Social media influencers’ value is open to debate

Recently, an article on CBC’s website titled: Double or nothing? Social media influencers’ value is open to debate, caught my eye. It is after all, not that long ago, that we at CAMERON Communications, and our colleagues at just about every other agency, were scrambling to find, connect with, and often negotiate with, just the right “influencers” for our clients.

We still do seek out and work with influencers… in some instances, the approach makes perfect sense. Small businesses for example, rely heavily on social media to get the word out about their products and services, and the right connections can make all the difference. Likewise, whether one is in the business or not, we’ve all been witness to the power of celebrity endorsement.

There are two things however, that we now pay much closer attention to: 1) the actual influence of a so-called influencer; and 2) the authenticity of the potential relationship between client and influencer. I happen to agree wholeheartedly with Jaigris Hodson, an associate professor in the College of Interdisciplinary Studies at Royal Roads University, who studies digital culture. “Savvy business people are getting tired of being constantly approached by people who want free products or services, and they are starting to realize that just because a person has many followers, doesn’t mean a social media post will actually deliver any additional customers.”

How absolutely true. Let’s not forget that it’s still remarkably easy to buy followers. Let’s also keep in mind that an influencer with 50,000 followers scattered throughout the country or even further, will do little for a small local business. It’s difficult to quantify the actual value to most businesses relying on influencers to “spread the word”. There is not a lot of hard data about return on investment; about how much sway an influencer really has, or on whether a post from an individual claiming to be an influencer is really worthwhile.

The dilemma for many businesses is that traditional advertising has all but disappeared – TV/broadcast, print, etc., they don’t exist as they once did. Today, online consumers have also become very savvy at avoiding online advertising — so much so that ad blocking costs advertisers billions of dollars annually.

Not long ago, I was presenting at an industry event where we enjoyed some lively discussion on the subject of influencer marketing. Most of us were dismayed by the fact that a staggering number of today’s children, when asked what they aspire to do as adults, said “become an influencer”.  As an example of a poor attempt at influencer marketing, one of the professionals in attendance at the event raised a recent instance of a prestigious Toronto area cosmetic surgery clinic using influencers to push their Medspa services. In this particular case, an influencer/blogger known for attaching herself to virtually any brand or product whatsoever, received a number of pricey facial laser skin rejuvenation treatments in an attempt to even out of complexion.  Upon reading her review of the clinic and treatments; perusing her before and after images; and monitoring how both she and the clinic attempted to promote her experience, review and social media posts, almost unanimously those in attendance at the event queried:

1) How much the influencer had received in the way of free services or compensation by the clinic (her over-the-top review had no credibility with those in the room).

2) The actual success of her treatments and therefore the credibility of her gushing review and social media posts given that not one individual saw a difference in her complexion when comparing before and after photos following her multiple treatments.

3) Why an established and respected local clinic would risk their reputation by aligning themselves with an influencer whose follower base is anything but local; why the clinic or the professional sourcing and overseeing the clinic’s relationship with influencers didn’t select and negotiate with more appropriately-suited individuals; why the clinic would promote this individual’s anything-but authentic review of her experience and results. Many of us current or would-be consumers of Medspa services, walked away from the event and this particular case study with the firm conviction that this is one clinic to avoid for Medspa services, and certainly for more involved cosmetic surgeries. 

Authenticity counts. Some food for thought.