2014 saw the rise of “influencer marketing.” The term and strategy behind it flooded blogs and social media; over 700 articles used the term through November 2014, according to a BuzzSumo search.
I, like many, began the year with influencer marketing as a focus. As the newly minted community manager for Kapost, my job not only entailed leading social media growth, but involving marketing influencers in that growth. The thought was to engage and build relationships with this group of individuals on a regular basis, understanding their potential to steer a wider audience to our content and product.
I even devised a “funnel” to track engagements and the results of those engagements. This made me accountable for driving a certain number of actions each month. The idea was to involve more influencers in more overall actions each month, but also lead them toward eventual advocacy of our product, without necessarily needing regular prompting from me.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with attempting to bring some measurement into my actions. We do, after all, live in an era of marketing where data and accountability are increasingly important. The ability to grade or score marketing’s efforts is even a big selling point of the Kapost platform.
But at some point, I realized it was becoming difficult to keep the various metrics and goals up. I had focused on building and maintaining relationships with these people, and doing so meant give and take—not just take. I couldn’t maintain a regular cadence of asking them to be involved with our content, and we couldn’t rely on a regular “boost” in traffic when they did.
I grew disillusioned with the idea of influencer marketing. Noticing a general decline in my own engagement with influencers, I surmised that maybe these influencers were burning out. And I was burning out, too.
My original list of influencers had been pruned down to a small group, and I was tired of reaching out with the same asks. The more I saw them quoted in content or sharing cool infographics, the less I wanted to ask them for quotes or shares.
It became increasingly burdensome to keep our conversations fresh, relevant, and active.
Once it became “a thing” to regularly include influencers in marketing efforts, I thought they must suffer from an overwhelming number of asks. At some point the whole thing would collapse, right? I was sure of it.
So I asked.
I contacted a small group with a simple question: Are influencers tired of influencer marketing?
I wanted to understand the group’s opinion, purely for my own benefit. Here’s what I expected: to be told that I was silly for asking, or to receive rants about the numbers of requests coming in, and how it’s ruining marketing or something.
To my surprise, I received a mix of those responses, accompanied by a series of candid, detailed, and delightful exchanges. I had been in regular contact with these people all year, but never had such fluid interactions with all of them, all at once. I decided (with permission) to share some takeaways from the dialogues here, including some cool hand drawn sketches of these folks by our talented designer Matt Gainan, because, well, that’s fun.
And yes. I’m fully aware of the irony of asking influencers to contribute to a piece that questions whether we should keep asking them to contribute to pieces. Moving on.
Influencer Marketing Is Awful…
“Companies need to realize that the influencers they want are busy people and thus their time is valuable. If they are going to give up any time to attend an event, create content on behalf of the brand, or be expected to do anything really they need to be compensated in some way or another.”
C.C.’s co-author Ann Handley is likewise tired of organizations and individuals doing it wrong.
“Too many think in terms of transactions, not relationships. Too many focus on what the influencer can do for them, rather than how they can help the influencer. Too many make presumptive requests with little upside for the person they’re asking. Too many have ridiculously high expectations or (sometimes) ridiculously vague expectations.”
Ardath Albee, B2B Marketing Strategist and the CEO of Marketing Interactions, Inc. shares with me a far-too-common example of a company continuously emailing her asking to not only share about their research and reports, but to blog about them.
“They’ve never once promoted my stuff and they don’t follow me on Twitter. It’s a bit insulting that they only care about reaching my audience, not building a relationship with me.”
David Meerman Scott, best-selling marketing, PR, and sales author and speaker, says a good number of the requests he receives are done the wrong way. “Quite a few are outright liars. They say they ‘read my blog’ or ‘love my work’ but the nature of the request clearly indicates they found me from some list and are emailing a lot of people.”
“With an increase in influence there’s been an increase in asks. That means more people who have no training in influencer engagement are latching on to the latest marketing trend ‘influencer marketing’ and trying to fast track their way through it,” says Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Marketing and one of the leading voices on influencer marketing.
Man, that all sounds pretty terrible right?
…When It’s Done Wrong.
Sure, dealing with a constant stream poorly planned or tactless requests seems like a perfect recipe for burnout. However, while many or even most requests aren’t done well, many are, which restores a little faith in the practice.
Plus, who doesn’t want to be asked to be included in content?
