During the most recent transfer window, the most expensive players have been grabbing headlines not just for their football skills, but also for their impressive social media followings, which are starting to affect both transfer fees and salaries. As the marketing industry changes, clubs are increasingly seeing the personal brands and platforms of the players as the best medium to engage with fans.

In response to this phenomenon where individuals can have the reach and impact only broadcasters could once claim, Edelman developed APEX, a data-based methodology that allows us to identify the right influencers for any communications challenge. It runs on a custom stack of software, collecting hard data on the reach, relevance, authority and accessibility of millions of potential influencers. This methodology combines the art of editorial judgement with the science of influence, and allows us to map influence consistently across countries, comparing like for like, looking at online influencers and offline influencers alike.

When Digiday told us they would be exploring the topic of social media savvy footballers and their reach the Edelman influencer team ran a sample study for the site. You can read the full article here.

Edelman’s Influencer Marketing Manager Lizzie Rabone explores the topic further:

So, it’s big news for football but what does it mean for influencer marketing?

Some of the world’s top players are starting to take control of their own personal brands and build huge, loyal followings. We’ve already seen that this can pay off professionally with the clubs, but will it be equally enticing to brands and sponsors?

The short answer is a qualified yes- but (as it always should) the long answer will depend heavily on the brand, target audience and activation plan. There’s no doubt that these footballers have something special to offer the right brand, but there’s a nuance to the offering that’s easy to miss. Influencer marketing isn’t about buying reach, it’s about capitalising on the social relationship the influencer has with their followings. Good influencer marketing depends on authentic content, something that makes sense in the context of the influencer’s feeds and aligns with their usual style and values. Savvy influencers will choose only to work with brands whose values align closely with their own, and brands need to start taking the same nuanced approach.

Quantifying Influence- the Edelman RARA metric

So, who is the right influencer for your brand and how do you select them? It’s a question being asked by brands all over the world and it needs a carefully considered answer. Here at Edelman we have developed a quantified, data-driven system that combines editorial judgement from our brand experts with some of the latest measurement metrics available to give a thorough answer to this system.

Everything is based on the four pillars of influence: Relevance, Authority, Reach and Accessibility, and the scores for each will be tailored to the specific brand, target audience and campaign idea. By carefully considering each of these factors, rather than focusing blindly on reach alone, we can start to understand the real value an influencer can offer to your brand.

Let’s take a look at this in action. For the sake of this first assessment, we’re going to presume that our client is a sports brand looking to target football fans with a football-themed activation, and score some of the largest influencers related to professional football at the moment.

Chart 1: Influence relating to sports brands with a football-themed activation

Football Influencer Chart 1


What does this tell us?

First, let’s get reach out of the way. The size of the bubble indicates the combined social following of the influencer, and while all are huge stars, Beckham and particularly Ronaldo are in their own league when it comes to reach. But, as we know, reach isn’t everything.

A key point logistically is Accessibility of the influencer- shown by the hue of the bubble with darker bubbles indicating more accessible influencers. As an overall rule, larger influencers will be less accessible as they will be busier, have more existing brand deals and be more expensive. We see this general trend shown above. However, individual brands can buck the trend, and when analysing influencers for a specific client, we would take into account their likely interest in the brand (based on metrics like mentions of the brand on social media and shared values between the influencer and the brand) to highlight those larger stars who are still likely to say yes.

But let’s get into Relevance, scored along the X axis, and, most crucially, Authority, which is shown on the Y axis. The ‘ideal’ hyper-relevant, hyper-authoritative influencer would be seen in the top right-hand corner of the chart, so it’s no surprise that our influential footballers are generally clustering in that top right corner.

Pogba, Ozil and Luis are winning out in terms of authority and relevance because their personal brands are more heavily football-focused and, at this earlier stage in their careers, their content is more consistently on-topic, sharing their training sessions and successes on the field. As three top footballers, their authority to speak on the topic is very similar, with Luis coming in slightly less authoritative because of his lower engagement statistics online. As he receives a lower average of likes, shares, comments etc on his posts, we can surmise that his followers are not as engaged in his content, and that his posts have a lesser effect on his followers compared to Pogba and Ozil, whose posts are more likely to get a reaction from their fans.

