SXSW: Leveraging Influencers' Social Capital
Celebrity endorsements have traditionally been a crude but fairly effective technique. Take a person who’s famous enough and consumers will usually grant them some authority. But as audiences become savvier, it becomes harder to sell. “Today’s marketplace doesn’t give a shit about celebrity cachet,” actress Sophia Bush told an audience today at South By Southwest at a panel called “The New ROI: Return on Influence — How Influencers should Leverage their ‘Social Capital’ in the Startup World”.
“We’re all smart, we all consume media,” she continued, “and we can tell when we’re being sold something.
People can see that.” Walter Delph, CEO of Adly, agreed. Adly, a company that runs a platform that connects brands with consumers via influential people in social media, said, “Authenticity is a major issue. People don’t mind advertising, but no one likes bad advertising.”
The panel focused on the new demands placed upon celebrity endorsers in an age where customers place a premium on credibility. Bush said, “When it’s authentic and legitimate, there’s a sweet spot and you can feel it. As a woman I’m not going to tell you to put something on your face I wouldn’t put on mine.”
Both the celebrities on the panel and the industry figures wanted to stress the importance of how they needed to find the right connections between the social influencers and the products to endorse. Delph said, “We want to develop a real relationship with celebrities we engage with. We want to find what area you’re passionate about as a cause, beyond just monetary benefit.”
Dhani Jones, the former football player turned television host, said, “When you identify passion, you identify your authentic self.” Bush added, “If you can hold on to your principles, it shows your true passion and that’s when you become useable (as an endorser).” When she saw other celebrities bendable to a paycheck, she thought they lacked credibility. Bush herself cited her early adoption of the car service Uber. She was a frequent and passionate user who would send pictures of her in Uber cars to their management. When they raised their next round of funding, Uber offered her the opportunity to invest, which she took.
All of the panelists saw value in what Delph called a “series celebrity” round of funding. The celebrities on the panel were both active investors in the companies they endorsed, and the founders were equally happy to have that level of commitment. Delph especially felt that “Working with influencers can be advantageous. The marketplace and I are still learning how, but I want someone to come in and work side by side with me.”