A dog is the unlikely inspiration for an upcoming paper by Andrea Galeotti, Professor of Economics at London Business School. The Italian chihuahua named Miami, whose Instagram feed has 13,600 followers, is one of a growing breed of social influencers. Miami’s claim to fame is as ‘the world’s most travelled dog’, according to Condé Nast Traveller.
What interests an economist such as Professor Galeotti, other than Miami’s quirky yet glamorous photoshoots, is the market he is engaged in as a social influencer.
Miami is not an A-list celebrity but one of hundreds of micro-influencers, a new phenomenon made possible by platforms like Instagram and Facebook. Marketers want to place products with Miami, because his recommendations and endorsements reach followers increasingly missed by traditional media and they can see the engagement in the hundreds of ‘likes’ and reposts.
“In many ways, Miami is a pioneer but in others, what he is doing is one of the oldest economic services – providing personal recommendations,” said Professor Galeotti.
“In the past, a personal recommendation was given face-to-face in your village, then film stars, celebrities and athletes were paid to endorse products. Now, the internet has allowed ordinary individuals to offer advice on a global scale.”
This network of influencers, followers, marketers and policy makers has been little-studied. Professor Galeotti, together with Itay Fainmesser, Assistant Professor of Economics at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, has written a paper ‘The Market for Influence', a first step in setting out its characteristics and parameters in rigorous terms.
How does online influencing work?
In the beginning, social influencers were, in effect, unregulated. They started out by gathering followers through offering entertaining, relevant and useful content; earning their trust. This quickly caught the attention of marketers who, attracted by the follower engagement, would pay to have their products and services plugged on their social media channels. In the early days, followers could not tell if a recommendation was paid or organic (real and unpaid).