Are Influencer Marketers Really Gamblers?

Photo Credit: Michal Parzuchowski

Influence is nothing new. There are countless episodes from history that show how smart, charming, and sometimes conniving individuals and organizations wielded their relationships and assets to sway the world in their favor. Until recently, though, most of this influence remained unspoken or decidedly soft-spoken.

Fast forward to the age of social media and we are more than familiar with the modern variant of influence — influencer marketing. In its earliest incarnations, I resembled the old-fashioned version of influence, top level personalities and celebrities working with 3rd parties to endorse and bless all manner of items and services. This did not last long.

With the Internet’s arrival, brands got a quick glint of something they’d long coveted, an advertising vehicle with direct, not indirect measurement. Surely, we still, to this day, with attribution, but it’s nothing like the old “50% of my advertising works, we just don’t which half” days. Enter addiction.

Brands and their agencies are the ONLY ones to blame for the current dilemma plaguing influencer marketing today. Armed with a singular definition of success, the CPM (or eCPM or CPC or eCPA), brands fashioned this emergent industry in the its first digital child’s likeness.

Like a parent forcibly choosing her favorite child, everything is the same because everything is equal in their eye. An platform | network | ad | creative | influencer is only as good as its reach, plain and simple. Quantity rules all.

Some time in its existence, quality mattered to companies large and small. We all made things we took pride in and told authentic stories about those things. Today, quality doesn’t matter nearly as much as it should — at least if we go by the things they say in their ads. Faster, cheaper, crappier — pick two.

Brands turn to influencers for all sorts of things. From credibility, to content to amplification, to reach — every one of these dimensions serves a purpose at some point in the marketing journey. Some methods are considered “right” while others are considered “wrong” or “impure”. Eventually, they all converge on the latter end of the spectrum.

In truth, influencer marketers are gamblers at heart. Choosing the influencer is a gamble. Letting them create their own content is a gamble. Trusting them to say positive things is a gamble. Betting their message will be a hit is a gamble. It’s all a gamble, numbers be damned.

Consider reach. While they all know that they will get a fairly predictable effective reach, what they’re really looking for is that unexpected upside. Every influencer knows their audience, but most can’t predict what’s going to be a “hit” until there’s data streaming in. Much to the frustration of content creators everywhere, they can’t write something that will be viral, they can just increase their batting average.

For all the data we have at our disposal, end of the day we’re all still just humans hoping for the slightest advantage we can give ourselves. A small loss here, a big win there. What’s the worst that could go wrong?

Just watch out, everyone knows the house always has the advantage.