There have been two articles recently, just four days apart both along similar lines suggesting that the ‘social media influencers’ bubble is about to burst.
I’ve been at Automotive Press Events over the last couple of years or so where I’ve been sitting next to people who are not journalists, petrolheads or even car fans, but have been invited because of apparently substantial social-media followings.
The rise and feting of the social media ‘stars’ has been quick and dramatic, but they could already be on their way out, and that too with a whimper.
Yuyu Chen, Brands Reporter of Digiday.com, writes, ‘when marketers hand the keys of a brand over to influencers, they sometimes learn the hard way that it’s far too easy to get burned,’ and highlights four key issues:
- In the course of just a year, the cost of working with an influencer rose from a few hundred dollars to a hundreds of thousands of dollars.
- Unmeasurable ROI – there’s little way of establishing if the investment on social media influencers has any impact on direct sales.
- Follower overlap – the influencers often have the same followers. And this could well be due to a reason I’ll touch on towards the end of this discourse.
- Influencers were easy to work with as single-person operations that could easily and quickly produce and post content, now the deals are mired in complex contracts and extensive negotiations.
Andy Cush, a staff writer at Gawker.com, goes a lot further in his article ‘The “Influencer” Economy is Collapsing Under the Weight of its Own Contradictions’ in which he describes influencers thus:
‘A person, usually a teen or early-twentysomething, who has a large following on some social media platform, and has used that large following to trick some decaying capitalist institution into believing that they are valuable in some way.
‘The decaying capitalist institution pays this teen lots of money to attend a rooftop party or add a branded hashtag to their latest casually racist comedy Vine, and in return, hopes to absorb some of the teen’s cultural cachet before his teen followers find some other, hotter teen to glom onto, or he’s caught on camera saying the n-word.’
And adds: ‘Influencers are going to start disappearing. Brands are going to start realizing the amount of followers you have doesn’t mean shit. Just because photos look good and have 200,000 followers means nothing.’
My take on all of this is the kicking-in of a reality that I knew would start to become self-evident when I first started encountering these influencers in my scope of work.
Sure they are good-looking, trendy, very young, bubbling over with enthusiasm and most scarily of all, endowed with social media followings that would leave Barack Obama overawed.
However here are my three observations:
Firstly, having apparent massive online followers doesn’t mean they are actually able to ‘influence’ anything at all. This is not like the days of celebrity endorsements – which still kind of work. People follow them because they might be funny or cool, but not necessarily have any authority. For example when it comes to cars, are you more likely to buy one because Hot Spot Hottie DJ Mixie Minx (not real, don’t Google her) screamed in one once whilst being driven around a track by David Coulthard, or because an expert car reviewer says it’s the right fit for your needs and budget?
Secondly, most of the followers are teenagers and barely more, not exactly with a lot of disposable income if any whatsoever. Sure, there’s no denying that today’s Motor Show dreamer is potentially tomorrow’s loyal brand ambassador, but this strategy doesn’t yield results now. So what actually is the value for a brand of reaching out to large online audience of… children.
And finally – I once bumped into a bloke at an event and it turned out he was some kind of online SEO super-guru. So I figured I might try to pick his brains with some guidance for our website MotoringME.com. Turned out he didn’t actually do that sort of thing.
What he purely specialised in was SEO for INDIVIDUALS. ‘What do you mean?’ I asked. And he revealed how people would come to him with the requirement to become ‘Influencers’ and he would secure them big numbers (at a price of course) on their chosen social media platform. Essentially then, he was the man that ‘made’ Influencers. Which in itself, leads to questioning the very credibility of said audience numbers.
All of this made it apparent to me that a large part (though not all, of course) of the ‘social media influencer’ era is a bit of a con. It seems that corporate marketing and PR types are starting to suss this out.
When it comes to cars, all I’ll say is, it might be best to stick to the professionals. 😉