Nearly a decade ago, I had a boss who was skeptical about social media. His first tweet went something like…
“Trying out this Twitter thing”
His second tweet read…
“I don’t get it. It’s a fad”
Fast forward to present time—Facebook alone looks to be the second coming of Google and billions of dollars are being made and funneled through social media in some form.
I believe we’re at a similar point with what’s presently known as “Influencer Marketing”. Consider some recent media coverage on the topic:
Digiday: Confessions of a social media exec on influencer marketing: ‘We threw too much money at them’
“Influencer” is the biggest buzzword of the moment. An entire ecosystem has evolved around these social media stars, but there are cracks in the foundation. The relationship between brands, agencies and influencers is starting to get rocky.”
Gawker: “Influencer” Is a Fake Job
“For years, “brands” have been paying “ordinary” “people” to “mention” their products in meaningless, easily ignored social media posts. This is called “influencer marketing,” and it’s collapsing.”
To be fair—some healthy criticism and skepticism is needed in this space. Not unlike the early days of social media—it’s being heralded as a savior to marketers (it’s not) and many mistakes have been made. So, approaching this space with some skepticism is not a bad thing. That said—it isn’t going away and we’re in the early days of brands just getting their heads around this space and finding the right ways to integrate working with so called “influencers” as PART of their marketing mix. First—we need to totally re-think the concept around “Influencers”. Let’s call them what they really are as there are two ways to work with them in a marketing context:
Not all “influencers” are creators. Creators are the internet stars and darlings who are actually CREATING high quality, original content that their audiences are subscribing to. Audiences in the millions often times. We’re talking high quality content that people tune into again and again to consume and share. They’ve built fan bases based on both their personalities combined with the CONTENT they create. They actually MAKE stuff. Consider Hannah Hart (disclaimer, Barilla is an Edelman client) who built an audience of millions on her YouTube Channel, “My Drunk Kitchen”. She influences culture because she helps CREATE it.
These may not be the best original creators of content—but whether it’s because of their personality or deep knowledge in certain areas—they may have their finger on the PULSE of culture and so they help curate an infinite source of information (with personality) into digestible bites for their audiences. People follow them because they separate signal from noise and are often times AMPLIFIERS of culture due to how they operate. These are the taste makers in this space and their currency is how they penetrate culture as opposed to being creators of it.
To be clear, there can be overlap between these two as one can be the other and vice versa. But the takeaway is that you don’t necessarily want a curator creating original content as much as you want them to AMPLIFY it and you shouldn’t rely on Creators as your sole source of DISTRIBUTION.
Change Is Hard: “Influencer Marketing” Poses A Threat
Cultural Influencers—no, let’s call them creators and curators actually pose a threat to a couple of groups in the marketing world and you won’t read about this in a trade article:
Media: Whether it’s a media company or media agencies—creators and curators who have the ability to penetrate and reach audiences are a new form of paid media. This is disruptive as this space is changing rapidly and yet another fragmentation of media dollars means everyone’s job gets tougher as things get more complex and media dollars threaten to be shifted. In short, it’s complicated.
Creative: Once the stars of the advertising world—creatives will be challenged to share the stage with “creators” and instead of building concepts and ideas on their own—the smart ones will figure out how to COLLABORATE with creators as opposed to coming up with a concept and shoving it down the throat of a creator. Creators have carefully cultivated valuable audiences and they are motivated to preserve this. This puts creators and creatives at somewhat odds. In short, let the ego wars commence.
Don’t believe the hype. “Influencer Marketing” may be a terrible name that got off to a bad start. Yes, “influencers” were overpaid and the marketing industry owes itself a big “mea culpa” for not getting it right. But it’s still early days and my belief is that creators and curators are today’s DVRs. Ad blockers don’t get in their way and they have the potential to go DIRECT to audiences brands value. Will they replace traditional marketing?
And neither did social and digital before that. But to write off “Influencer Marketing” as a fad is a foolish game. Brands will figure out how to collaborate with culture creators and harness the distribution of curators. They’ll get these two groups feeding off each other and build them into the core of integrated marketing campaigns from the start. It’s going to mature over time and will become yet another tool in the complex toolbox of marketing, advertising and communications.
So enjoy the great influencer marketing takedown while you can. It makes for a good story.