"Influencers" - I'm not buying it
Few words in the English language provoke a visceral reaction from me. “Babe” is one. “Slay” is another. The abbreviated “AF” makes me gag. I can only hope their usage will fade in time, only to be replaced by more awful slang like "fleek", that makes my early eighties birth-date feel like I might as well be worried about Medicaid. The worst word floating around currently in my opinion however, is one that I fear may take a while to disappear. That word is “influencer”.
You can thank the internet for yet another chunk of decay into our already very narcissistic society, predominantly found in, but not limited to, twenty and thirty-something females.
So what is an "influencer"? Used as a marketing term, it has a pretty basic definition. At it's core it's someone that has some sway over the opinions and spending habits of others. Marketers of brands are desperately trying to capture the almighty dollar coming out of millennial's pockets, and in addition to their digital and traditional marketing budgets, they've added line items dedicated to influencers who can tell an “authentic” story about their product without it seeming like paid content.
Does it work? In some ways it absolutely can. A billboard will go unnoticed by the average 22-year old, but a well curated lifestyle picture created by someone they follow on Instagram might get a stop in their scroll and a website link click. However, its true success is still unmeasured and this article from MarketingWeek.com so perfectly sums it up pointing out, "It’s probably the only thing in digital marketing that exploded before there’s been any real benchmark for success. It kind of goes against a lot of what digital marketing is normally about, which is numbers, data and tracking.”
Digital marketing is all about the data, and the proof continues to show that few people have it after spending money, effort, and time on influencer marketing.
While it can be powerful in some aspects when it comes to brand awareness, it’s lost much of its authenticity because influencers are hungry for freebies and notoriety, which is a dangerous and addictive combination when given to people that aren’t even old enough to rent a car.
I think it's pretty clear how I feel about people who are labeled or self-proclaimed influencers, but my opinion won't stop the machine from feeding egos. So if you are still looking to crown yourself king or queen of social influence, here are some things to consider.
What to Know
Many larger brands take full ownership of the content an influencer or ambassador creates and many people are not reading the fine print or valuing their assets enough to care about the contracts they are signing. If you become a brand ambassador your best bet is to receive free merchandise and exposure on your accounts. In return, the company may take legal rights of your content. That means that if somehow your content were to be featured in a high-circulation magazine, online ads, or even a Time Square billboard, you aren’t getting paid for that. They own it. You just created content that could have cost them a pretty penny in modeling, photographer and usage fees to start, essentially for free, and you get no kick back for it.
What to Do
Learn about usage rights. Educate yourself before you pimp yourself out. Back in my days of working with models on shoots, we had contracts stating usage terms, and if we were to break those terms or use images past the expiration date (yes, images had terms down to the dates you could use them) we had to cough up more cash or be subject to a lawsuit. If you are at your core a "content creator" what is your time worth to you to give it away for nothing?
What to Know
There is nothing authentic about a bunch of people all reppin the same free items or taking pictures at the same free event they were invited too. The culture of social is the feeling that whoever was there wins, or whoever has the most freebies rules. Getting freebies from a brand might inflate your sense of self-importance and create a feeling of being someone with influence, but in reality, big budget brands have the goods to give out free stuff to a lot of people. If you collaborate with a gargantuan retailer like Forever 21, that may seem really exciting, but you are no different than the hundreds of other people doing the exact same thing. It’s no longer authentic, it’s just more content they don’t have to create, and all it cost them was a few outfits that cost them thirty cents to make in sweatshops.
What to Do
Collaborate with brands that are picky. This means you need to be picky yourself. Don’t sell your image (or your soul for that matter) unless you are truly passionate about a company with the same values or ethos as yourself. If you don’t have values yet, well, it will be clear when you rep anyone that will send you a box of goodies. Our generation might be more susceptible to marketing cloaked in lifestyle influencer imagery, but we are also very observant and see through unoriginal, blatantly sponsored content. If it looks staged and repetitive, we aren’t buying into it, and we aren’t buying into you.
Your “Influence” Won’t Last Forever
What to Know
Right now marketers feel the pressure to jump on the influencer train and do whatever it takes to get themselves exposure. This includes small businesses who are desperate to spend minimal dollars hoping for big returns. Right now a benchmark of 10,000 followers gets you access to work with brands and maybe even get paid minimally to do it. On the flip side, your influence is based on a number that cannot guarantee anything in return. Eventually data will prove that perhaps your influence wasn’t as powerful as some had hoped, and the freebies, access to events, goodie bags and all, may taper off. That’s the dangerous thing about calling people influencers. They are being given an unjustified, untested level of credibility.
Digital marketing will change and evolve as it always does, and soon you will be left wondering what exactly that perfectly themed Instagram feed has left you with for the long haul. Remember MySpace anyone?
What to Do
Some "influencers" do get paid big bucks for what they do. They can live off it, and share that paid-for-lifestyle on their feeds and create a desire that leaves everyone else wanting the same job. Afterall, they make it look so glamorous and achievable. Everyone striving after that lofty life goal may do well not to forget that working a real job to provide for yourself never goes out of style. People that are truly impacting daily life with education behind their efforts, passion in their soul, and altruistic motives like teachers, nurses, doctors, artists, scientists, unpaid volunteers; they are not credited as influencers, yet who has more real influence?
This is not an attack on influencers, but rather a realistic view of a phenomenon. If you personally do it, love it, and make a living off it, that is great. However, businesses should understand all aspects of it, and those living their lives based around being "influential" should know their place and sit down and be humble.
Everyone has the power to control how they showcase themselves to the world, and when I see a high-level fashion blogger eating at TGIFridays, I know what's up and I'm not buying it.