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Influencer Marketing: Truth or Myth?

by | Mar 9, 2017 | Best Practice,

Influencer marketing is a relatively new concept; with new concepts comes scepticism and criticism- fuel for misinformed opinions and sweeping statements. For every person that gets influencer marketing, there’s likely to be another that doesn’t. After all, if everyone knew everything about everything, then well, what a boring place the world would be!  Some understand the concept but don’t quite get the big deal, while others just simply do not know enough to hold an informed opinion.

We’ve identified some of the most common statements and misconceptions across the industry; is there any truth in them or are they complete and utter myths? Whether you’re an influencer marketing sceptic, or a fanatic, why not read on for some home truths?

#1 Influencer marketing is just paid endorsement marketing in disguise

While celebrity product endorsement has become more prevalent with the rise in social media, this is not a new area. Back in the 1930s when the health risks weren’t common knowledge, tobacco companies in particular turned to celebrity endorsement to advertise/promote their products, as you can see in the below picture:

The only similarity between paid endorsement and influencer marketing is that the common denominator is people; people relate to and therefore buy from people- both marketing efforts recognise and exploit this to ultimately increase sales. However, somewhere along the line assumptions have been made that every “influencer” promoting a brand’s offering is being paid. There’s no doubt about it, if there is a financial exchange between a brand and an individual, then this is endorsement, or outright advertising.  The wave of reality TV stars promoting the latest teeth whitening kit or weight loss product; 9/10 they are being paid to do so, and yes, this is what we’d call paid endorsement, or PR. Does every “influencer” promoting a protein shake have copious health and fitness qualifications? The answer is likely to be no. Do they have genuine influence in that specific area? Again, the answer is likely to be no. What they do have is an element of popularity in the form of a high follower number. This marketing tactic works for many brands, particularly in the B2C space, but it is an entirely different practice to influencer marketing as we know it in its rawest form.

Influencer marketing is all about identifying individuals with a high level of influence in a specific area; while their reach (follower number) is an important factor to consider, it isn’t everything. We must also understand how relevant they are and the extent to which they resonate amongst the wider influencer community. Would a financial services company interested in the topic of “FinTech” look to approach a TOWIE or Made In Chelsea star, simply because they surpass a million followers on Instagram? You guessed it, the answer is no. Reality TV stars are almost guaranteed to be very irrelevant and ultimately not interested in this topic.

Influencer marketing isn’t about approaching anyone and everyone with a high follower number; it’s about identifying those with a wealth of relevant knowledge and influence. In fact, influencer marketing is more often than not all about targeting the “micro influencers”. This is because they’re far more approachable and will be more likely to engage on terms that don’t revolve entirely around financial incentives, but rather, on terms that are mutually beneficial for both themselves and the brands.

#2 Paid influence is more effective than earned influence

We’ve touched on this briefly already; paid and earned influence cannot be compared like for like as the effectiveness of both are totally dependent on the brand and their requirements. PR agencies with B2C brands on their portfolio may well find working with influencers on a paid basis more effective if they’re looking to gain quick exposure to a large follower base. However this isn’t always the case. For some brands, working with an influencer on a paid basis isn’t desirable for themselves, or the influencer.

Influencers that fall into the “earned” category, as you can imagine, have worked hard to earn their influence organically over a steady period of time. They have a personal brand and a reputation which takes priority over earning a great one off pay-cheque; they’re in the influencer business and see it as their long term career rather than a quick cash fix. Therefore, if you’re a brand seeking to engage with relevant influencers, you may well be shooting yourself in the foot and missing out on the stars of the show if you seek to engage with only the paid influencer type.

To link this all back to the original statement; the bottom line here is that paid influence isn’t more effective than earned influence, nor is earned influence more effective than paid; both are bold sweeping statements assuming that every brand’s scenario and needs are the same. In some instances, predominantly B2C situations, paid influence is far more effective and on the contrary in the B2B space, earned influence is more effective.

In order to understand your best plan of action it is important to define:

  1. Your objectives for engaging with influencers (What are you hoping to achieve?)
  2. The types of influencers you wish to engage with (Are they industry experts? What topics are relevant?)
  3. Your timescales (Is this a short term project or one with longevity?)

#3 Influencer marketing is more appropriate for B2C brands

Hopefully, from what you have read, your stance is that this is entirely untrue. Having said this, if you naturally view influencer marketing in a B2C light, entailing product placements on Instagram and YouTube reviews, then you may well hold the above view. However, this is just one method of engaging with influencers. If we consider this method alone, then yes, this avenue of influencer marketing is likely to be more effective in the B2C space; B2B brands often cannot supply an influencer with an easy to use product to review; they’re likely to offer a service or a complex software meaning that this type of influencer collaboration isn’t feasible.

As mentioned, influencer marketing for B2B brands is very different to influencer marketing for B2C brands; to say one is more appropriate than the other is an irrational generalisation.

#4 Influencer marketing is just a fancy term to describe “reciprocal favours”

Now while this statement is written in a cynical and critical way, the key term “reciprocal” holds some truth. Like any relationship, be it a friendship, romantic or professional, there is an element of mutual benefit to all parties involved, otherwise, why would the relationship exist? The same applies for a brand-influencer relationship; both seek to gain some sort of benefit from the arrangement. So with this said, yes, the term “reciprocal” is a word that does have some warranted association with influencer marketing.

Where this statement loses credibility, is the inclusion of the word “favour”. Influencer Marketing isn’t tit for tat or transactional as the word favour suggests; it isn’t a case of I’ll give you X in exchange for X, it’s a case of collaborating with an influencer/brand on grounds where you can both equally reap the benefits. Failing to recognise that influencer marketing comes with an element of reciprocal and mutual benefit perhaps highlights some nativity.

#5 Influence is just another word for “popularity”

Influence and popularity are fundamentally different. The difference being that people knowing who you are is popularity; those people caring about what you say is influence. While influencers are guaranteed to hold a degree of popularity, popularity does not guarantee influence.

Reach (follower number) is one of four components we use to identify and rank influencers, along with: resonance, reference and relevance. If popularity is defined in a similar way to reach, then this is just 25% of the equation; therefore, to say that being deemed “influential” is in fact just another way for saying that they’re “popular” is a dis-justice to both the industry and the genuine influencers.

If you’re a brand looking to identify relevant influencers to engage with, click the button below to try our influencer discovery tool free for 7 days.