The Relationship Between Brands and “Social Influencers” – What’s Next?

As the advertising market changes, brands are increasingly working with YouTube stars and online personalities to promote their products. Guardian Masterclasses partnered with leading communications agency, Red Consultancy, to explore this symbiotic relationship at a unique event with social influencers Jamie Lennox, Tom RidgewellZanna van Dijk and Mother Pukka

Over the last six years, a new breed of online influencers has emerged. From super-star bloggers to YouTube celebrities, these “social influencers” often have huge followings across multiple platforms – and have become an increasingly attractive way for brands to reach new audiences.

This week, the Guardian partnered with leading communications agency, Red Consultancy, to deliver a unique Masterclass exploring the relationship between brands and social influencers, focusing on future trends in a rapidly evolving business landscape. 

Our panel of expert speakers included Jamie Lennox and Tom Ridgewell, two of the veterans of the YouTube generation, lifestyle and travel blogger Zanna van Dijk, and Anna Whitehouse, creator of Mother Pukka, a portal for news, events and comment for parents. 

In 2015, six out of 10 of the biggest influencers in the UK were YouTube stars. This phenomenon has led to social influencers becoming more than just “vloggers”: they sell merchandise, appear in movies, publish books and speak at sell-out events around the world. Brands are currently tapping into this market on YouTube and beyond by co-branding products with online influencers – expect to see more of this in the near future. 

In this blogpost, we’ve rounded up some of the key things we learned at this week’s class, as well as a few predictions from our speakers on what’s next for the symbiotic relationship between brands and social influencers.

Loosen the creative reins for authentic results

As the advertising market changes and the use of ad blockers continue to rise, brands need to find innovative ways to speak to audiences online. Social influencers have access to highly engaged, targeted audiences, and often have personal relationships with their followers. This perceived intimacy is valuable for brands looking to form new relationships with people who may not have heard of their products before. 

Brand bravery

It’s all about trust. Brands have to remember that they’re not creating a traditional advert when they work with social influencers. Businesses have to take a risk by handing over some of their creative ideas, while understanding that the influencer often knows their audience better than they do. A culture of mutual trust and collaboration will ensure that relationships between brands and influencers continue to emerge and thrive.

A maturing audience

Audience behavior has changed dramatically in recent years, with digital content becoming more popular than traditional TV. For this reason, brands are increasingly working with influencers to reach new audiences on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. According to our speakers, brands haven’t yet cracked the Vine and Snapchat market, but we may see more branded content on these platforms in the near future. 

The industry will change as audiences start to get older. A lot of YouTube stars started to become popular about five or six years ago, so in many cases, their followers are no longer teenagers. Our speakers felt that brands can use this to reach a slightly older demographic now and in the future.

Put value in the creator, not the real estate

While content creators will continue to be relevant and audiences will grow, the platforms may change and we may see a shift from someone being a ‘YouTuber’ to operating not only on multiple channels but on their very own digital real estate. Brands can’t assume a campaign will live across all of these channels and must be prepared to have those discussions early so everyone is clear on expectations.

Unexpected collaborations

Co-branded content could become more common and more interesting. Brands who don’t compete can work together on content, along with social influencers, in order to maximise reach and audience engagement.


The panel all commented that they are nervous about getting it wrong in front of a “live” audience when working with a brand, so while we should all expect to see more brand activity with livestreaming services like Periscope and Facebook Live, brands will have to take a leap of faith that the creator can be their ‘voice’ to that audience, without the security of an edit.

 Superstar bloggers Photograph: Richard Saker for the Observer

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