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You’ve had a direct message from someone claiming to be an influencer, who can grow your brand, promote you to their many followers if only you give them free dinner, accommodation or clothes. What do you do?

If an influencer is trying to rush you into a decision by claiming that they have approached several of your competitors, then let them go to your competitors. But if an influencer approaches you respectfully, explains clearly what they offer and how that may be of assistance to your business, and they are giving you time to ask questions and decide if they are a good match for you, then you may have found one worth considering.

The personality problem

Influencers are not, in or of themselves, a bad thing. But like all marketing options, they have had more than their fair share of bad apples that had tarnished the concept of social media influencing for everyone. But for every spoiled, entitled brat who mobilises thousands of fans to pour bad reviews upon a café that dared to reject them, there is a traveling family who creates amazing content and leaves smiles on the faces of every client that they connect with.

You really need to know what you’re dealing with when you’re considering working with an influencer. And while the bikini poses under waterfalls, the seductive drinking of wine or the impossible yoga poses on a balcony overlooking a sponsor’s infinity pool may seem to be what an influencer is all about, there is a lot more to it.

The trouble is that the same personality traits that lead to being driven, hard-working, motivated and willing to share your life with an audience of potentially millions, tends to come packaged with entitlement, jadedness when dealing with clients, an overestimation of the value of a personal “brand” and the creation of systems and automation that strips the humanity out of the process of connecting yourself with a business.

The influencer motivation

For large corporations and global brands, the people at the top will never actually have contact with the influencers who are ambassadors for their brands. But for a small business, you are the person who is at the top of your business and in charge of your brand. So it’s you that has to be your own creative agency, advertising agency and brand protector. Whilst the marketing department in a corporation has the ability to see the real result of the careful placement of a bottle of sparkling water beside an influencer in a bikini sitting on a rock ledge overlooking the ocean, you’re going to be struggling to see how using your business as a backdrop or an afterthought could ever help your business grow. And in many cases, you’ll be absolutely right.

The motivation of an influencer is rarely about growing your business. In fact, few of them will ever care about your business at all. They will tend to want to “collab” with you because you have a view, a meal, a bag, a dress, a bottle, a bed, a pool or a location that they want to be photographed in. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s just the reality of dealing with someone who seeks attention for a living. So when you partner with an influencer, you need to understand that you are inserting your business in to their world. No the other way around. They are the creative director, not you. They control the medium. Not you.

Looking for influencer gold (and there is plenty!)

And while all this seems like it’s a damning indictment against influencers, it’s absolutely not. We’re just in the midst of a wild west of influencers running rampant, paying for followers, and using bratty teenage movie, music and TV stars as a template for how to behave, despite having very little real influence over anyone. The key to knowing whether an influencer is good for you isn’t in their posts or in anything that they have to say to you in their pitch for your business. The gold is in their followers. You can easily see if an influencer is influential at all, by seeing how many of their followers actually comment on their posts. And checking who those followers are. Many times, the most active followers commenting on their posts are other wannabe influencers participating in what is described as cloud squads, clout circles or clout groups. Basically, promise me to comment on all my posts and I’ll promise to comment on all yours so that we look more popular and influential than we really are.

So look for the most authentic looking and sounding commenters that aren’t just posting sycophantic love and kisses and see what their background it. Where they are located. Their age range. Their lifestyle. You’ll quickly see if this particular influencer is likely to reach people who could potentially become your customer.

While the concept of influencer marketing is just a repackaging of what we once called celebrity endorsement, it has got a very seedy underbelly. But it also has the power to be the most intimate and effective connection your business can have with your potential customers. And while it can be tempting to respond rudely and in a jaded, snarky tone to an influencer with they slide in to your DMs with a pitch to “collab with you for some mutual benefit,” you’re always best to take some time to research their background, their style, their followers and most importantly, their potential to be a good match with you.

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