“Buy this IPO” this unimaginative tweet is followed by an even more stock #hashtag. This comes from someone who my good instincts tell me doesn’t look like a person remotely interested in the stock market. Minutes later, I’m meters down scrolling through the Twitter feed of said person donning a display photo of questionable authenticity. The IPO tweets are intertwined with over enthusiastic lipstick reviews, followed by retweets of a contest by a home interiors brand, all in a span of a few hours.
Welcome to influencer marketing.
There was a time when companies, big or small, had to cough up big bucks to get their share of advertising and media love. Ads in newspapers, hoardings, TV spots, and then internet banners were the order of the day. However, every brand craved for extra attention that a celebrity endorsing your product brought in, irrespective of how inane the ads were, or how ineffective a totally unrelated celebrity looked holding your product and giving the most “i was paid to do this” smile.
Times, they haven’t changed much. The medium has. The boom in social media has spawned a new legion of “micro celebs” in the form of Twitter and Instagram users with multi thousand followers, popular people with as many friends, bloggers. So instead of putting all their eggs in one big celebrity’s basket, the brands are now spreading the market budget thin by having multiple ‘micro celebs’ do the branding.
And fair enough. What better than people like you and me, talking about a product amongst our peers, and social groups. The effect is a branding message that’s relatable, evokes a “Oh I can try it too”, and a lot more than cost‐effective than a big celebrity paying lip service to a product you know for certain they do not personally use. (I refuse to believe that Aishwarya Rai uses the same shampoo I do.)
However there’s one problem. If the only point of influence the social called influencers have is doing multiple promotions by various brands and various verticals, what exactly are they influential on? The underlying principle behind influencer marketing was so that people who were an expert on a certain matter, or were influential amongst a group of people in said matter, could talk about a product intelligently and rewarding them for it.
However, follow a paid hashtag today, and you will find the same influencers holding forth as garrulously about a shampoo as for the latest phone in the market as well as the earlier mentioned IPO. Unless you’re a person with silkiest hair who’s also a tech guru to whom tech expertise means more than knowing the Android model of the phone, who also trades in stock for a living, I refuse to buy your authority, to justify an “influencer” tag. In fact chances are, I would straight off ignore everything by a self‐proclaimed influencer who does paid promotions too often, since I know that most of it is likely to be sponsored. (Even if it’s not.)
I noticed the same gaps with a popular blogger monetization program where bloggers are listed according to their blog popularity. What are the components of this popularity I wonder. Facebook fans, Twitter followers, and domain authority. Fair enough, but wait, what about the actual influence in travel per se? I was aghast to see that people who have traveled to like, 3 cities other than their own claim to be “popular travel bloggers”, based on a blog, full of sponsored travel posts!
This is a vicious circle. While it’s worth wondering about where one gets their first paid assignment without having built a credibility in a particular topic, the more sponsored posts you do, the more you seem to get.
All this is not to discount the legitimacy of influencer marketing. On the contrary, I think influencer marketing can work wonders. If done right. As someone who has managed influencer marketing for a brand, I prefer people that know they are talking about, have demonstrated a clear passion, deep interest or expertise in the said product and preferably use their social media or blog as medium for talking about it organically. I’d prefer the actual influence on a certain topic over number of fans and followers. Give me a chef or even a foodie doing sponsored tweets or blog posts on a new cooking equipment anyday, over a twitter “celebrity” doing paid promotions, only because of the fact that they have the number of followers they do, which some snooping could reveal to be fake .
Actually I did look at the accounts of a couple of Twitter accounts that seem to be doing sponsored promotions by the dozens. One of them has over a 100k fans on Facebook and as many followers on Twitter. Curiously, a lot of great pages who painstakingly produce great content, and employ some growth marketing hacks to promote it, still have fewer followers and fans than said person. Why’s a series of sponsored, hashtag filled posts interesting to a 100k people, is a question worth pondering about.