Okay, it’s late 2016 and at this point, the word “influencer” clearly has more than one meaning. I read through the article and this is what I think: What Bloomberg journalist Max Chafkin wrote about and made himself a guinea pig for revolves around the aesthetics-focused, Instagram-centric “influencer.” 60 Minutes also did a segment on influencers, focusing on the vlogger-Viner-type-of-influencer. You can watch that here.
Sadly, Bloomberg and 60 Minutes failed to delve into the subsets within the world of influence marketing, e.g., variants such as B2B experts, brand-builders and enterprise-level influencers outlined by Malcolm Gladwell, Brian Fanzo and Rachel Lou Miller.
Or perhaps both media outlets wanted to keep things tight by focusing on the glamour aspect, for impact, and to not confuse viewers. (Hitting on all facets of the vast influencer ecosystem might very well have caused confusion.)
Regardless, neither Bloomberg nor 60 Minutes reported on the many controversies within influencer marketing such as pay-to-play, inconsistent disclosure, native ads, expertise or “lack of” expertise, etc. At this point, I’ll depart from talking about the pieces in Bloomberg and 60 Minutes and go on a rant. Fasten your seatbelts.
On the issue of an influencer’s “lack of expertise”, my general feeling is that lack of expertise is FINE – yes, fine – when it comes to the fashion, accessories and footwear influencers. Why? Because there’s visible proof that she (or he) tried on the clothes, shoes, bag or whatever.
On the other hand, a person who is supposedly influential in the world of tech gadgets DOES need to possess expertise or at least niche knowledge. Think about it. If you’re little more than “a big booming personality” and you don’t know shit from shinola, you really should stick to what’s tactile, visceral, related to aesthetics, etc., etc. Y’know, stuff which for the most part does not require expertise. THIS is where agencies drop the ball. Agencies, you’re free to send me hate mail, but deep down you know I’m right.
Consumers don’t care about expertise when they can clearly see an outfit looks awesome on a person. Research has shown time and time again – when a fashion image on Instagram looks good and inspires, most Instagram users couldn’t care less if they see a disclaimer or not. But, in contrast, consumers DO CARE ABOUT EXPERTISE when it comes to (for example) a new smartphone and what it can/can’t do for them. Many agencies think expertise doesn’t matter, and they’re CORRECT – for fashion and, to some extent, foodie and travel influencers. Just three examples. BUT NOT FOR TECH. Let me repeat. NOT FOR TECH.
And agencies of all sizes have dropped the ball – I’ve seen it first hand – inviting “pretty faces” to tech events. For the love of God, please tell me how this is effective – It’s not. Anyone, pretty faces included, can plagiarize a tech review – I’ve seen it done. And if the blogger doesn’t add a video to prove expertise, deception can (and sadly, does) flourish and a consumer has no protection against it.
But there are wonderful, noteworthy exceptions such as Marques Brownlee. While I won’t say he’s pretty or eye-candy (some might disagree, whatever), Mr. Brownlee has a solid aesthetic + an undeniably strong personality which lends itself nicely to video – but waaaay more important to the point is Mr. Brownlee’s EXPERTISE. He’s got it, mos def. He knows his techie shit inside and out, backwards and forwards, and there needs to be more Marques Brownlee’s in influencer marketing. Agencies need to understand this – a pretty face or clown or big booming personality who LACKS expertise is, in several cases (such as tech), a disservice to clients and clients’ target consumers. Even as we head into 2017, PR and marketing agencies are sadly still more concerned with low turnout at client events (Click here for video rant) and other superficial bullshit such as Klout numbers.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the “big booming personalities” who are considered influencers (many of whom are signed with agencies) yet – let’s be real – they’re really “experts at nothing.”
Let’s take a minute to consider the fans of those types of E.A.N. (experts at nothing) influencers. Many of the E.A.N. fans are very young “fanboys” and “fangirls” and are unlikely themselves to have expertise in anything. (Hey, maybe they relate to or bond with the E.A.N. influencer because of that common ground. The fans being children or very very young adults, it’s natural that most won’t be experts at anything. Experts who are still in junior high and high school are the exception, not the norm) …And so 3 the questions are:
(1) Are those fanboys/fangirls simply watching and listening to “aspire to be like” that E.A.N. influencer? In many cases, yes.
(2) Are the kids analyzing the E.A.N. influencer’s mannerisms, cadence, enunciation, etc., etc.? In many cases, yes.
(Or worse, are the kids looking to emulate E.A.N. influencers as a career!?!? GOD HELP US! [Side rant: If the overwhelming majority of 16-year-olds today are grooming themselves to be professional influencers on social media, then I hate to say it but then we’re fucked as a society and the future’s not bright. Let’s hope this ISN’T the case. The last thing we need is more imbalance in American society. And I strongly doubt the U.S. Department of Labor puts “influencer” high on the priority list of what America needs.])
(3) Do they sit there watching the E.A.N. influencer with a credit card in hand, ready to buy whatever the E.A.N. influencer shills? Highly doubtful, but I could be wrong. I’m sure I’ll receive hate mail from agents who stand to gain via the hyper-positive beyond-reproach narrative that says influencer marketing “works better than anything else.” To be crass, I’m pointing my finger at the agents who stand to gain by face-fucking us with an aggressive, bastardized flavor of wholesale influencer koolaid without respecting very crucial nuances.
To be clear, I’m not against influencer marketing. Quite the contrary: I’m a proponent of influencer marketing. Or perhaps I have a bias for expertencers (“influencers who have expertise”, the opposite of E.A.N.’s) … I’ll tell you what I’m against: I’m specifically against willy-nilly influencer vetting and pairings, and agencies are the most culpable because they exploit uninformed clients.
P.S.: I’d also be remiss to say that no one should call himself or herself an influencer. A third party needs to do that. Self-proclaimed influencers must be taken with a grain of salt. (Honestly, it’s best to totally avoid them. They tend to be uncouth and unpleasant to even be in the same room with.) Finally, there are influencer lists compiled by humans and there are influencer lists compiled by algorithms. The latter is the real deal. The former is fleeting and subject to all sorts of immature favoritism, cliques, etc. When someone asks me what I “did” to get onto the Cision Top 50 influencer list, I shrug and say “I honestly don’t know. You’d need to ask the algorithm as to how I got onto that list. (That specific list was compiled by an algorithm, not by a person.) But seriously, if I had to give one tip I’d say: Create a blog. That’s the first step. Without a blog, it’s going to be difficult to get noticed. … If you don’t want to create and maintain a real blog, do yourself a favor and at the very least use @Medium. @Medium is the long-form content creation tool officially owned by Twitter, Inc.