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Marthélize Tredoux: Influencers must fall

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InfluencerIn September 2017, I first wrote about the “influencer” phenomenon and how it relates to wine marketing (see here). Looking back, I was quite reserved in my commentary. I focused on the loose definition of ‘influence’ as well as the issue with bulking up a profile through buying fake followers.

I was being too nice. Too polite. Too generous.

Not today.

Since then, the “influencer” phenomenon has mushroomed. Recently, an international incident involving a YouTube “influencer” and a luxury hotel in Dublin (see here) saw the topic back on my radar.

So I did some digging, and most of what I found was borderline ridiculous.

I have seen prime examples of the fantastically absurd requests from these individuals – as well as the ludicrous figures they quote to substantiate their begging.

Example: a wine estate, with a restaurant and on-site accommodation. Enter the mighty influencer. “Hi. I’m nobody important. But I have the internet. I stumbled onto a few social media platforms and all my friends really love what I do. I post pseudo-artistic pictures of wine glasses on Instagram, tweet glowingly about all the things I’m given for free and everything is shared verbatim to Facebook because I can’t actually be bothered to create unique content for each platform. Please send me 6 bottles of every wine you have and let me stay in your 5-star accommodation for a long weekend – including meals – so I can brag about it to my 500 followers.”

I’m paraphrasing.

But that’s pretty much the subtext. Admittedly, I admire their chutzpah. Requesting products and experiences worth thousands of ZARs (if not tens of thousands) based on nothing remotely impressive – or even relevant. It’s nothing more than rampant misuse and misrepresentation of vague metrics like page views, bounce rates and other stats that look promising but mean nothing without context.

Side note: Don’t even get me started on how little research they do on the brand they’re trying to extort. If the brand in question has a significantly stronger social media presence than you do, then what exactly do you bring to the table?

The question of what these “influencers” are worth brings me to my next point. I have heard a number of marketers gush at the positive effect their influencers have on sales and brand promotion. Yet when asked how they measure this, the answers are no more than vague thumb-suck, or a conclusion that hideously conflates correlation and causation.

The problem is that these things are notoriously difficult to measure. Let’s say Influencer X has 5000 Twitter followers, 2500 Facebook likes and 1500 Instagram followers. How many of them are fake, or bought (see an recent New York Times article on this issue here)? How many are once-off likes from a person who engaged once and has never clicked through to a content piece since? Which percentage of them are the target market for the brand? How many people in their audience actually went on to buy the product as a direct result of what they did?

In short: how do you prove that the content you put out has actually influenced anyone? Sure, it’s possible to set up affiliate links and special discount codes – but who actually does that? None of the influencer requests I saw offered anything solid – they just promise “brand exposure” on a few social media platforms.

Guys and gals. These people are asking for the moon.

And. You. Are. Giving. It. To. Them. In return for nothing. Nada, zero, zip, zilch.

Let’s pull this into a more relatable example: in sales, would you pay a sales rep commission for each time they merely talked about selling a product? Or do they get paid for every time they actually sold something?

Why should this be approached differently?

Last point. I know there are bloggers out there that have a strong, legitimate following. People who are more often than not dedicated to the subject matter (wine, food or travel, for example) than the superficial shine of being an influencer. People who are actual subject-matter experts, with a proven track record either in the industry itself or in the wide-spread publishing of their opinions in various written or online formats. Legitimate reputation. Clout. Real influence. These are the people you need to find. These are the people you want to work with.

I’ll wrap up with a gentle warning. Carefully evaluate what you want your brand  to be – what you want to achieve with every piece of content you generate, be it in-house or outsourced. The very consumers that these people are trying to influence are wising up to the game. As digital marketing becomes more comprehensive, we are starting to understand that people value quality over quantity – and that good content will serve you better than an army of superficial, sub-par social media hucksters.

  • Marthélize Tredoux is nuts about wine. By day, she helps SA wineries sell their produce in the USA. She won the Veritas Young Wine Writers Competition in 2013 and likes to proffer the occasional opinion.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Spot on and about time this BS should stop.. somehow well run and established estates or brands entertain these leeches. You see them at all the events, making the host seem quite desperate.

    No need to name the fakes, as it is that obvious.. but rather focus on the (very) few quality individuals that will add value to your launch/new vintage/new product event.

  2. I’ve been wondering for long just how PRs go about selecting the flock that crowds every single wine event. Always the same faces getting stuffed full of food supplied by the winery in question. The same old PR stuff regurgitated on social media about the event. No one that attends ever bothers to find a new angle to talk about the product in question. Instead, they eat, drink and be merry and then simply move onto the next event of the day where it is repeated again.

    They post the same old photos on Instagram and Twitter, write a couple of tweets and maybe if they blog, something will be said in a post. And that is how they’ve earned their meal at great expense to the producer in question. None of them ever take out their own money and buy a case of the wine(s). But their wine racks are full of wine, given to them at these events. Therefore none of them ever have an independent opinion about what they actually consume. Everything they post about is “great” “delicious” etc. because you cannot say a wine tastes like shit if it is given to you for free. At the same time the closest some of these people have come to actually having a QUALIFIED opinion about wine was when they did a wine appreciation course one evening at their local before quiz night started.

    I know of bloggers in the local scene who are proud of the fact that they hardly ever have to cook at home because their food is supplied at the events they are invited to.

    Wine writing/critique in this country is abysmal and it has a direct correlation with the low standards set by the PRs and wineries about exactly who they want to have an opinion about their products.

    • Spot on Simon. That sound you just heard was the alarm on the PR gravy train as it screeched to a temporary halt. It is now in self-reflection mode, with normal service likely to resume shortly.

  3. Spot on!! I’ve been preaching that having large followers on social media DOES NOT equal engagement/sales/influence. I know impactful influencers when their followers say things like, “I had to try your recommendation, now I’m a wine club member.” Yet, what I’ve seen, 99% of social media interaction is hot air and humble bragging. Wake up PR!!!! We need to get better at vetting influencers that can impact your bottom line.

  4. I just commented on Marthelize’s second article and am now taking a look at part 1.

    I’m personally very active on Instagram and my blog, however I do it in the name of communicating in a shrinking global wine world, furthering my studies with my WSET diploma and improving my wine writing skills. The followers came naturally with the passion (I have never paid a penny towards gaining followers).

    Brands beware of influencers that achieved thousands of followers within a month. Given Instagrams new algorithms, this would be very difficult to do organically, so usually it’s a dead giveaway of a fake.

    My advice: follow your potential influencer for a few weeks before asking them to promote your business. Look at how they engage with their following. Read their content. Chat to them. Get a feel for them. You can even ask them to send you a screen shot of their insights page…this will tell you where their followers live, if they are majority male or female…and all sorts of others interesting facts.

    Influencers can have huge reach, which indeed can be measurable. For instance, ask them to send you their analytics report for every picture they post on your behalf. I disagree that conversion is a mystery.

    As annoying as these ‘influencers’ can be (more so to baby boomers in the industry)…they are here to stay. It’s all about sifting the phony-balogy’s from the actual passionate social media personality that might really have something to say! Welcome to the era of the social media millennial journalist….it’s time we get used to them and embrace them.

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