Instagram recently announced a new way companies can reach potential customers: branded content ads. The advertising technique will amplify the already profound effect of influencer marketing, in which content creators advocate for brands on their social media channels. In the case of branded content ads, a company will send sample products to an Instagram user with a large following, who then features the product in a post. The extra layer comes when the company then repurposes the post as an advertisement. It’s the latest development in the brave new world of social media marketing.

Not that it’s new for a company to borrow goodwill by associating with a personality; after all, celebrities have been loaning their coolness capital to brands for decades. But the age of social media has opened up the territory of endorsements to “real people” with engaged followers. So how does a “real person” make strangers care what kind of shoes she’s wearing?


The pursuit of “cool” is a powerful force in forming trends, exciting customers and ultimately steering purchase behaviors. But achieving it is easier said than done. It takes the projection of authenticity, unique identity and effortlessness — it is not cool to look like you’re trying to be cool. Associating with what is established as cool can help; after all, that’s why companies want to be associated with influencers in the first place. Something that looks so simple can be complicated to develop, but in “How to Be Cool,” Professor Lalin Anik lays out a “general theory of coolness” for individuals and organizations.


Making people and companies want to associate with you is one thing, but there’s an even more basic element to becoming a social media influencer: getting on social media. As effortlessly appealing as you may want to look, communicating your personal brand to the world takes discipline and strategy. With “All a Twitter: Tips for Developing Your Social Media Brand,” Professor Kim Whitler shares the steps she took to develop her own brand (and nearly 20,000 followers) using one of the most popular social media platforms for business professionals.


Influencer marketing is a savvy way to engage consumers in a way that feels authentic — even when it’s not necessarily out of the goodness of their hearts or lifelong devotion to a brand. After all, there’s an important distinction within the world of tastemakers: Some get paid to promote products, some do not.

Both types of engagement have value, but in measuring success, marketers need to analyze them separately. So while we use the term “influencer” colloquially, it’s Customer Referral Value we’re looking at when customers promote products with a direct monetary incentive, as is the case with Instagram’s branded content ads. Customer Influence Value is the impact of those influencers who do not receive financial rewards for spreading the word with their social networks. In “Customer Engagement: 4 Types and New Maps,” Professor Raj Venkatesan explains the two and explores other methods for engaging with consumers.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.