I'm gonna go out on a limb, and likely ruffle some feathers with this post. But I'm ok with that. You see, one of the things "we" marketers tend to do is find something valuable, give it a name, and exploit the crap out of it. Welcome to "influencer marketing".
This has been the buzzword going around for a good year or so now. Influencer marketing. The ability to target customers based on one key influencer, rather than your own brand messaging or industry advertising.
In practice, it makes perfect sense. You, as a business, reach out to someone your audience respects, and have them promote your product for you. Since their followers trust them, when they say something is good, their audience will eat it up. And, therefore, your sales take a nice boost.
And an influencer can be anyone. Of course, it is often celebrities. And, let's face it, this product placement on celebrities has been going on long before we embraced "influencer" marketing. But, in recent tactics, it's been the not-so-obvious celebrities: the YouTube stars, the blogging stars, the Instagram stars, the Snapchat stars, the Musical.ly stars, and so on. They are the highly niche specific stars who have huge devoted audiences. But, influencers can also be speakers at events or conferences, or experts in a certain field, or they may even be friends and family.
Let's use an example. Say I want to buy a new car (I went through this a while ago). I have a daughter now, and I need something mom-friendly... NOT my super awesome Lexus IS sports car (I still miss that car!). So, who do I turn to? Friends and family who have kids, right? And bloggers and podcasters who have kids. And industry safety reports and other sources to compare what's out there with what I want. Does a commercial on TV impact me? Maybe. But it won't convince me. A friend who swears by her Acura crossover will be extremely important though. Why? I know her and trust her. So, she's an influencer. But, let's say there's a mommy blogger out there who I know and trust and she recently got a new car too. Of course, I'd be interested in what she got, and why. She is also an influencer.
And this is where marketers, brands, and businesses have taken over. We, as a collective, have decided that these people of influence are our new gift horses. And we're manipulating and exploiting them to the point of uselessness.
Kids (and I mean children) are being paid hundreds of dollars to promote a product. Companies are paying bloggers and online stars tens of thousands of dollars to post about their products.
Of course, brands love it because they get highly targeted campaigns, often with huge results, for a fraction of the budget they would spend on "traditional" marketing. And the influencers like it because they can cash in an easy paycheck.
But here's the thing, everyone is screwing everyone over. The "smart" influencers are charging the "not-so-smart" businesses way more than they're worth. And the "smart" businesses are underpaying the "not-so-smart" influencers. When I say "smart" I'm referring to being smart about this practice and value. Everyone is just trying to get theirs. And it's causing a rush of average people to build big, fake, unrealistic audiences to make it look like they're an influencer and worth the high paying prices others are getting paid to promote products.
I'm seriously so over it.
Obviously, LeBron James was paid to be in that car commercial that I don't trust he drives. So was Matthew McConaughey. That we know and expect. But influencer marketing is tricking people into thinking these influencers actually like and use these products.
I actually don't trust many "influencers" any more when they promote a product. I literally got 4 emails in my inbox this week from people in the marketing industry pimping a new product that they "love". Of course, I know they're getting compensated through affiliate programs. And, yes, many of us use this means of income for regular revenue.
But it's becoming so overwhelming that I have just stopped listening or caring.
And that is a big deal. When a trusted brand loses that trust, they lose the value of that customer.
The government and other entities are trying to crack down on this practice and do require now, by law, that you disclose if you are being compensated to promote a product. Facebook has their new branded content policy for verified pages along the same lines. And, while I applaud these tactics to promote transparency, it only further proves how much of this "marketing" is bought and paid for.
Obviously, this practice won't go away anytime soon. In fact, it'll continue to grow. That's obvious.
So, if you are going to embrace this, do it smartly. Be selective about the companies or influencers you partner with. Make sure they align with you and your brand. And don't agree to promote every one that comes your way. That's called a sell-out. Have some respect for your own brand.
To be perfectly honest, yes, I will continue to promote some affiliate programs. What do you know, there's one right over there in the right side bar! And, yes, when I find a new tool or resource that I think will benefit you, I will tell you about it, because I think it's valuable to you. And, if I am ever paid to promote something to you, first I will tell you so, and I promise you it will only be something that I know will benefit you.
What you may not know is that I've turned down dozens of requests to promote blog posts, content, and products. All of those have offered to pay me for my placement of those items but not one of them was quality content that I would put my name behind for free, so I definitely won't do it for compensation.
I honestly hope that you'll think about that whether you're an influencer or a brand looking for an influencer. Please do not jump on this bandwagon because it looks like a cost-beneficial practice to you. The long term repercussions may be more detrimental than you know.