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I recently sat on a panel where I had the opportunity to discuss the importance of influencer marketing. “Influencer Marketing” – it’s a term that’s thrown around a lot these days. So much so that conferences are dedicating entire panels to it. So clearly it’s something worth exploring, right?
The term only began appearing a few years ago and I so wish I knew who came up with it. Most of the articles I’ve seen on influencer marketing are written from the perspective of the marketer or PR agencies. I’m sure they exist out there but I’ve yet to come across an article about influencer marketing written from the perspective of an actual influencer – a name I begrudgingly have embraced as my job title. It’s a little self-indulgent for me but I’m learning to accept it.
Unless you are an influencer or work in PR/Marketing I’ve found that not many people understand what an influencer actually does and what influencer marketing is all about. I’ve also heard it diluted down to someone who promotes stuff on Instagram. If only it were that simple. So I thought I would break down what influencer marketing is all about from the perspective of an influencer.
WHAT IS AN INFLUENCER?
As much as I hate the term “influencer” it pretty accurately describes what I/we do. In essence, influencers are people or small communities that influence people’s decisions. We’re viewed more as word of mouth or your knowledgable friend giving you a great recommendation rather than a magazine ad or commercial. Whether it’s where to eat in Boise, the best matcha powder or how to save money on your groceries, Influencers share their personal perspectives that in turn influences their audience’s decisions.
How they go about doing this differs from person to person (more on this below) but the premise is pretty simple: human shares life + products/services they use and audience watches and potentially follows suit.
HOW DID I BECOME AN INFLUENCER?
Did I set out to influence people’s decisions? Absolutely not. If you’ve been following The Healthy Maven since it started almost 7 years ago you’d know this. THM began as a place for me to explore health and wellness and connect with a like-minded community. I never in a million years expected millions of you to be reading. And I’d like to believe that most influencers started this way.
Most influencers started with a unique perspective to share and as a result an audience grew around them. This was certainly the case back in 2013 when I started and the term “influencer” didn’t exist. I had no idea I was starting a business, let alone becoming an influencer. I felt passionate about something and took a risk in sharing it. What’s unfolded is simply a result of this passion and a lot of hard work. Like I mentioned above, it is not my favorite term but it seems that more and more people are becoming familiar with it so I’m learning to be okay with it.
WHAT DOES AN INFLUENCER DO?
Like any profession, what an influencer actually does differs from person to person. I like to remind people that there are many types of doctors or lawyers. Likewise, there are many types of influencers. Some focus more on lifestyle and take their followers around with them all day. Others focus more on content creation (recipes, how-tos, DIYs etc…) and you know little about their personal life. Some talk about food. Others share workouts. Some were on the bachelor (lol). There is an influencer for everything and which platform(s) they choose to use can vary.
The Healthy Maven for example tends to be more focused on content creation with a little bit of lifestyle on certain platforms. Blogging is by far my biggest platform, however I also share my work through social media, YouTube and podcasting. Some influencers focus exclusively on Instagram. Some sell products of their own. There is no catch-all for what an influencer does.
I am well-aware of the fact that THM is not rocket science and certainly isn’t saving lives. However, I’d like to believe my content is valuable and useful and/or can provide some entertainment value even if it isn’t the most valuable information. Most of what I share is not sponsored i.e. not paid for by a brand. However, some of my work is sponsored as it pays my bills and allows me to share content that I don’t have to charge for.
WHAT IS INFLUENCER MARKETING?
Influencer marketing is a type of digital marketing. Many people are familiar with advertisements they see on websites and in videos. These are both types of digital marketing. Influencer marketing happens in a couple of different ways but the one most of you have probably come across is sponsored content. Sponsored content is a transactional relationship between a brand and an influencer (blogger, vlogger, instagrammer, podcaster etc…) where the influencer is paid to promote a product. In theory the influencer uses the product and/or loves it but I’ll chat more on that below.
Influencer marketing can also be through non-payment transactions (i.e. free product) or affiliate marketing (i.e. tracking code where the influencer earns commission).
Like any type of traditional marketing or other types of digital marketing, influencer marketing is a part of how companies spread the word on their product and drive sales. This is especially true in the last few years as influencer marketing has proven to be comparable or better to other marketing channels (source).
