Brands’ Next Big Celebrity Deals May Be With Social Media Stars

But how long will they last?

Headshot of Lauren Johnson

Marketers have long been paying social media stars to crank out branded photos, videos and tweets, and now, some of those personalities are gaining celebrity status thanks to their brand affiliations. Newly released data shows that influencers are successfully boosting engagement—and some of these social media mavens may be sticking around for the long haul.

For its December holiday campaign, Dick's Sporting Goods partnered with about a dozen popular social media users to create daily branded content, promoting everything from coats to kayaks. Influencers even posted pics on their own accounts and encouraged fans to follow the retailer on Twitter. Robby Ayala's goofy Vine for Dick's on how to clean a pool while using a GoPro has been played about 1.3 million times.

The holiday campaign generated more than 130,000 clicks to Dick's website, 6.2 million engagements, 27.5 million impressions and 4,000 new Twitter followers.

Given the campaign's success, Dick's is now mulling a year-long effort using the same cast of characters instead of recruiting new faces—the tactic that many brands use when running multiple influencer programs. "It's not just one and done—it is a relationship that we've developed with social media influencers," explained Jay Basnight, director of digital at Dick's.

Lexi Sorrentino played guitar for Old Navy last month.

The idea is similar to employing a digital spokesperson, but with added risk since the popularity of online personalities often only lasts for short bursts of time. "The speed at which these influencers are rising and falling is very quick," said Dan Swartz, svp of interactive marketing and analytics at Upshot.

One brand choosing to mix it up rather than rely on a recurring cast is Old Navy. The retailer recently completed its second influencer program on Vine for the holidays after running a summer campaign.

This time, the retailer enlisted a new crop of 12 Vine influencers for a campaign that gave away prizes for 12 days. Similar to a white elephant gift exchange, the brand uploaded a video every 24 hours revealing the gift of the day. Viners then had to post a video showing themselves either stealing a previous gift from another influencer or keeping the prize of the day.

In total, the campaign generated 6,600 new Vine followers and 84,000 engagements.

Instead of using the same social media stars from the summer campaign, the brand employed new users to steer the content away from resembling paid placements, explained Taylor Bux, director of digital and social at Old Navy. "We don't want to be overtly disruptive, so we're not pushing a commercial message first," he said.

Regardless of how brands decide to work with influencers, naysayers question if these social stars can ultimately move the sales needle—a long-debated topic that's as old as social media itself.

But as the growth of social platforms like Snapchat has shown, spikes in engagement and brand awareness are the top metrics for measuring social.

"Serious marketers get that social goes beyond just measuring impact on direct sales," noted Sean Miller, svp of strategy at Rokkan.

@laurenjohnson Lauren Johnson is a senior technology editor for Adweek, where she specializes in covering mobile, social platforms and emerging tech.