Ratepayers have helped fund Auckland Transport's $12,000 spend on social media influencers over the past year, a cost that has been labelled a "waste of money" by some.
Influencers like former reality TV star Viarni Bright and Mai FM presenter Lily Taurau have been paid between $1500 and $2500 for their part in a campaign.
Auckland Transport marketing specialist Rob Pitney said payment depended on the individual's "level of fame" and number of followers on social media accounts like Instagram and Facebook.
"Auckland Transport uses 'influencers' as part of our advertising media strategy for a few areas of our business, including AT Metro, cycling and road safety," he said.
AT would often include "an influencer or two" as part of its digital advertising plan for certain campaigns.
The average cost for a post on Instagram or Facebook was $1000.
Although Pitney said influencers were a "very common" marketing tool, not everyone agrees it's money well spent.
Manurewa-Papakura ward councillor Daniel Newman said the best way to market good services was to provide them - and he didn't believe AT was.
"Wasting money on having celebrities say nice things is no substitute for the delivery of a service funded by the commuters of Auckland and the ratepayers of Auckland.
"When you talk to commuters of Auckland they feel projects are not being delivered. They're either delivered late, or very late," Newman said.
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union executive director Jordan Williams agreed it would be better if the money was going toward "improved and more reliable services".
"Why does AT need to waste money building a brand? Bus timetables and communicating changes in services is one thing – but AT is wasting money on 'brand awareness' and social media influencers because it wants to be cool," he said.
AT employed media agencies like Ogilvy and OMD to recommend influencers for a campaign, and would approve the chosen influencer's posts before they went live.
Any influencer employed by AT had to make it clear their post was sponsored - typically including a #sponsored or #collab tag in the caption.
Pitney said influencers enabled AT to reach a younger audience and to frame their messages in an "engaging way".
"In using influencers we are also putting behavioural science into practice, it's a proven fact that people are more likely to respond positively to a message if it is coming from someone they know, admire and/or trust."
Social media is a constant stream of ads disguised as real life, otherwise known as influencing.
Those with the most followers make a living from such posts and more primary school children now want to be influencers than they do doctors, scientists or artists, according to a survey backed by University College London and the OECD.
Pitney pointed out booking a billboard for a month for marketing purposes could cost about $14,000 - making the total spend on influencers comparatively small.
AT has used influencers in its marketing campaigns for about two years.
Wellington City Council has also forked out money on social media influencer Lucy Revill this year, as part of its "planning for growth communications and engagement strategy".
Revill writes The Residents blog, which features free and sponsored content focused on life in Wellington city.
A spokeswoman said the council had employed Revill in the hopes discussion on her platform would help determine Wellingtonians views on accommodating an increasing population.
"We had a particular focus on reaching youth because it is about how we live 30 years from now," she said.
The spokeswoman said Revill's blog was one aspect of a broader campaign, which also involved print, radio and community engagement.
Auckland Council, AT's umbrella organisation, did not use social media influencers, but this could change with future campaigns.
A council spokeswoman said details were being finalised for a Smokefree campaign, which "may include utilisation of local celebrities and or influencers".
Collaboration with influencers was fairly new to central and local Government, tgheir CCOs and linked agencies, but organisations like Auckland Transport and the NZ Police had been paying public figures to promote their services for years.
In 2014, All Black Jerome Kaino started fronting a two-year AT campaign called "Get on board with Jerome".
Auckland Transport reportedly paid Kaino's agent $100,000 for his role in the campaign, which involved promoting public transport and the electronic AT Hop card.
And the police collaborated with former reality TV stars Art Green and Matilda Rice during a recruitment campaign last year.
Officers took the pair on a ride-along and handed over control of the NZ Police Instagram page for the night.
A police spokeswoman said Green and Rice approached the police with an offer to help.
"No payment was involved," she said.
Police also used influencer William Wairua in a recruitment video.
But, it seems influencers might have had their day.
This week American influencer Arii, who has 2.6 million followers, posted that she was unable to sell 36 T-shirts from her clothing brand - the number required by the company producing the product before they would do a wider run.
Josh Ostrovsky, aka the Fat Jewish, who has 10m followers, last year said the end was nigh and people needed to have more of an entrepreneurial spirit.
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