by Christine Pham -- April 09, 2015

Brands that deploy celebrities as spokespeople are, in general, rewarded with success. But what if you are not a multi-million dollar company that can afford Beyoncé to be your spokesmodel? Who are the “celebrities” that the humble brand strategist can turn to in today’s dynamic marketplace?

The answer almost certainly lies in social media. In recent years, I have become increasingly overwhelmed by products on social media. I’ve seen friends become successful bloggers, with sites filled with free products from brands unknown to me. All of a sudden, Naomi was no longer just posting selfies of her #MOTD (makeup of the day), but actually filming high quality tutorials and promoting products through giveaways. Sabrina was no longer just a hippie Seattle girl taking a mirror selfie of her #OOTD (outfit of the day), but a potential partner for big brands (such as Free People), local brands, and local photographers – all knocking on her door asking for her collaboration.

Although I no longer receive #GNO (girls night out) updates on Instagram from these friends, I had previously been happy to get their recommendations on products. And, yes, I did end up purchasing a product here and there.

Why does it work?

Brands have been successful in partnering with bloggers because of the way these bloggers are able to interact and engage with the customer. Consumers put more trust in product recommendations when they are able to relate with the blogger. For example, I would be more inclined to try a new set of metallic tattoos as a necklace if I found the blogger to be relatable. By contrast, had I seen the style on a punk-rock damsel, I would probably dismiss it and continue scrolling.

The most successful bloggers are able to stylize the product and put it in a setting where the reader believes the moment wouldn’t be complete until they, too, are wearing the same maxi dress, rocking the stacked arm candy, or stuffing the cronut in their mouth. The effect is almost contagious, leading the reader to mimic the blogger and self-post the whole ensemble on Instagram in hot pursuit of similar social media currency.

How do brands gain awareness?

Bloggers are valuable to a brand because of their followers; but what is the right way to engage with third party followers?

Brands often send merchandise to bloggers and suggest that they do giveaways to gain engagement from followers. Most giveaways on Instagram ask the follower to “repost” the item in order to participate in the giveaway, which results in the product being shared with an even larger audience.

Bloggers promote themselves on multiple platforms, such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and spread their brand recommendations through a variety of digital mediums. This proliferation of sources means that a target customer is bound to come across a product multiple times, whether by scrolling leisurely on Instagram, or by performing a search for a certain product. This has the effect of making the product feel even more relevant to their everyday lives.  

For example, did anyone know about the makeup application technique of “contouring” before it swept the blogosphere? According to many influential bloggers, the only tool you should be using for contouring is a Beautyblender. Beautyblender differentiated themselves from other sponge applicators by winning over bloggers with personalized gifts. Bloggers raved about the product and Beautyblender went from being unknown to the most wanted $20 sponge among women looking for the perfectly sculpted face.  

What’s the incentive for the blogger?

Not all items mentioned in a blog post are coincidental. Bloggers are often incentivized by the brand to do a feature for their product. When a reader clicks on a link to a product, the blogger receives a percentage of the sales for bringing high quality leads to their site. Affiliate marketing websites such as ShopSense by ShopStyle have made it easy for bloggers to grow their revenue by giving them a platform for them to connect with brands.

Chiara Ferragni of The Blonde Salad has seen so much success that the Harvard Business School has developed and released a case study. The 27-year old blogger is set to rake in $8 million this year, making it clear that partnering with brands can bring very high rewards.

While much of the web world worries about the impact product placement and partnership is having on the integrity of online content, the partnership between brands and bloggers also offers the prospect of a healthy ecosystem. Leveraging the girl-next-door to be your brand ambassador creates a lot of opportunities for her, as well as for her local community. She is able help local photographers showcase their talent, as well as provide global visibility for local brands. Similar to how unknown musicians were able to break into mainstream through MySpace back in 2005, I think we will continue to see a lot of smaller brands gaining worldwide recognition through the use of social media.