Beckham is scoring lowest both for relevance and authority on the topic of football, followed by Ronaldo. This is reflecting a conscious decision from these two stars to diversify their personal brands to become men’s lifestyle influencers with known interests in fashion, grooming and so on. Beckham is more advanced in the shift away from football as he’s also now retired from professional football as his primary day job, and his online content now rarely mentions the beautiful game, focusing instead on charitable work, lifestyle and travel content. Nonetheless, as one of England’s most celebrated and talented footballers, he retains reasonably high authority and relevance because his followers would still be very likely to trust any football-related content and opinions that he put out.

To bring  this difference in personal branding into focus, we have re-evaluated the same footballers below, now presuming that our client is male grooming brand with a more lifestyle-focused activation which seeks to position the brand as a go-to for the style-conscious but busy man

Chart 2: Influence relating to male grooming brand with a lifestyle themed activation

Footballer Influencer Chart 2

What this tells us

Reach of the influencers is the same, but our football-focused trio are now ranked less relevant, authoritative and accessible since more grooming and style related content would be out of place in their feeds and represent a more jarring note in their conversation with their fans. However, they are still showing up in the midpoint of the chart because as young men with strong male followings they do have some relevance to the subject matter and some authority to share their personal preferences, even though it’s not the core of their brands. However, they may be less likely to want to divert focus from their footballing achievements, so they are likely to need more persuasion and be more selective in any brand partnerships they choose in this area, making them less accessible.

Conversely, Ronaldo and Beckham are showing as more relevant and authoritative than before as they are already known influencers in men’s lifestyle and are looked up to as fashion and grooming icons. They aren’t as significantly less likely to be open to a male grooming brand as compared to a sporting/football related brand, however given their huge size and busy schedules they are still going to be more difficult and costly to engage.

Wider industry trends in relation to personal brands.

The influencer marketing industry is maturing as audiences wise up. We’ve already seen backlash against some of the top influencers who are consistently (and obviously) monetising their huge followings with obvious brand placement. These influencers are at real risk of losing the authenticity element which is so key to a successful influencer marketing campaign, particularly if they fail to intersperse their sponsored content with the genuine, personal posts that can build an authentic relationship with their fans.

The Edelman Trust Barometer 2017 saw a shocking decrease in trust with trust in the institutions of business, media, government and NGOs dropping 3 points in 2017, leaving media trust at an all-time low. Conversely, the same study found that, for the first time, ‘a person like yourself’ was seen to be as credible as aa technical or academic expert, with all three seen as trustworthy by 60% of respondents. This shift is translating into a renewed focus on influencer marketing, to capitalise on this trend.

At first it may seem counterintuitive that huge stars like Pogba are being discussed in relation to the ‘people like me’ category, but a closer look at this will lead us back to the underlying focus on authenticity and social validation. Good influencers have a trust relationship with their followers, partially dependent on them presenting a (reasonably) candid portrayal of themselves as a person, sharing likes, interests, opinions, photos with friends and family etc. Their success as an influencer is not just down to them being aspirational, but also relatable and, therefore, trustworthy. When a follower sees an influencer exemplifying their own tastes and values, they are going to be more likely to feel interest in a brand that the influencer likes.

This links to another great reason for taking influencer marketing seriously: social proof. People are primed to take actions when they see their peers, and people they respect doing it. “Social proof is the secret weapon of influencer work,” says Philip Trippenbach, Head of Influencer at Edelman. “We spend a great portion of our lives interacting with people we know online – and their opinions carry more weight for us than we realize.”

It’s called the Majority Illusion; a few strategically placed posts in social networks can create the impression that everyone you know is interacting with the same brand, making that brand much more desirable to you as well. It’s a unique power in marketing – and one only influencers can deliver.