When I was prepping to write this blog post, I did a bunch of research on where we are currently at in the world of Influencer marketing. Maybe it was just the search strings I used, but I was hard pressed to find anything really negative about what’s happening currently.
What’s weird about that is, that is not what I’m hearing on the street.
I have a unique view on this because I have a foot in both worlds. In some worlds, I am considered to be an influencer, and then I also work on the other side, as a marketer and someone who works with influencers.
A few weeks back, I attended an invite-only dinner for influencers. There were lots of Vancouver’s food bloggerati there, and some special guests as well. I ended up sitting beside a prominent business owner, and put this exact question to her.
She was quick to tell me that she no longer does influencer marketing for her business. She has dismissed it as a marketing technique. I got a real sense of frustration from her.
A few days later, I met up with a girlfriend who runs a very similar business to mine–marketing and PR. She expressed some frustrations as well with influencers.
So, let’s break this down a little. What are the current problems with influencer marketing?
How do we prove ROI? When you’re working with an influencer, there is obviously something that company wants you to help them sell. How can you prove that the company has gotten their money’s worth? Even if they give you a unique URL to send traffic to, the nature of social media is that sometimes people see things online and the sale might still take place, but not necessarily from your direct URL. Or maybe it takes place later. One major complaint I’ve heard from businesses is that they don’t see a real return on their investment.
Where’s the line between advertising and PR? This is something I run into all the time. Many influencers, when first presented with an opportunity from a business, are often pitched by a PR firm. What that means is, the publicist is pitching the influencer and asking them to create content based on something the business is going to be sending them. At first, there is often no mention of cash. What then often happens, is the influencer will go back to the PR company with their price for a sponsored post. If, at that point, the PR co has a budget and agrees to the influencer’s price, then that’s when you cross the line from publicity to sponsorship or advertising. A contract is signed, and money is given in exchange for services. In many ways, this is easier, because the contract makes things clear.
With straight-up PR, that’s not always the case. If a PR company pitches me a product, and they send it to me in the mail, they might suggest what it is that they want in return. But without a contract, there’s nothing they can really do if I don’t produce. They likely want me to write a blog post, but I may only give them an Instagram post or even a few tweets or an Instagram story. Everything is very grey and undefined, and this is one of the major problems with influencer marketing today.
Does cash = devaluing? Okay. So let’s talk money for a sec. Let me be clear: while most of us bloggers started off doing this for love, the reality is that eventually you need to at least try to make some money at it. Being an influencer is an immense amount of work, and many folks are doing it part-time, while working a full-time job. Making videos, creating blog posts and taking pretty photos for Instagram are all incredibly time-consuming, and for many of us, it’s work that we are not getting paid for. We do it because we love it (hopefully), but also because we’d like to make a little money from it, eventually, as well.
So. Here’s the problem: the small guys, the littler businesses, the ones that probably most of us feel more aligned with, and would like to work with, often don’t have the money to buy influencers. Who does? Big businesses. So, maybe you really love small businesses, like say your locally-owned mom-and-pop coffee shop, but Starbucks comes knocking. What do you do? I’m guessing the majority will take the money.
The problem is, if you take a sponsored post that is “off-brand,” how does that effect how your audience sees you? Does it dilute or devalue your brand? And in doing so, does it dilute the value of the brand you are working for?
If I (vegan cookbook author) started writing posts about meat for money, you all would be super unhappy with me. But turning down cash is hard (I won’t write blog posts about meat, though).
Reporting–does it happen? Not always. As an influencer, I’m required to tell you when one of my posts is sponsored. On Instagram, I need to (by law) tag that post with #spon, #sponsored or #ad. But not everyone does, and what’s the consequence? If you get caught, it can be some pretty severe fines, but I think many feel like they are small enough to fly under the radar. If you’re not being paid to put up a post, but you do get something for free in exchange, how do you tag that? Personally, I use the tags #partner or #ambassador or #advocate, but it sure can be confusing.
Creating unrealistic expectations and fakery. There was this story recently of a woman who literally went broke trying to become an Instagram super star. Instagram has become big business over the last few years, and the prospect of fame and fortune causes people to do all kinds of things they wouldn’t normally do. It’s well known that fashion bloggers often go to the store, buy clothes, take photos and then return them, giving the image that they have a much bigger wardrobe than they actually do. Some of this, I get it, is in “fake it till ya make it” territory, which, let’s face it, is a game that all of us need to play to some degree or another to get ahead. But at what point does it become fakery and inauthentic?
Okay, so clearly the next step here is to talk about how we can make Influencer Marketing work. How we can deal with these problems head-on and make everything better for everyone. But that’s another blog post. 🙂
What are your experiences, positive or negative, with influencer marketing? If you own a business, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.