Let’s get serious–and honest–about influencer marketing

I recently read a post by popular blogger, podcaster and professor, Mark Schaefer, on influencer marketing. The post was titled “8 Practical Applications for Influence Marketing.”

While I largely agreed with a lot of what Mark had to say in the post (especially #1 and #2 in the list), he made two claims that stopped me in my tracks.

And, they were two claims that are absolutely key to the whole “influencer marketing” discussion.

Cash Money

And, they were two claims that continue to make it very, very difficult for agencies and consultants to have realistic discussions about what influencer marketing is and how it can help your brand.

The claims?

1–Influencer marketing can be a cost-effective means of promotion.

2–Influencer marketing can be, and is, authentic.

Let’s tackle those two claims head on–because, for the most part, I believe they’re both false and misleading.

First, let’s talk about how “cost effective” influencer marketing is. In the post, Mark refers to a partner he interviewed for his book who claims influencer marketing can be “cost effective.” The metric of choice? Cost per thousand.

“Most media campaigns are measured in terms of the cost per thousand impressions,” he said. “When the brand is being mentioned in a tweet, in a Facebook post, in a blog post, video, or comment, there’s great value to that. We are going out to people who have a huge following and a high degree of influence.

Yes, CPM is still a big metric in the marketing world–no question. But, to say there is “great value” there? I think that’s a bit of a stretch. Now, I’m not the COO of a popular social media marketing agency, but I have worked with a lot of big brands on social media strategy and measurement over the years. And CPM has been a metric we’ve tracked in some cases–but I would hardly say it’s a “key metric.” In fact, it’s typically one of the metrics we put the LEAST weight on because it’s so fluffy.

So, to say influencer marketing is “cost effective” based on CPM rates? I’m not buying that. In fact, if anything, I’d say influencer outreach is actually pretty costly. I’ve found it to be the OPPOSITE of what Mark claimed in his post. And, by the way, if I’m a brand that’s considering influencer marketing, I need much more than CPM stats. What about engagement metrics? What about leads? What about site traffic? Those are numbers I’d be more interested in if we’re even going to broach the topic of “cost savings.”

The second claim: Influencer marketing is authentic. In the post, Mark lays out a first-hand case where Dell invited him to “Dell World” to see and learn more about the global computing giant. He mentions that he had a slightly negative view of Dell before the event. And that, by the time the event was finished, Mark had become an advocate and now mentions the company in his speeches, presentations and blog posts (NOTE: Dell sponsors a series of posts on Mark’s blog, which he kinda forgot to mention in his post).

What Mark didn’t really mention here is the paid nature of this relationship. Now, I’m speculating, but I’m going to go ahead and guess that Dell probably paid Mark’s way to Texas to the event. Dell probably put him up in a hotel. Dell probably paid for his food (in fact, they DID pay for his food, as he disclaims in the article).

Do you think this had any impact on Mark changing his mind?

Maybe–maybe not. Over the years, I’ve found Mark to be pretty insightful. Pretty smart. Pretty ethical. So, when he says he “flipped” from a skeptic to an advocate, I have to give Mark the benefit of the doubt.

But Dell also started a paid relationship with Mark the moment they sent him to Dell World (or, if they didn’t pay his way, they started a paid relationship when they started sponsoring content on his blog). And that may have had an impact on his perception and decisions–whether you believe Mark or not (we’ll never know, to be honest).

And that’s what influencer marketing is all about right now.

Pay for play.

Pure and simple.

No one wants to talk about that though.

No one wants to talk about the ASTRONOMICAL and flat-out RIDICULOUS rates influencers are charging brands for an Instagram pic or a Snapchat story.

No one wants to talk about how lifestyle bloggers have bilked corporations of hundreds of thousands (probably millions) of dollars over the last number of years.

No one wants to talk about how this is merely an advertising play now.

You pay an influencer a bunch of cash, and they’ll do whatever you tell them to do.

It’s as simple as that.

That’s where we’re at with influencer marketing (outside of a handful of examples I’ve seen that prove otherwise).

So, people, let’s be honest. Let’s not talk about “cost savings” when it comes to influencer marketing. Let’s not talk about “authentic advocacy.”

Let’s just call it what it is: A paid advertising relationship.

Tell me I’m wrong.

photo credit: Money, Money, Money via photopin (license)

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2 comments on “Let’s get serious–and honest–about influencer marketing

  1. I guess you’re right with the analyse of the first claim. CPM doens’t matter at all – it’s all about the quality and the engagement oft the “M” in CPM.

    But: to engage the desired target audience you have to connect with an influencer who is authentic and who transmits some kind of trust to the followers. In fact the example with DELL isn’t representative. When it comes to influencer marketing we have to talk about lifestyle.
    Within a successful campaign is a huge gap between “paid advertising relationship” and the actual relations. Even we who run a huge database of Instagram influencers have some problems to measure those boundaries in KPI’s.

    I’d like to focus on one statement: The influencer can’t be hired just with cash – he will work for you, when your product fits into the whole concept of his work.

  2. Cherie Gary says:

    Terrific topic for a blog post Arik. You nailed it – I imagine I am not alone in appreciating that you were willing to put in writing what many of us know to be true.

    At the end of the day, “influencer relations” has evolved and become far more complex. While many bloggers are very ethical and work hard to make the relationship mutually beneficial, there is currently a very wide gap between what metrics bloggers can (or are willing) to provide and what brands expect relative to how to measure success of paid marketing initiatives. Even so called “influencer relations” agencies that manage relationships between bloggers and brands are hard pressed to offer metrics beyond vague social impressions and click throughs. The default has become “increasing general awareness” – a metric a
    CMOs who have to justify their spending to the C-Suite and finance departments just don’t get.

    I had a well known blogger say recently that she believed affiliate marketing had its day in the sunshine – – a perspective I’ve come to appreciate. She went on to hypothesize that consumers now realize affiliate links for exactly what they are. Aside from the largest of companies for whom social is a vital communications channel to their customers, many really great brands just aren’t set up with the resources and budget to do custom marketing promotions, individual blogger landing pages, etc. – things that would make it a bit easier to start collecting metrics that CMOs can find value in.

    To be clear, I have zero issue with bloggers ethically working to monetize their work. Many work very hard at their craft. I think it’s time for the PR community and bloggers to put their heads together and come up with some best practices for reporting. Since we’ve all sat through several years of bloggers telling us how powerful their influence is … Maybe it’s time for the PR and marketing community to start sharing insights from our side of the table at their conferences – working title “Bloggers – Help us help bloggers.” We are all in this together.