Joanna Wiebe has this great formula for writing compelling posts. As she puts it, “pick a fight.” Well, there’s been a battle brewing between me and one marketing idea for a very long time: Influencer marketing. It’s hotter than a June bug in July right now. Everyone’s talking about it, and almost everyone’s doing it.
The idea behind influencer marketing isn’t a bad one altogether.
Some have described it as “the opposite of authority marketing” – instead of you being the one drawing people in with your charm and expertise, you’re instead courting others who have already built up their authorities in your niche (or related niche) and asking them to introduce you to their audiences (preferably with a glowing review, or an anchor-text heavy guest post).
A more succinct definition from VisionCritical: Influencer marketing is the practice of “engaging and partnering with people deemed to have online clout.” Bloggers, internet personalities, celebrities and industry experts are all fair game.
“Companies expect that influencer marketing will drive sales because bloggers are able to expose the brand to a captive audience and increase brand awareness.” – Elspeth Shek, “Influencer marketing’s big, bad problem, and what companies can do about it,” VisionCritical
So, best case scenario: Your influencer has a large, highly engaged, niche-specific audience that will listen to *anything* s/he says, and buy whatever s/he recommends.
Some influencers have that much power. If you’re a new perfumer and you get Dita Von Teese’s public endorsement? You’ve got it made in the shade. Why? Because her audience is devoted to the point of being fanatical, and she has won their trust through her own integrity of only supporting brands (and scents) she genuinely loves.
But, most influencers don’t have that much sway. They may have large followings, but maybe half are active, and the other half are “lurkers” (and at least one technology researcher and strategist, Alexandra Samuel, contends that “lurkers” are not only less likely to comment and engage, but also less likely to follow recommendations).
Still, the potential benefits of winning an influencer over to your cause are big, juicy, and understandably tempting, spawning a million-and-one articles about how to do influencer marketing. This article isn’t one of them.
This article is about whether you should use influencer marketing at all, and if you do, how you can benefit other people in addition to your brand. Yes, I could have titled this article “How you can use influencer marketing to make the world a better place,” but I’m not running for Miss America anytime soon.
Big Picture: How Ethical – not to mention effective – is Influencer Marketing?
“The voice of the customer has always been one of the most powerful concepts in marketing, and today’s social media platforms act as one giant megaphone for that voice.” – Kyle Wong, “The Explosive Growth of Influence Marketing and What it Means for You,” Forbes
The theory is that by choosing the right influencers with whom to partner, you’ll get an all-access pass into the minds and hearts of their audience (who is also your target audience). But first, you have to choose your influencer, and there’s a scientific approach to this called “influencer targeting.”
According to Forbes, the winning influencer targeting equation is:
“Influencer = Audience Reach (# of followers) X Brand Affinity (expertise and credibility) X Strength of Relationship with Followers”
I’ve written about The Problem with Influencer Marketing before. My biggest beef is that because of the way influencers are chosen, only the voices that are already the loudest get amplified. Brands who pick influencers based solely on numbers ensure the people who already dominate the conversations continue to do so.
This is problematic when, as I found:
Of the “50 Online Marketing Influencers to Watch in 2016,” published by Entrepreneur magazine, you’ll find that:
74% are male
86% are white
This isn’t only an issue of diversity in sex and ethnicity; it’s an issue of differentiation. When the same voices are retweeted by every brand’s social media, every brand starts to sound the same. And that means that, pretty soon, your brand’s social media will have all the impact of white noise. (Get it? White noise? Ha!)
But what if brands chose their influencers differently, and with a weather eye towards diversity?
What if we could change the way brands and influencers and audiences interact altogether?
Mirror, mirror on the wall – who’s the cloutiest of them all?
My theory: Truly effective and impactful influencer marketing can only be built on a foundation of trust, mutual respect, and mutual benefit. And, if you’re building your influencer “network” based on a formula, rather than making genuine person-to-person connections, you won’t have that.
Here are my new and improved formulas for your consideration:
The only kind of brand/influencer relationship that works in the long-term is one that is not just mutually beneficial, but mutually supportive. I’d like to see brands, marketers and entrepreneurs create circles of authentic relationships that support each other – which is actually far easier than cold-Tweeting influencers with variations on “Hey, can I use you to sell our product to your audience? KThanks!”
In short, Building trust with influencers requires not having the attitude of “What can you do for me?”
Let me share with you one of the nicer requests I’ve received. She starts out great, with lots of compliments (compliments will get you almost anywhere), but her message missed a vital component. Can you guess what it is?
I’ve read your article on “Truly Awesome Tactics to Gain Traffic from Twitter” on Moz and found it very interesting and inspiring.
I especially like your point about storytelling and writing clickbait headlines.
We operate in the Tech/Business space as well, so I’m sure we’ll be able to collaborate.
We’re currently looking to increase our brand awareness, and I really like the quality of your article, I thought I’d reach out to you personally. Do you think it would be possible to mention [company] on one of your articles on Moz?
We’re a business software directory specializing in the software reviews and deals. You can check out blog to get an idea about the type of topics we cover, here.
I’d be happy to hop on a call for a quick introduction.
Thank you so much in advance!
Honestly, I get so many similar requests that my responses have become downright terse.
Hi [Marketer], thanks for reaching out, but that doesn’t really sound like a collaboration, and I can’t think of any articles that I’m writing soon for Moz in which “software reviews and deals” fit.
Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré
I love to collaborate with great brands, but let’s check that dictionary definition: “to work jointly on an activity, especially to produce or create something. Synonyms: Join forces, band together, ally.”
Essentially, help each other. This marketer had a firm grasp on how I could help her, but had nothing more meaningful to offer me that a little sweet talk. I like compliments as much as the next human being, but c’mon. And I’m not talking about financial remuneration, though offers are always appreciated. I’m much more interested in forming real partnerships with genuinely good, customer-centric businesses.
And that typically doesn’t result from an unsolicited private message from a marketing department.
Yet this is what influencer marketing encourages: People reach out to influencers without building real relationships, without any real connection, and asking for a one-way exchange.
“The best way to approach someone in demand is to not approach them! In general, this feels like a shortcut, but it’s not. The opportunity is to create your own sphere of influence, curate your own content, lead your own tribe… it might take longer, but it doesn’t put you at the mercy of the delete key.” – Seth Godin
What I would like to see instead is this:
Brands increasing their brand awareness the right way, by practicing customer success, creating delight, and building an army of brand advocates who will spread the message for them.
Essentially, we’re turning the idea of an influencer on its head.
Instead of reaching out to an established “influencer” – brands can make their own through empowering their most enthusiastic users. Then it’s not based on numbers; it’s based on passion, existing trust, and an existing relationship that will only continue to strengthen and grow.
And if you must have influencers, I recommend this:
- Choose people based on who you, personally, would love to get to know;
- Look for voices that are outside of the mainstream (but who still have passionate, engaged audiences);
- And forge a genuine relationship with them.
Their audience and yours will respond far more positively to authentic relationship-building than a clearly transactional plug. Trust me on this.