Social Media Influencers are the cheap and hip alternative to expensive advertising campaigns and cumbersome media relations strategies. Right?
Then the invoice from the Influencer Agent arrives, including the fee for that picture of the social media star holding your precious product in her hands accompanied by a @yourcompany, a lot of emojis and the infamous #sponsored hashtag.
The bills accumulate while the ROI comprises 34 comments about the social media star’s hair, sneakers, the location in the background or something that happened to their partner … and only three comments about your product.
Is it possible to be loved by influencers without spending a penny?
How it all went horribly wrong
The price tag is simple: This many pounds or dollars for an Instagrammer with that many followers. Just ask your media agency – they know all about calculating ‘reach’.
Recently, colleagues in London complained that the cost of this ‘influencer-thing’ is running out of control. In the Nordics, we are not far behind, as a dozen or so Instagrammers earn the same as university professors for a couple of posts with the customary ornaments: #iadoreyourproduct #sponsored #advertising.
As a marketeer, does this sit comfortably with you? Have you been talking to a 16-20 year old with money to spend recently? Reality is that they don’t love your product as much as they love their stars’ ability to hoover up your budget. They understand the transaction perfectly and admire their idols for their ability to get into your wallet: “No way, you got Ford to give you a car?” Hint: They teach it in schools these days.
Yet you continue to fall for it because you think that social media is a numbers game – more about online marketing than relationship building. But true love is never about numbers.
Why are influencers so attractive to marketing people and the brands they represent? The answer is Reach, Cost and Recommendation.
The overwhelming reach of social media influencers is indisputable – reflecting the behaviour of the younger audiences in particular. One example from Denmark is Kristine Sloth. She is a typical18-year-old girl with +350.000 followers on YouTube and Instagram. To put this into context, that means that she is able to influence around 80-90 percent of all Danish teenage girls. Imagine a lifestyle magazine, TV show or website that could claim to do the same? Even a b-list influencer easily outplays major publications when it comes to reach.
The cost of engaging with influences used to be reasonable but this is now escalating with help from social influencer star agencies. Oh, and you. Yet in spite of this, you can still use the ‘cost per view and interaction’ to justify your choices and nicely demonstrate the success of the entire account to you client or manager.
And finally, you get a recommendation of your product. Just like when the Hollywood stars in the 50s and 60s recommended a product: Celebrity endorsement. Except for the fact that today, agencies and brands are participating in creating the stars ourselves, and there is little visible loyalty between stars and products. Today’s media and marketing savvy audience knows very well that the endorsement is closely connected to cash. Tomorrow, that star’s light will shine on someone else.
An ingenious influencer marketing agency from California called Mediakix recently created two fake Instagram accounts. One fashion influencer and one travel influencer, both female millennials. populated the accounts with their own content (a one-day photoshoot) and stock photos, with fake followers, purchased comments and likes.
In a short space of time, both accounts were offered sponsored brand deals from large companies.
Although this was merely a fun yet enlightening social experiment, the story demonstrates the lure of the automatized and numeric online marketing thinking that has fascinated marketeers for the past decade.
The experiment should, however, be taken as a warning sign. Soon, this predictable loop will leave us all feeling jaded: Consumers, influencers and marketeers alike.
How we can get back together again
Real influence is, and has always been, about authenticity and identification. In the good old days, it was simply called word-of-mouth – perhaps the most powerful tool in the entire marketing mix both then and now.
A genuine, personal recommendation is what we should be looking for – or revert to – in our interaction with influencers. That moment when you ask an experienced runner who you admire about which trainers to buy. When you ask your teenage nephew about smartphones, or seek your globetrotter sister’s advice about where to holiday next.
We’re looking for the very basics of shared and authentic enthusiasm, and the true stories that go with it.
Those who think that all Influencers need is money, are missing the point. Their most valuable currency is ‘relevance’. If they lose relevance with the audience, their stardom, influence and income will soon disappear too. In that context, you might actually be able to offer them something more valuable than cash or products: You can give them a great story to tell.
Do you think you have a cool product? Wrong! Think of it as a ‘relevant’ product. Help Influencers engage with their audience through what your brand has to offer. We can not be certain that they’ll love it. But if they love it, at least it will be true love.
Here are our five pieces of advice on how to approach social media influencers to build healthy and lasting relationships.
- Look for the person who does something that relates to your brand. Not the coolest person or the one with the biggest reach your money can buy.
- Be relevant. Think of it as buying a surprise present for a cherished friend. Something they would really appreciate.
- Offer them a product, experience or viewpoint (whichever you are selling). And try to arrange a face to face meeting where you can explain the story behind the product; why it is unique or useful.
- Never pay cash! Pay with products, stories and a trip or a lunch if appropriate. Instead of making it about the money, consider how you can enable Influencers to create an engaging post.
- Wait and see what happens and hope for the best. Really: Be modest!