Influencers – reality or just smoke and mirrors?

The accepted definition of an influencer is ‘a person who is well-connected and who is regarded as influential and in-the-know; someone who is looked to for advice, direction, knowledge and opinions’. So, essentially we are talking about people like CEOs, CMOs, PR Professionals, Creative People, Bloggers, Journalists and other Experts. And that’s fine and to true – to a certain extent, but it could be argued that we are all influencers in our own right.

Most of us are on social media – to a greater or lesser extent – unless you have chosen to shun this brave new world and live in a cave and knit your own food. We all have a social media following ranging from one or two people to several hundred or, if you’re very cool, thousands. Whenever we ‘like’ a brand or comment on a tweet, we could be seen to be influencing our followers – whether they chose to take any notice is another matter entirely, but we are putting our opinion and preference out there into the social media ether.

Today, it is the aim of most brands to target influential people with large networks and getting them to help boost the coolness and interest level of those brands, products and ideas. It is seen as an increasingly effective way of spreading news. Apparently, the right influencers can help build your brand by sharing your brand story through their networks.

However, I am not convinced. I wrote an article about brand engagement a while back. It became clear whilst I researched this piece that ‘engagement’ was the Holy Grail for brands. What I discovered was pretty interesting. Let’s take the Pepsi Challenge as an example. 72% of Pepsi drinkers also buy Coke* – shock, horror – and so much for the Pepsi Challenge and brand loyalty for that matter. I bet the reverse is also true – most Coke drinkers would also have a Pepsi. You might now be screaming ‘who cares?’ at your screen – but the fact is that brands care and so do those that work hard to advertise them.

The main issue I think is that we tend to confuse audience with influence. Having a massive social media following will not necessarily allow you to drive action; it can only really allow you to drive awareness. More important, I believe, are what we used to call the ‘brand ambassadors’ – ordinary people who are passionate about a particular brand, who will wax lyrical about how amazing it is, because that is what they genuinely believe and are more than happy to recommend it to anyone who will listen. Real passion and enthusiasm is worth more than a celebrity or blogger who couldn’t really give a shit about a brand but feels they need to be seen to comment on it or who is so obviously being paid to promote it.

And this is really the nub of my point. Influencers, much like content is just a load of smoke and mirrors. Brands see these as ‘must have’ commodities. My advice is nurture the people who may not have thousands of followers but are genuinely passionate about your brand, you may have to put in a bit more effort, but I reckon the returns will be greater than an army of so-called ‘influencers’ who couldn’t care less.