by Jason Kubheka. The question I ask myself over and over when it comes to influencer marketing is: is it worth it?

The world of influencer marketing feels like a minefield at the moment. From celebrities who drag brands down with them when they behave badly to brands which have such tight control over the message that the influencer’s own creativity is hampered, it’s a massive challenge.

It feels a bit like a dark art. There’s a ton of time and money put into these big influencer-marketing campaigns but are they getting the desired results? Is the influencer credible enough? Are sponsored messages not completely transparent and seen as dishonest messages? More importantly, are we meeting the brand’s objectives, building community and affinity?

Wakeup call

For me, it all comes down to one word: authenticity. Even if your influencer has a million followers, if nobody believes what they’re saying, all that time and money is wasted. The big wakeup call for brands is that South African millennials (“Afrolennials”) are switched on. We figure out quickly when someone is being paid to say something and we don’t appreciate it. Frankly, I’d take advice from a friend, someone just like me, before I’d take advice from a paid celeb.

But how do we, as brand managers and community managers, leverage that insight? How do we maintain authenticity and relevance while still creating great content?

Fortunately, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I recently had the privilege of working on a campaign that allowed us to try a different approach. The idea was simple: what if we found real brand ambassadors, people who regularly consumed the products we were trying to peddle? We set about hunting for Afrolenniels who had mentioned the brand in the last two years. We then hand-picked our top 10 ten and set about creating content with them.

Brand foot soldiers

I call them brand foot soldiers. These are the folks in the trenches; they’re not big stars; they’re not getting paid thousands for brand endorsements. They’re genuine fans of the brand. Their enthusiasm is unbridled, and they’re true reflections of the community we’re trying to build.

1. Authenticity

The first major benefit is that there’s no question of the authenticity of the content. These people are 100% fans. This is really important because it means that the brand is drawing closer to the community, as opposed to alienating them. Everything from the way we’ve chosen our ambassadors to the kinds of content we’ve created with them has gone a long way to building credibility. Afrolenniels are more inclined to engage with a brand that reflects values and culture, and tt comes down to investing in people so that they’ll invest in you.

2. Community-building

With authenticity comes relationship. We’ve found that our community has responded very positively to the campaign. It has an aspirational nature. People look at the content and identify; “That could be me,” they say.

I think a brand should be more aspirational than inspirational. Aspiration is a long-term motivation, something to strive and work for. Inspiration is short-term and quickly forgotten. Creating an aspirational campaign takes me neatly into my next point.

3. Longevity

Our foot soldiers may not have massive followings or a big reach right now but they may one day. We consider this a long-term investment. Our foot soldiers will always remember how they got their break. We know that they’re going to be talking about the brand long after the campaign is finished.

So, yes, using foot soldiers may not get you the short-term awareness you want but, if you’re building brand affinity and growing a community, foot soldiers are your perfect tool.

Almost every single one of our foot soldiers has had doors opened by the campaign. This means that we’ve created a squad of future influencers — people who will never forget their start with us. That kind of investment in people and community will pay dividends.

Is it worth it?

To answer the question I posed at the start, is influencer marketing worth it? If you’re doing it thoughtfully, with the right people, with a longer-term goal in mind, YES! But, if you’re looking for a quick win with some big name, you might be disappointed. Invest in people, foster strong relationships with the community, and you’ll go far.


Jason KubhekaJason Kubheka is a social media manager at VMLY&R South Africa. He originally joined on a learnership and, to find his perfect fit, jumped around departments before settling on social media, where he feels completely at home. He gets to switch from the fish-filled lingo of Lucky Star pilchards to selling insurance for Hollard, and also does reporting and event coverage.

“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.

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