AdAge reporter, Kristy Sammis, recently wrote an article that sums up how I’ve felt about the whole influencer thing for years.
No need to pay big-time influencers gobs of money to broadcast your products and services when you can target “micro-influencers” to do the heavy lifting instead–for far less, if any, money.
The last couple years have seen the whole influencer marketing thing spiral completely out of control. Companies are routinely paying these influencers tens of thousands of dollars for a single Instagram post. Or, a Snapchat story. Or, a handful of tweets.
It’s ridiculous. It’s always been ridiculous.
Sure, it’s worked in spots. But, by and large, this has been one big bandwagon-jumping operation from the outset. A few big brands started “activating influencers” and the next thing we knew, everyone was doing it.
And yes, I know you could substitute “celebrity” for “influencer” and it’s really no different from what brands have been doing for years. I get that. And, like I said, in spots, it works.
But, when I think of how companies can utilize influencers, I gravitate toward more of a grassroots effort using these “micro-influencers.” Here’s why:
I worked with one client a couple years ago that was targeting “cat influencers” as part of their work. Not the people who OWN the cats, the ACTUAL CATS. Yeah, this is a thing. And, these cats were commanding a lot more money per post than you might think. To the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. Now, these cats did have large Instagram and other social media followings. But, did they really “influence” anyone? Did they really change buying behavior? Maybe. Maybe not. But, for the price tag they were commanding, I’d like to be a bit more sure of that than “Maybe. Maybe not.” Remember, less money spent on influencers means less risk and more opportunity to exceed expectations.
One of the primary hurdles with these big-time influencers is trust. Sure, they have the reach and massive followings many brands are looking for. But, do people actually trust them? I would argue “no.” And, on the flip side, I would argue people trust “micro influencers” much more. According to the recent Edelman Trust Barometer, more people are trusting “someone like them” than ever before. Those are your micro-influencers! These are people with 1,000 Instagram followers–not 100,000. These are folks with maybe 750 friends on Facebook–not a celebrity influencer with 400,000 people “following” them. These folks earn trust every day because they’re not making 15 sponsored posts–they’re just talking about their days and what they like and what they find interesting.
If you do decide to target these big-time influencers, think about the process of approaching them. It’s kinda like targeting a reporter at the New York Times. They get pitched ALL THE TIME, right? They’re getting approach by huge, Fortune 500 brands every day throwing tons of money at them. How much chance do you have of getting their attention? I think that’s a big challenge right from the outset. On the flip side, micro influencers are rarely approached by anyone, yet they cost far less (if anything) and have more trust than celebrity influencers. Makes too much sense, right?
Remember mom bloggers? They still exist, of course. But, way back (7-8 years ago), they were a huge force on the Internet. They developed content that resonated with other moms. Moms read their stuff all the time. Then, they started to appear on marketer’s radars as a tool to reach other moms (a coveted audience). And, the outreach and partnerships started. Then, mom bloggers started running sponsored posts–a lot. And, those posts that resonated with moms so much seemed to dry up. Their blogs turned into one big series of sponsored posts. And, they lacked passion. On the flip side, micro influencers are oozing passion. Because no one’s paying them to talk about anything. They’re just posting about and taking pics about the things they really care about in their lives (food, hobbies, family, etc.). Target the uber-influencers? You’re bound to get someone who will simply go through the motions for your brand. Target micro-influencers? You’re bound to get someone who will be a little more excited and not quite as jaded by the whole influencer marketing world.
photo credit: PAN Photo Agency Kim Kardashian with sisters and husband Kanye West visited Armenian Genocide memorial Tsitsernakaberd via photopin (license)
Traackr recently released a study named “Influence 2.0–the Future of Influencer Marketing.”
I was curious, so I downloaded the full report and checked it out. But, I also take these types of studies with a very small grain of salt. After all, Traackr is a IRM (influencer relationship marketing) platform. It benefits by sharing data that reinforces the fact that many companies are spending more on IRM, but might not understand the process as well.
While much has already been written about this report, I have yet to see anyone tackle what I thought was THE big topic within the report: Who OWNS influencer relationship marketing.
Sure, the spend data is interesting (although, again, self-serving).
Sure, the maturity data has some merit.
And, actually, the data on goals of IM was pretty interesting.
But, the stats on who OWNS IM–that, to me, was the real nugget of the entire report.
And, it should upset every PR counselor out there.
Why? Because when asked who owns IM, a full 70 PERCENT said “digital marketing.”
You know how many said “PR?” 16 percent.
