In 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.
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.”
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.