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Published October 17th 2014

160,000 Stars in the World: Discussing the Power of Influencers

“There are 160,000 stars in the world.”

This was one of the intriguing notions offered on last Saturday’s Radio 4 programme ‘The Bottom Line’.

The subject? How social media is creating new dynamics between brands, celebrities, and the consumer. The guests were Edwina Dunn, the CEO of Starcount; Dominic Burch, senior director of marketing innovation at Asda, and Robin Grant, co-founder of We Are Social.

It was an interesting discussion, carrying a welcome blend of common sense and inspiration. In this post, I outline some highlights that particularly resonated.

The new dynamic between brand and customers

Edwina Dunn (who devised the Tesco Clubcard in a previous project) offered a tantalising notion – she said there are 160,000 stars in the world.

She then estimated that on average each person is influenced by 23 of them. In the world of social media, a star can be a musician, a celebrity, a shop, a toothpaste, a perfume, a charity, a politician, a sportsman, a vlogger. It’s all in the combination and associations.


Asda may not have paid for a big star, but they did recently use influencer marketing to their advantage.

They used their Facebook page to ask people to choose a towel design, and soon 4,000 members of the public had got involved in quick and lively fashion. Asda, of course, loved the ripple this caused – each of those 4,000 people have friends who have friends, all connected to some degree in social media.

Right there, in that burst of direct engagement, a supermarket had made a new kind of gesture which can turn consumers into fans.

We’re not in Kansas anymore. This is a new kind of dynamic between brands, customers, and the interested public.

Customers can collaborate in product development

Robin Grant from We Are Social told another story.

Unilever wanted to test the water with their experimental ‘Marmite Extra Strong’ idea. They didn’t want to throw it straight into a high profile TV campaign which would attract verdicts from the professional press.

They instead soft launched the idea to their Facebook fans, who were more than happy to give their opinions.


This shows that customers can be key collaborators in the development of radical and risky ideas and campaigns, and provide a ‘safe’ sounding board for those ideas. On top of this, collaboration can produce willing advocates. Essentially, it’s about levering up a growing number of people who will be your devoted fans – they will even market for you.

People like the brands they like. And, as we all know, social media offers a platform for the expression of brand love and brand loyalty, product disapproval and rejection. It also encourages a kind of holy grail for brands – the unsolicited, natural and honest public expression of public approval for a brand and what it produces.

A soft and natural fan network can develop, even developing from some out-there piece of content a brand put on their social page.

It’s not about selling, it’s about listening

Dunn discussed the challenge and excitement of discovering the ways in which a particular cluster of brands and stars get connected and associated with each other in people’s minds – how and why people who are into X are also into Y and Z.

Deep listening to social media behaviour reveals these patterns of influence.



You begin to find that a particular brand will carry with it a number of others. To put it differently, some brands ride on the coat tails and in the slipstream of others.

Great collateral can come from discovering the subterranean combinations of interests held by people – the ways they link in their minds different brands and people. What do people who like BMWs also like? What is the difference between Tesco shoppers and Whole Foods shoppers in terms of what else they’re into?

The answer was this – it’s not about selling, it’s about listening.

As a provider of listening technology, this of course chimes well with us. If a brand listens to what the public is saying and wanting, then it is taking the first step to utilising social media for the better.

The power of vloggers

Vloggers are members of the public who share their loves and interests, thoughts and views in short, self made videos. They build the kind of intimate trust and loyal following that most brands can only dream of.

Brighton-based blogger Zoella is a great example. She has a large and passionate following. She is, in effect a brand, a star. In her videos she will often talk beauty products, while taking us into her wider world, her likes, passions, culture.


Traditional brands are still trying to understand this new phenomenon.

They quite reasonably wonder how to befriend these new kinds of ‘brands’ that are also people. They’re pondering how to connect up with all those high and low profile public voices on social that speak so honestly about things, about what they like, what moves them.

How can a brand get involved with Zoella and others like her?

Vloggers are trusted because of the very fact that they are members of the public – people ‘just like them’. If they say something is great, it’s because they already buy it and use it. It’s not because they’ve been paid to pretend to like something or be interested in it. Social media is creating a movement from the latter to the former.

Put another way, social media is where consumers can look to people like them for advice and recommendations about stuff. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity for brands that are used to performing outside the world of social media.

Candid, honest, personal

Asda asked Zoella if she would make another one of her videos, just as she’s always done, but this time with a soft link to Asda. Zoella mentions nothing of Asda in the video. She makes cakes, and at the end there’s a link to the recipe.

Here’s the thing. Though money was exchanged, it still represented a break from the usual arrangement in which a brand asks a celebrity to endorse something by acting out and reading a script. There seemed to be a different spirit in the Asda – Zoella dynamic. It appears Asda asked Zoella to simply carry on doing what she had always done, as a member of the public who came to have lots of fans through social media.

So, perhaps these examples can light up something fairly elemental about social.

It lends itself to candidness, to people who talk personally and honestly. The voices travel vast distances to many other people. It’s not about money backed endorsement. People are expressing what they think, what they like, what they need, what they care about, and they’re often doing it as consumers around brands and goods.

I think the programme did a great job shedding light on this social sphere of fair influence, while also touching on what brands are beginning to do in there. Let’s see how it evolves.


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