What Is Influencer Marketing?

PR Espresso : What is Influence from COMMS BAR on Vimeo.

Attracting the attention of Influencers is, we’re led to believe, the Holy Grail of modern communications programs. Influencer marketing is the future, we’re led to believe.  But, while influencers have always been important to traditional public relations and marketing communications campaigns of old, it’s reached almost fever-pitch for any social media marketing activity.

But what is an influencer? It’s a question that I’m not sure anybody really understands these days. In the traditional communications world it was anybody that influenced the decision maker. It could be the CFO – because they were the person holding the purse stings. It could be a systems analyst who was going to use a piece of software that helped a procurement ‘guy’ make the final decision from a shortlist. It could be a personal assistant that had the ear of the CEO or Managing Director. If you knew who your audience was it was always relatively easy to identify the influencers responsible for helping the decision maker pick you over a competitor.

In social media it’s not so clear. Actually, it’s not clear at all. Most social media campaigns are digital megaphones, used by companies to shout loudly about a new product, a piece of content or a brand message in the hope that the right people hear. I say hope, because the social influencer appears to be measured by their ability to share a company’s message with a larger audience than the company itself. The only influence that most social ‘influencers’ appear to have over their fans, friends, connections and followers to share a message with their friends, fans, connections and followers.  These people are rarely the people that matter to your business.

And that’s the problem. Social media influence don’t appear to have… well, any influence. They’re social megaphones that are often incentivized to share a company’s social content, but often that’s where it stops. Their ability to get others to do anything substantial is limited. Sometimes the influencers are incentivized by companies to talk about them, whether in return for free stuff or another form of payment. A few companies offer financial rewards, in the form of speaking opportunities or in return for guest blogs; sometimes simply fanning their egos is sufficient.

Most of the time it’s hard to tell what the arrangement is and most ‘influencers’ have never heard of disclosure. And yes, I know – there are tools that measure social media influence.  Influence can now be quantified by a secret algorithm – so if your score is high enough you can use your social networks to proclaim that you’re an influencer. The only problem is that I’m not convinced that the accounts of Barack Obama, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and other supposed influencers are entirely their own handiwork… so are they really the influencers or is it the social media managers that help them?

Then there’s the social media influencers who claim to be influential about social media and spend most of their lives sending out, what I can only assume are, scheduled tweets telling me that a high profile magazine or website thinks they are an influencer.  Either that or they’re recycling blog posts that compare cell phones or offering generic advice on how to be a social media influencer.

Sorry, I thought they were supposed to be influencers!


What is public relations?

Public relations is a process of strategically building mutually beneficial relationships with the people that matter most to the growth of a small or early-stage business.

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