Death to 'Influencers'
It's time to do away with the term 'influencer' in social marketing and public relations, or always put it in inverted commas as I will do.
Over the past few years, social media 'influencers'—often self-described—have become a marketing and public relations panacea. 'Influencer' strategies are apparently replacing traditional advertising. According to Aaron Gottlieb in Digiday: "An increasing number of brands are going straight to Instagram stars and social stars on other platforms to make creative, cutting their agencies out of the process."
It is easy to see why. As I wrote in an earlier post, 'influencers' appear to be "a gateway to audiences that businesses, governments and nonprofits want to reach." Research suggests that "influencer marketing delivers 11 times higher ROI than traditional brand marketing."
But Instagram and social "stars" with whom . . . and to do what? Who can influence people is sector and purpose specific. This definition from Influencer Analysis puts the emphasis where it should:
An influencer is an individual who has above-average impact on a specific niche process.
In other words, there is no definitive list of 'influencers', even within a specific niche market (e.g. fitness or municipal politics). The idea that you can compile such a list is reductive, sloppy and lazy. It derives from the same belief that a celebrity is influential simply because they have broad name recognition. (If they were so influential, Trump wouldn't be U.S. president today since some of the biggest names in film and music denounced him as the dangerous fool he is.)
Of the 25 so-called 'influencers' in this article, for example, there is not one who could help a Canadian marketing organization target physicians with a new drug, a solar energy company trying to reach municipal politicians or a national trade association mounting a campaign to change a piece of legislation.
Doing an 'Influencer'-Driven Campaign Right
We're not talking learning to code in C++ here. Good elemental primers have been written to guide any canny marketer or political campaign strategist, chief among them Sam Fiorella and Danny Brown's Influence Marketing. Whether in national or local politics, fashion, fitness, food or pharmaceuticals there are four steps to getting this type of public relations or marketing program right:
You start by analyzing and defining clearly and without prejudicial suppositions the audience you need to reach, and the behaviour or attitude you want to change.
You research the individual or individuals who have 'above-average impact' on the constituency, consumers or audience whose buying or voting behaviour you're looking to revise . Nine times out of ten it will be neither a celebrity, a YouTube 'creator', someone who puts 'influencer' in their Twitter profile or a small time fashion blogger with a large ego.
You assess the alignment between the content and quality of the person's social web posts, images or videos with your campaign's theme, elements, policies and stratagems.
You reach out personally and individually to establish a business relationship with the person in the same way you would with a journalist . . . except you need to be prepared to pay. But, remember, hold them to account; they're not as essential to your success as they sometimes think. And should the contact become difficult or the 'influencer' overbearing in his or her demands, dump them. There are always campaign alternatives.
So, I ask: Could we find a way to stop using the word 'influencer'? Maybe social 'bellwether' would be better since in many cases that's all these social web makers are—more or less useful guides to what SOME audiences are thinking and occasionally care about. It's a bit of an obtuse reference, but if it helps me to dwell on this from poet Munia Khan: “In a world of selfie-addiction smile usually is the brand name for an essential drug called pretense.”