Influencer marketing is big business, like more than a billion dollars big. It’s the newest new thing, and as marketers and communicators, we love the newest new thing. Like anything that rises in popularity, influencer marketing is attracting big money. Once big money gets involved, you should start wondering, in this case, who is influencing the influencers?
We see it all the time with brands trying to enlist industry and subject thought leaders (formerly known as key opinion leaders) to look favorably upon them in some way, and maybe even speak on their behalf on a podcast or at a trade show. Nothing wrong with that. No sleight of hand. It’s how the game is played and everyone knows it. However, social media influencers were supposed to be a little different, at least initially.
Social media gives us the ability to say whatever we want to say. At the outset, influencers attracted readers, listeners, viewers, and followers because people were interested in what they had to offer. Influencers could emerge from any location and at any time. All you needed was a smartphone and a social media channel.
As marketers, we were all quick to see the potential of having an influencer in our camp. Meanwhile, influencers began to realize the value they had to marketers. If you were an influencer, once you got to about 40,000 followers, you could begin to make some real money – although micro-influencers are becoming the marketing tactic du jour these days.
Budgets today are quick to follow likes, views, and shares, so the name of the game becomes trying to influence the influencers. These folks can most definitely expect to be bought/paid/gifted, with the mega-influencers (200,000+ followers) employing curators to essentially do their work for them. Publications need to build audiences to maintain advertisers, and influencers are no different. They need to build followers to keep and attract sponsors. Just as the line between editorial and advertising continues to disintegrate, know that your influencer is being influenced in some way and at a cost to someone – maybe even you.
Knowing all that, it may just be a matter of time before we begin to look at influencers as the brand spokespeople they’re becoming and start asking ourselves, what’s the newest new going to be?