Because at its core, IM is really all about relationships and content–two topics PR folks should know much more about than their marketing counterparts. In fact, 5-7 years ago, this whole thing was called “Blogger Relations” or “Blogger Outreach”, before “influencers” were even a thing.
Nowadays, IM is big business (hence the Traackr study). And, that’s why digital marketing took over, which should surprise no one who’s worked in the PR field for more than a cup of coffee.
But that doesn’t make it right.
I believe PR, wholeheartedly, should own IM. Three big reasons why:
1: Influencer marketing skill sets are more attuned to PR folks
Like I said up top, influencer marketing is about two things: content and relationships. These are not skills marketers, in general, excel at. In theory, PR people should be much stronger here. Why? Because we’re trained to cultivate relationships–just like they have with journalists with years. And, in their hearts, PR folks are storytellers. They know how to spin a yarn or two. Marketers? Not so much. Their skill sets, generally, are more analytical. Skill set-wise, this should be a slam dunk. Yet, to date, it hasn’t.
2: Marketers have (always had) a different focus
A marketer’s job is all about the 4 Ps–product, pricing, place and promotion. And it’s that last one that worries me from an influencer marketing perspective. A marketer is always going to think “promotion” when dealing with an influencer. But, that scope is far too narrow. Effective influencer marketing involves nuance. It involves working with the influencer to tell a story TOGETHER. Not to instruct them to help you promote your product. PRs, on the other hand, have a completely different focus. Their MO is more centered on messaging. On storytelling. Again, just more suited to influencer marketing.
3: PR just has flat-out more experience
Not to beat a dead horse, but again, influencer marketing is very similar to media relations. No, they’re not exactly the same–obviously. But, the approach you take with an influencer is pretty close to the way you approach a journalist (even in today’s climate where many influencers are paid). At first, you just try to establish contact. Then, you work to get to know the journalist/influencer–find out what they write/post about. Who their audience is. Then, you make the pitch–and again, it’s a pitch built around co-producing content, not simply promoting. You follow-up. You keep that relationship going. All that work screams PR–not marketing (who typically see the world as a series of “campaigns”). PR folks have years of experience in this area. Why not leverage that? Why let a discipline that has virtually no experience doing this kind of thing completely take the lead? That really doesn’t make any sense to me.
Note: Images courtesy of Traackr. Download the full report here (Disclaimer: I was not paid by Traackr or its affiliates to write this article)
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.
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.
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.
Last week, I had a brainstorm with a new client about influencer outreach.
As we mapped out our approach, we considered folks who might be “influencers” in the niche we were targeting (for purposes of this post, let’s just assume we’re talking about the music industry).
Who are the music bloggers in town?
Who attends concerts regularly and tweets/records/Instagrams? (Hello Kyle Matteson!)
What media are talking about music?
The basic, run-of-the-mill-type questions (by the way, these women up top here? I have no idea who they are. But, don’t they just look like influencers!).
Then, we stopped and thought: Wait, why are we limiting this to just “music influencers?” After all, just because you don’t have a blog or work in the media, doesn’t mean you’re not an “influencer” of behavior in a certain sector.
So, we widened our search and started thinking about people who were socially active, but also that had shown a solid interest in music. And, those who interacted often with our target audience.
Then we thought–why does it have to be an “A-list” influencer? What about “B-list” influencers (i.e., everyday people)? What about the next level down? Don’t those people still have influence? Just because they have 2,000 Instagram followers instead of 50,000 doesn’t mean they’re not influencing purchase behavior.
And, who’s to say the person with 50,000 followers is influencing the people you want (as a brand) and in the states/country you want (remember these follower counts don’t discriminate)?
We started thinking differently about our list.
We started thinking about approaching those regular people who talked about music from time to time.
Sure, we’ll still go after some of those media and blogger-types. But, maybe not as many.
Maybe we’ll go after these everyday influencers instead?
Why does this make sense? Think about it.
* The everyday influencers aren’t getting pitched as much–if at all. A thoughtful pitch will go a LONG ways.
* Their influence might be even more genuine and lead to more lasting brand relationships.
* Since they’re not getting pitched as often, and not doing hundreds of sponsored posts each month, people may actually trust them! (have you SEEN a lifestyle blogger’s blog lately?)
* If we were to go down the sponsored post/influencer route, we may not have to pay as much as we would to the A-list group (who again, may not have the trust you think because of all the sponsored stuff they’re currently doing). In fact, depending on the “ask”, we may not have to pay anything at all.
Makes too much sense, right?
Yeah, maybe we’ll probably just pay some mom blogger $25,000 to promote our concert instead.
photo credit: LE WEB PARIS 2013 – EVENT – WOMEN INFLUENCERS DINNER via photopin (license)