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How #Sponcon Fits into the Relatable-Era of Social Media
Since its inception, social media has been evolving from a network of family and friends sharing their day-to-day lives to a platform where even companies are personalities and get seemingly organic promotion for their products through influencers. Influencers, in fact, have amassed so many followers through their relatability, that their opinions of a product can significantly boost sales. While their opinions and reviews may sometimes be genuine, their Internet celebrity stardom has led companies to pay these influencers to advertise their products – a phenomenon called “sponcon.” Sponcon is defined as sponsored content or media exchanged for a free product or monetary value. According to the Influencer Orchestration Network, 32% of consumers believe influencer marketing feels more relatable than company advertisements. The connection between influencers and their audiences is what makes sponcon great for companies, but does influencers' rise in fame affect how relatable they are? Lately, audiences have been engaging more with influencers who talk about their struggles and daily lives rather than influencers who eat at expensive restaurants and showcase luxury products. The Titus sisters are a prime example of this trend. Kirsten Titus went viral this past year for talking about entertaining life stories while cutting up fruit in Hawaii. Meanwhile, her younger sister, Erika Titus, went viral for her love of K-pop bands and for trying different makeup styles. Their TikTok videos had many comments applauding the sisters for being relatable and even saying that the videos made them feel like they were on FaceTime with friends. This relatability is exactly what allows audiences to feel like they can trust these influencers’ opinions on brands. As influencers get more and more followers, however, they start to make more money than the average person and get to go to luxury experiences – essentially becoming overnight celebrities. Due to this, there has been a wave of relatable influencers being able to participate on all-expense paid brand trips or receive free packages of products to subtly advertise to their viewers. Last year, with a combined following of over 11 million, the Titus sisters were able to go on an all-expense paid trip to Mexico for an Amazon event with other influencers. This culmination of their success, however, was met with some criticism from their audience who felt the sisters were undeserving of the trip because it was “another example of rich people getting things for free” and some even pointed out the contrast between their free luxury trip and the many underpaid workers at Amazon. Despite the criticism from their audiences, the negative comments were vastly outnumbered by positive comments from people who loved the content the sisters created on their trip. While the sisters may have tarnished their relationships with some of their audience, they still continue to grow in popularity as seen by their increasing follower count. While sponcon can create some mistrust between influencers and their audiences, influencers who have built a strong relationship with their audiences before accepting sponcon offers from companies can ultimately benefit in a social and financial way. Companies should thoroughly research the influencers they decide to partner with in order to produce sponcon that will benefit both the company and the influencer. If it is a thoughtful collaboration the audience will recognize the authenticity and will continue to support the company and brand. Companies will need to look at the general opinions of the content influencers produce and evaluate their follower count in order to gain an understanding of how well their audience might receive sponcon. With a balanced combination of generally positive publicity and high follower numbers, sponcon can be a beneficial opportunity for the social media influencers, their audiences and the company.