The Murky World of Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing has been one of the hottest trends in digital marketing of recent years. You’ve probably come across influencers, you may even have been “influenced” by one, but you maybe didn’t realise it… 

Influencers are like people, but they exist inside a hyper-stylised twenty-four hour a day live roleplaying game that takes place in the real world.

Instagram is full of influencers – people who build up large follower counts and then charge brands to feature their products in a positive light in their social media.

The first thing to understand is that influencer marketing is not new. In the 1760s, Josiah Wedgwood and Sons, producers of pottery and chinaware, used royal endorsements as a marketing device to show value in the company and promote others their product.

In the 1930s, brands pursed athletes for endorsements. By the 40s movie stars had begun to replace athletes as the “go to” for endorsements. In the 60s TV stars and entertainers entered the fray… the list goes on.

“People influence people. Nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a trusted friend. A trusted referral influences people more than the best broadcast message. A trusted referral is the Holy Grail of Advertising.” – Mark Zuckerberg

In the 1980s, Nike pinned their colours to the rising star of Michael Jordan, and if I recall correctly pretty much every child of the 80s wanted a pair of Nike Air Jordans. They had air in the sole of the shoe. It made walking like flying. Kids today just don’t understand…

The point is that today we’ve reached a point where you don’t need to be an athlete, movie star, TV star, or have air in the soles of your shoes to be a celebrity. Social media has very conveniently quantified our exact level of influence by counting our “friends” and “followers” and a system now exists where anyone can be a celebrity.

This has led to the explosion of “influencer marketing” – which is just another way of saying “endorsements”.

Bad Influence

So, getting an influencer to recommend your product is good, right?

Short answer – yes. Long answer – yes, if you do it properly.

Unfortunately, influencer marketing has a very murky side: YouTube stars who have been less than honest with their followers about why they are recommending a product (prompting new guidelines and a “product placement disclosure tool” to be implemented back in 2016), influencers whose vast follower counts have turned out to be just an endless stream of fake “bots”, and social media superstars who have crashed and burned in epic ways after releasing controversial or offensive content.

It’s not just the “little guys” who get this wrong either – Pepsi’s phenomenally expensive Kendal Jenner advert which was such a political misstep that it was pulled completely little more than 24 hours after being released in the face of public outcry online. Turns out, there are some ideas that are so bad even a Kardashian can’t salvage them.

The internet is fickle. 

A good influencer, someone who truly understands your brand and who buys into it can be transformative for your brand. In this respect, the best influencer marketing is like the best backlinks – it occurs organically. Anything manufactured or bought or engineered into being, especially anything that goes against the influencer’s own brand, is going to be less effective in the long run.

Bottom line: You should be doing everything you can to get your product in front of the most influential people in your industry, niche, or sector. 

Great influencer marketing isn’t paying influencers to endorse your brand – it’s winning the influencer the way you win a customer; with great content, great products, and great service.

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