WHAT FOLLOWERS/READERS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT INFLUENCERS
I am both an influencer and a follower, however being an influencer has given me a unique look at the world of influencer marketing from a consumer’s perspective. Biggest thing I’ve learned: DON’T TRUST EVERYTHING YOU READ ON THE INTERNET. Of course, I’m not doing myself or my industry any favors by sharing this but it’s true. I don’t believe that a credential makes someone an expert but likewise, I don’t believe that someone with confidence telling other people how to live their life on the internet makes someone an expert either. I look for two things when it comes to influencers who I follow:
1. How extreme are they in their language?
2. How much self-awareness do they *appear* to have
If someone conclusively believes they have the answers without the research or proof to back it up, I run the other way. You’ll notice that for anything that I share that is not anecdotal, I provide scientific research. If it’s purely anecdotal or not proven by science I will always include a disclaimer that this is my personal experience and to follow with caution.
I also consider my job a responsibility, and one which I do not take lightly. I assess whether promoting something, paid or not is actually in the best interest of my audience. There is plenty I don’t share on here because it would be irresponsible to do so. If they cannot assess their own needs vs. the needs of their audience (and yes they are often one in the same!) I’d be apprehensive to follow.
Other things to note:
a) When we are paid to talk about something we are legally required to disclose this. #Ad and #sponsored are usually the two ways to denote this (#partner or #brandpartner does not count – stop using these!). Laws vary from country to country. For example: in the UK you are legally required to disclose if something was sent to you for free, even if you didn’t get paid to talk about it, however this is not the case in the US.
b) The last point I want to make is all about why influencers get paid. From an influencer perspective, we get paid so that we can continue to do this for a living. If an influencer does their job well, their content is equally as valuable whether its paid for or not. My job is to bring awareness to this campaign since it could be a huge business opportunity for YOU. If not, I’m still sharing information regarding what it means to be an influencer and how influencer marketing works. I’d be writing this post whether it was sponsored or not. Make sense?
From the reader’s perspective I also can see why sponsored content feels annoying and inauthentic. There will always be people who don’t do their job well and choose sponsored work that is not the right fit and/or do not provide something valuable for their audience, sponsored or not. I am grateful for this opportunity every single day and am deeply aware that YOU have given me this opportunity, however your girl still has rent to pay so I can only hope that my audience can understand and appreciate this and most of the time you do.
WHAT MARKETERS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT INFLUENCERS
I’m not going to lie, this portion of the post is what I wish I could send to every marketer that has pitched me inappropriately, expected me to work for free applesauce and/or thinks I’m a hired actor. Apologies in advance if this sounds a bit aggressive…
1. We are small-medium-sized businesses
At least many of us are businesses. Some people consider their platform more of a hobby, which is totally cool but many of us do this for a living or a side-hustle. Please treat us with the same respect you would any other type of business partnership.
2. We are also people
What makes us different from other business partnerships is that we are people. It’s also the reason influencer marketing is so effective. Our audience sees us as friends and a word of mouth recommendation. We are not actors and have spent many years building trust with our audiences. So yes, please treat us with respect, but keep in mind that we are sharing our lives on the internet and this is an incredibly vulnerable position to be in.
3. We are not desperate for your XYZ product
Well, maybe some of us are but for the most part, you are not doing us a favor by sending us free stuff making it our obligation to talk about it. I work for my audience, not for the marketer or brand so if it doesn’t serve my audience, it doesn’t serve me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly grateful for the privileges this job has afforded me. That being said, I put A LOT of hard work into The Healthy Maven and it’s incredibly demeaning when you think I should be so lucky to be able to talk about your product or service.
4. Not all of us work the same way
Not all of us are professional. Not all of us consider this a hobby. Not all of us operate with the same standards. Like I mentioned above, consider influencers through the same lens as you would any profession. We exist on a spectrum and work in different ways. It is up to you, as the marketer or brand to find the best fit for your company.
I hope this post can be help for you in understanding influencer marketing – and especially from the perspective of an influencer. At the end of the day, we are just people, trying to figure our own lives out and trying to do well by the audience which most of us never knew we’d have. I am deeply grateful for this opportunity every.single.day, but I’m still human and make mistakes. It’s also a bit nerve-wracking to see where all of this is going to go, however I never could have predicted I’d be here so I’m trying my best to enjoy the ride.
As always, open to your questions/feedback. Feel free to share them below.