Why Influencer Marketing Doesn’t Work…

Thoughts from an Influencer Marketing Expert

This is not an ad. I promise ;).

Today’s influencers are not celebrities. They’re kids with an iPhone…kids with iPhones making millions of dollars and satisfying millions of people’s cravings for cheeky content. Dear world, influencer marketing has officially taken over.

A decade ago, giants in the social media space emerged. Facebook. Instagram. YouTube. Snapchat. While these platforms were certainly game changers in big data, they also gave rise to an entirely new type of endorsement. Most of these social media creators never intended to produce valuable content. They, like many of us normal folk, utilized social media to showcase relatively ordinary lives to friends and family. Their lives are so similar to their audiences’ that they’ve been able to connect on the basis of “relatability.”

Many of these kids (yes, they’re mostly under 25), are paid handsomely to grant brands access to these enormous followings. One branded post on Instagram, for instance, earns top influencers more than most Americans’ yearly salaries. That’s the world I live in. I am the middleman between global brands and influencers. Our world isn’t perfect and few brands have figured it out.

Brands should apply Jenna Marbles’ advice on dating to their archaic media principles.

Today’s marketers have held on tightly to traditional media principles. Most advertisers simply don’t understand the microcosmic universe that rules and informs native advertising through relevant, popular social media channels. I recently had a client who said, “I want to work with influencers who are cool and edgy. We are willing to pay them top dollar to post this picture of our product. Can you make it happen?” Sure, but you’re forcing it.

Unlike most people of the space, I don’t tote the $6 to $9 ROI that marketers love to parade like a fact. To be honest, I know that those numbers are completely absurd. Most people who conduct these campaigns make nothing. Why? Because they’re not marketing; they’re distributing. Influencer distribution is the use or “lease” of channels that are popular on the Gram, Snapchat, or any other platform. Brands dictate the content. They come up with fun captions. They give the influencers a time to post. Brands control nearly the entire process of a creating and publishing a post and expect that post to resonate with an influencer’s audience. Then, they’re surprised when the material fails to perform or convert sales. Let’s look at this scenario logically. A brand hires a creator, then stifles all creativity. The essence of these posts often (not always, but often) feels developed in a laboratory rather than organically. When executed poorly, influencer distribution is the antithesis of effective marketing.

In contrast, influencer marketing is the strategic partnership between a brand and an influencer. One of my favorite samples of influencer marketing is Calvin Klein’s use of Cameron Dallas as the new face of the line. Cameron Dallas has a long history of expressing his genuine interest in the brand. In 2011, he tweeted to fans, “I want to be a Calvin Klein model.” Five years later, Calvin Klein granted his wish. In late April, CK featured Cam Dallas in the latest slew of ads and he reciprocated with a show of CK love all over his social media outlets including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine. The result was a flurry of earned media, organic campaign content, and genuine excitement and passion from the influencer’s fans. Cameron tweeted from the set back in January, giving fans a small taste of the awesomeness to come and continued dropping subtle hints of his new relationship with the fashion icon throughout the first quarter of 2016.

The campaign had such a massive impact because of the longstanding relationship between the brand and the influencer. Cam didn’t simply tweet, “Go buy @calvinklein.” He endorsed the brand with every fiber of his being, and on every social media platform. Though he was paid, he didn’t seem bought.

I urge brands to begin understanding the difference between going after “cool and edgy” and building symbiotic relationships with influencers in your target communities. A product post from a cool person can’t make your product cool. And it’s not very edgy to suppress creativity. So stop forcing it. Companies like mine can “make it happen,” but to what avail? We prefer to seek out influencers who inherently fit your product, already post content that aligns with your brand vision, and work with them, not above them to activate their fan bases.

Morgan Terelle is an influencer marketing expert, tech startup founder and owner of Carman Hall, a social media marketing company that provide brands with unmatched organic digital exposure. For any questions or requests, you can connect with Morgan via Twitter @morganterrelle.

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