Louise on 'Don't hate the influencer, hate the brand'

Last night, a good friend said to me “You know what? Let’s be honest – the influencer market is a total load of rubbish”. I must be honest – to an extent, I sort of agree, which is ironic seeing as I own a social communications agency that frequently discusses the value of influencer marketing as part of the service we offer. But it is true. It is an unashamedly messy, unstructured & haphazard market of hoping and praying. When brands aren’t sending out product left, right and centre in the hope that influencers will make them Insta-famous for free (doesn't happen), influencers are making the market with ludicrous pricing strategies and generic, product-centric posts. 

Having at one point been considered an 'influencer' myself, I feel that I am justified in writing this article, having been on both sides of the coin – the influencer and the agency that works for the brand. 

Having a ‘following’

In reality, having ‘followers’ means you have a channel that can grab the attention of other individuals online. I believe brands are finally starting to understand that if they want to tap into this attention these influencers have spent so much time and energy building, then they must pay for coverage (and in reality, unless your product or service is being gifted and is exorbitantly expensive, then so they should).

But one thing about attention: we must not pretend it is long-lived or something that hangs around. When you are scrolling down your Instagram, how long do you spend on each person? 1 second? 2 seconds? Answer: not long. And if you decide to stop, stare and low and behold READ? Well, god forbid that an influencer would use an #ad or #spon in their caption. Cue eyes rolling into the back of our heads Lucy Watson style the second we see any sponsorship. We just HATE it. All of us. Lets not pretend we don't.

And I've been thinking - why is this? And I think the answer is this: we so often feel cheated out of these valuable moments of attention that we so delicately choose to spend on that individual if they are selling or pushing a product and pushing it into your psyche when you didn't ask for it.

Does today's society hate #ad because they are jealous of the influencers? Jealous of their seemingly perfect lives, looking groomed to the heavens with their perfectly frothy flat white in their right hand, extortionately expensive camera in their left hand, 50 packages of free product on their doorsteps and blow dries and hotel stays on tap? Maybe.

Or does society hate influencers #spon because we as individuals hate being sold to, knowing that the influencer probably doesn’t really like that product at all and would never really use the product in real life (even though they swear they would only push products they would use)? Yes, almost certainly. And when the #spon is hidden amongst another 20 hashtags? Well, don’t get us started on that.

One thing however, is clear is this: influencer marketing and sponsored posts are on the increase. We are going to see more and more brands trying to work with influencers to sell their products. And so unless something changes, attitudes towards influencers AND brands are going to only become increasingly negative.

Don’t hate the influencer

Whilst perhaps generalising, I would like to say that generally, I do not think that the influencers are really the issue here.

Don't get me wrong, vast numbers of them make my blood boil with them sharing inappropriate moments that I believe should be kept private or pushing products that they clearly would never use on a day-to-day basis (TeaTox, I'm looking at you). But having been on the other side, I am the first to say that genuinely passionate and hard-working influencers deserve to be compensated and reimbursed for the time and energy they have spent, and spend every day, building their brands and nurturing their audiences.

In my eyes, influencers are, more often than not, content creators. This is what I call them, after all. They deserve to be paid for their creative brains, concepts, ideas, shooting skills and the time spent editing photos and videos.

Hate the brand

And so I am here to tell you what the problem really is. The problem is the brands and their influencer strategies. And of course, this is not all of them. But it is a lot of them.

Brands, realising that they desperately must get their foot in influencer doorway, send product left right and centre to influencers, in the hope of coverage. They shoot DMs off to influencers without even thinking about who these influencers are talking to. As an influencer myself, I am shocked by the number of brands that message me on a daily basis, asking to send me their product for free and for me to post about it. Totally off brand, totally misjudging my audience - so often they get it wrong, and so on 99.9% of occasions, I will say no. I will not waste the attention of my followers that I have so carefully tried to build, with consistent engagement and interaction.

And so, I think at least, that the problem is quite clear. Brands have a lack of understanding or a lack of willingness to commit to learning what might accelerate their brand's growth. They don't want to learn about back-end data. They don't want to understand influencer's audiences. They don't want to look at data to see how well that influencer did for their brand. They want to get quick hits and they want them now. And then they wonder why they don't last: why they aren't building their brand awareness, why their sales aren't building, why their clickthrough is stagnant. It is not until brands start to understand WHO the influencers are talking to, that they will reach the people they want. It is only then, that they will be thrilled with high click-throughs and conversions, rather than disappointed with low ones. Of course your click-throughs will be low if your influencers are talking to totally the wrong audience.

Brands must step up and start taking responsibility and start working with these influencers to tell their stories.

My takeaway?

It is no longer about the shoe. It is about the person choosing to wear the shoe.

Louise Rumball