywood actors and athletes, have long been powerful Madison Avenue assets.

And for good reason: not only do consumers recognize who they are, celebrities often carry with them carefully-crafted images that convey lifestyle messages brands can tap into to help position their products and services.

In many cases, celebrities are themselves brands and their alignment with other brands can help those brands position their products and services with important customer segments.

Can social media stars move product? With more and more brands augmenting or even replacing their celebrity endorsements with personalities culled from social platforms, brands must consider whether these personalities are capable of playing the same role as traditional celebrities.

One of the biggest challenges for social media star as next-generation celebrity endorser is the fact that many social media personalities have high recognition with certain audiences, but they really don't have strong brands.

Most social media stars are not Michelle Phan, who has turned her YouTube popularity into a burgeoning business empire.

What that means for brands is that many of the advantages of celebrity relationships, such as strategic lifestyle messaging, probably just can't be realized with social media standouts. There's also the issue of longevity.

Most celebrity endorsements have a certain level of longevity built in, so deals have a longer ROI horizon and brands have the opportunity to use their celebrity assets in more versatile ways.

So are brands wasting their time with social media endorsers? Not necessarily. Many brands have good reason to tap social media stars to reach new audiences.

But they should consider whether those stars are mere marketing channels or strategic brand assets, and assign value to these relationships accordingly.

Patricio Robles

Published 26 March, 2015 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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