I despise the term.
Not only because it’s a marketing concept where brands profit off an individuals ability to persuade others, but because many of the social media stars that pass as “influencers” don’t have as much influence as you may think.
Now there’s an irony in all of this: as the head honcho of Eco Warrior Princess, some people would consider me an influencer.
Reducing my communication skills to that of an influencer is ill-advised. Be warned those of you who wish to work with me.
Anyway, being on both sides of the coins lends itself to lots of learning lessons within the digital marketing space. Here’s what you need to know about influencer marketing that you’re often not told.
Lesson #1 – Large following doesn’t always mean influence.
It really doesn’t.
Large numbers give the illusion of influence and power, but it’s just that – an illusion. It’s all a perception.
Here’s a recent story that illustrates this point:
During a phone call with the head of marketing at an Australian eco-friendly brand, we got to talking about influencer marketing. The marketer explained that he was actually wary of people who called themselves “influencers” as he had some real insight into the industry – because on paper, his fashionable sister would be considered an “influencer”. He explained that she has in excess of 70K followers on Instagram and gets hundreds, if not thousands of likes on every image she posts.
Now it was at this point in the story where it got more interesting.
This particular marketer explained that his sister’s Instagram account is then “discovered” by a digital talent agency who signs her up as a “digital talent”. For every marketing campaign she is engaged to do, the agency takes a small commission. So they promote her as an influencer to many brands.
After a few paid marketing campaigns, they discover a major problem.
Despite having an enviable following on Instagram, and posting beautifully styled images, the influencer cannot convert her “influence” into sales. Dismal conversions. No sales. Nothing. Zilch. Nada.
When the agency analysed the data further, they realised that the influencer’s followers were mostly men. Men don’t purchase women’s fashion, as we know. What we do know is that men like to ogle beautiful women. That’s what was happening on her Instagram account.
The marketer (who shall remain nameless) explained to me that he learned a valuable lesson. That likes and follows doesn’t necessarily mean true influence. And this has helped him in his work when liaising with bloggers and influencers who come with a huge price tag. He wonders: are they really worth it?
Lesson #2 – Some influencers pay for followers and likes.
Totally unethical but is happening more and more. Social media stars, in an effort to seem more popular than they actually are, are buying followers. Unfortunately it’s a vicious appalling cycle: buying “influence” gets you noticed as an influencer.
Paying a sum of money in exchange for fake followers and likes is becoming increasingly normal. Here’s an email I received a couple of months ago that proves this point:
And it’s not just bloggers and social media stars who are buying fans. Businesses are getting in on this awful activity also. When I read the Mumbrella article “How our fake business won a Customer Service award” I was left speechless and more suspicious of influencer marketing than ever before. Our capitalistic society has created this “winning at any cost” mentality and people don’t think twice about their unethical activities. In a recent online conversation, a mindful female entrepreneur admitted to me that she had actually considered purchasing Instagram followers because she’d been feeling the pressure to look more legitimate. Even conscious individuals are getting tempted.
So how do you know if someone has legitimate followers or not? Just read their social media posts and check out how engaged their followers are. An influencer with real influence often has comments that are more than just one or two words. They often have a tribe of people who leave thoughtful comments on Instagram, on their blog, on Facebook. My other recommendation is to get to know the influencer in question if you’re looking to engage their services. An influencer who is led by ethics will have strong feelings about this topic and will make it known. You will work out quickly if they are the real deal or completely fake.
Lesson #3 – Real influencers are picky about the brands they work with.
Real influencers are people who have amassed a large online following because they are human, they are genuine, they are real. Their message resonates with many people. And as a result of connecting with so many people, influencers become increasingly busy.
Marketers, publicity officers, and brands need to remember this. Real influencers aren’t at the beck and call of brands. In fact, real influencers just go about creating and doing “their thing” and are often highly discerning about the brands they work with.
True influencers care about their followers and they care about the message they are spreading. They prefer to align themselves with brands who are on the same page in terms of values and purpose.
Influencers know that brands want to work with them to get access to their followers. Let’s get real, if you’re a brand, that’s the only reason you’re interested in collaborating with an influencer, right? Influencers know this so most will charge for their time and efforts in promoting a brand to their community. Some genuine influencers will work for free, but this is rare. They are extremely time poor.
So if you’re looking to work with an influencer, make sure to compensate them. If you’re looking to obtain a commercial benefit from their “influence” but refuse to compensate them for it, you will be in their bad books quicker than you can say you’re sorry. Remember that a real influencer has usually worked hard to build up their own personal brand and community – through blogging, vlogging, interviewing, podcasting, writing, speaking or devoting amounts of time in other activities.
And seriously, if you wouldn’t work for free, why would you expect them to?
Now over to you. Have you attempted influencer marketing? Has it been a frustrating experience or a positive one? Feel free to leave a comment below.
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