“It’s hard to say no when people want to make you out to be important,” says Jason Falls, Senior Vice President of Digital Strategy at Elasticity. “They get annoying sometimes. But it’s people asking you to appear smart in front of their audiences. It’s a big ego kick and a soft lead gen opportunity. You’d be dumb to say no to most of it.”
“I’m genuinely and continually honored that people would look to my opinion as somehow ‘influential’,” Robert Rose, Chief Strategy Officer for Content Marketing Institute tells me, adding, “Honestly… (and I really mean this) any ‘influencer’ who complains about it should just shut up.”
Jay Baer, President of Convince and Convert and widely recognized content marketing and social media consultant and speaker, further echoes that thought. “I’m not sick of being asked to participate, because that’s really a #FirstWorldProblem, you know? It’s kind of tough to keep a straight face when you utter the words, ‘my life sucks because too many people want to know what I think.’”
This validation of influencer marketing doesn’t mean we should continue to flood these people’s inboxes. Just because they’re generally happy to be asked, doesn’t mean every opportunity is right for them.
Lee Odden notes, “With scarcity of time, many influencers are being more selective about what they say yes to. They make these choices not just for efficiency but also to ensure quality of association. Factors like how well known the brand is, the quality of the project, and compensation all factor into decisions about participation in an influencer marketing program.”
Successful influencer engagement centers upon a pretty simple principle: focus on two-way relationships.
“What we sometimes forget is on the other side of every social media profile is a human being. Start more conversations for conversation-sake. Maybe initial conversations don’t directly benefit your marketing strategy, but they let the human on the other end know you’re interested in them.”
Pierre-Loïc Assayag, Founder and CEO of Traackr, adds, “When activating an influencer, ask yourself how you’re helping them accomplish their own goal. If you don’t know, find out; if your ask helps them, you’re gold; if it doesn’t, you should probably think hard before engaging them.”
Mike Fraietta, Senior Social Business Strategist at Social Edge Consulting, puts it this way: “You can’t find a list of influencers, reach out, and check them off as boxes and expect them to engage with your company or product. Like any relationship, it takes time and real interaction for someone to become comfortable and trusting of you or your brand.”
Successful influencer outreach takes time and effort, but it shouldn’t be viewed through a pure “task-oriented” lens. As many pointed out here, you’re building real relationships which can—and should—be fun and exciting.
The most interesting part of my conversations with influencers, and also the most commonly discussed, centered upon who should really be the focus of “influencer marketing.” Often, marketers key in on people who have a large “reach,” with the idea that those with the largest followings on social media, for example, will have the largest impact for their brand.
Nearly everyone I spoke with suggested that ranking by a follower count isn’t the way to go about it.
“Those looking to employ influencer marketing should choose wisely and also broaden their universe and help new influencers emerge,” says Robert Rose. This idea is the cornerstone of what Lee Odden preaches when working with clients on influencer marketing. “Work with an influencer, they’re friends for a day. Help someone become influential, they’re a friend for life.”
Newscred’s Head of Strategy Michael Brenner had an interesting take, pointing out that much of the dialogue about influencer marketing overwhelming the influencers was probably more of an issue in the content marketing space. “As content marketers, we’re all creating more content than the average marketer in another industry, such as, say, steal beam manufacturing marketers. In many of their industries, the influencers are still relatively unknown and thrilled by any attention they get by brands.”
Jesse Noyes, Sr. Director of Content Marketing at Kapost, looks at influencers in terms of what real impact they may have on driving business for your brand. “You have to think about who you reach out to, whether they are truly influential to your potential buyers and look for unexplored opportunities.”
Lee Odden echoes that sentiment. “Think about what you want the influencer to do, how will their involvement help your company reach a particular business goal? What will an ongoing relationship with influencers mean to your marketing and reputation?”
That final lesson resonates most for the coming year.
Maybe the well-known group of marketing influencers will begin to hit a wall based on the sheer quantity of requests coming their way, but that doesn’t mean influencer marketing as a whole will hit that wall, particularly not if we look deeper at who can be impactful for our brands.
“It’s a virtuous cycle”, says Brenner. “Brands identify those who are influential. That strokes the egos of the influencers while also helping to perpetuate their influence by building their personal brands. Those influencers are then more open to contributing or authentically helping the brand. And the cycle repeats.”