Can Money Really Buy Influence?

In today’s economy, cultivating brand ambassador's, and buying social influence seems to be written into the business plan of every new startup. Are influencers a necessary part of your business plan?

A well-funded startup has a healthy advertising and marketing budget. Unless you are doing B2B sales, you are probably going to need some money to get your name out there.

A number of years ago a trend in brand advertising emerged. Influencers were identified in niche markets on various social platforms and they were paid or otherwise compensated for their time.

We all know the metrics, social influencers are typically paid about 1k, per 100k followers, per post.

While it might be tempting to blow your budget on a Kim Kardashian Instagram post — the impact of social schlepping has dwindled. What was once a one-off genuine endorsement of products is now a constant celebrity revenue stream that most people can see through.

The brand ambassador strategy was designed to preach to the converted. Unlike paying for celebrity social influencers, finding brand ambassadors isn't about paying for people to endorse the product — it's about elevating the people who already use your product.

There is a major difference between stoking a flame and lighting one.

The problem with social influencers is that they actually do have some limited influence that everyone in advertising salivates over. You can't deny the power of their brand or the engagement on their content — but that doesn't mean it's going to translate well for your brand. An actress in a bathing suit is a very different “call to action” than the same one awkwardly holding your product.

Some companies are myopic. They may hire an ad agency, but they still want to call the shots. Many people are convinced that buying influence will make their brand an overnight sensation — even if they have data in front of them that says otherwise.

In recent years the effect of paid endorsements on sales, especially on Instagram, seems to have diminished. It's true that people in general trust other people’s reviews more than they trust a brand — but that doesn't necessarily extend to those who are overtly paid or somehow compensated to use a product.

Many people trust Amazon reviewers more than they do a brand or celebrity.

We’ve reached a state of ridiculous when it comes to advertising through social influence. It is said 1.5 billion was spent last year on Instagram influencers. This may sound like a giant number, but Coke spent twice as much on their own campaigns. The advertising industry itself worth more than a trillion. If influencer advertising is so profitable why does it only count for less than 1% of the industry?

There is such a thing as social currency. Social influencers can “blow up” your product overnight, but only if the celebrity likes the product. The real influence that impacts buying decisions does not start and stop with a mega-celebrity.

Brand ambassadors are not people you need to pay. You don’t need to convince these people to endorse your product — you find them because they are already doing it. There is a big difference between paying for influence and making your customers a little more loyal to your brand.

Many companies focus on broadcasting their message rather than listening to what their existing customers are saying. If you are going to pay for anything, pay to monitor your brand's reputation and get to know your customers.

Depending on your company, simply liking or commenting on a users post might be enough to make their day. Some companies can afford to design and organize brand ambassador programs — mentoring and encouraging those who bring awareness to a product. This can only be pulled off if you have a product that people actually want to use and are willing to “advertise” to other consumers for free.

The days of paying for endorsements will likely come to an end. Advertising will evolve and celebrity will have an actionable metric attached to it, in the meantime, there are far better places to spend your ad money. Building a lasting brand takes time, there are no shortcuts in attracting a legitimate loyal following.

Ryan Geddes

Written by

Entrepreneur, Writer, Digital Strategist.

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