Just before Christmas, marketing guru Seth Godin took aim at the “scam” of influencer marketing via Instagram and other social media platforms in a short but widely read blog post that resonated with me as someone who has spent many years advocating for the power of influencers, dating back to my 2003 book, The Influentials.
Seth focused on the statistics involved with going viral: “part of the scam is that the pyramid scheme of attention will somehow pay off for a lot of people. It won’t. It can’t. The math doesn’t hold up. Someone is going to win a lottery, but it probably won’t be us.” I agree, because influencer marketing has morphed from a focus on the influencer “next door” to a paid Instagram celebrity. Let’s not lose sight of what influencer marketing can and should be.
As the calendar turns on a new year—and a new decade—I’d like to suggest marketers adopt the following New Year’s resolution for influencer marketing:
“From this day forward, I resolve to focus on connecting with everyday influencers, rather than celebrity influencers, as they are the surest pathway to achieving word-of-mouth impact at scale.”
By “everyday” influencers, I mean the 1 in 10 consumers with large real-world social networks and an affinity for making product recommendations to friends and family. They were the subject of my 2003 book, and their power is as great if not greater today. I’ve continued to describe the opportunity of reaching everyday influencers including a 2019 world advertising industry journal article, and in tools my firm, Engagement Labs, has created for reaching these valuable consumers. Everyday influencers have 131 brand-related conversations every week versus the national average of 73. By reaching these influencers, marketers enjoy almost twice the word-of-mouth reach than average consumers provide, and the impact of their recommendations is four times as great due to their credibility and perceived expertise.
But don’t just take my word. Leading academics have evaluated a variety of influencer marketing methods and settled on everyday influencers as highly valuable. Focusing on the impact of influencers on new production introductions, they find the power of influencers comes in two forms: 1) by expanding the market reached by a new product and 2) by accelerating the pace of product adoption, which confers major competitive advantages over rival products.
None of these effects rely on social media for success, although social platforms are among the communications tools used by everyday influencers. Increasingly, we’re learning that social media conversations are not representative of real life.
In the decade ahead, I join with Seth Godin in recommending markers avoid the pyramid scheme of celebrating social media influencers in favor of the authentic and scalable power of everyday influencers.