Recently, there has been a viral story going around about an ice cream truck doubling the cost for influencers. The anti-influencer perspective is real and understandable, but I wanted to write about the other perspective. Can influencers be useful for you and your business?
Radio stations, billboards, Oprah, Paris Hilton. These are all entities that at some point tried to sell you something and were paid for it. They’re different, but their money is the same. These people’s occupations shifted to the internet and have been updated for the way the new generation interacts with media. Radio station ads are now on podcasts. Billboard ads are just Instagram ads. As for Oprah and Paris Hilton, their influence has shifted to a new, younger generation of people with smaller, segmented audiences. These celebrities are now known as influencers.
Think of It Like This
We all have that go-to friend in our lives. You’re going on a first date and want to know a good restaurant, you go to this person. Need an idea for a gift, they have the ideas. This person is an influencer for you. They have tried all the restaurants and know a lot about certain subjects and use that knowledge to recommend products and ideas to you.
In many cases, you’re an influencer. How many times are you, the reader, asked about which camera to get? You’re literally influencing someone’s decision to buy a camera.
It’s the same thing, just on a much larger scale. The reason the term influencer is seen as a sin is because anybody can do it. The problem with that logic is that the reason they’re influential to people is because they’ve put themselves out there and have gained the trust of a group of people.
These people don’t just start on Monday and by Saturday, they’re getting free things. They build up a community through their own reviews and videos on products and topics that range from beauty to health and fitness.Influencers work just as hard as the rest of us. You're just not watching them until after the hard work paid off. Model: @jessicamarkowski - MUA: @akashahaze
So Why Do These People Deserve Free Things?
When you’re trying to release a product or get brand recognition, what do you do? You buy ads. Let’s say you’re a small makeup company with a product specifically targeted for Southeast Asian women and you have a very small marketing budget. Do you buy banner ads for the most popular websites that reach larger audiences that aren’t specific? Or do you go for a smaller, more dedicated audience that is specifically the demographic you’re trying to reach? Chances are you lean towards the latter. Why? Because influencers are cheaper than banner ads, and if you do your due diligence, your product will actually be seen by the very specific audience you’re trying to attract.
Influencers are able to talk directly to specific communities. You can pay them to review your product or use it in a video or post about it on Instagram. That’s incredibly specific brand awareness that you wouldn’t get from a banner ad. So, giving free product or paying on top for someone to use the product will have the reach and impact brands are looking for.
This isn't just about makeup either. People get invited to parties and to movies just so their product gains awareness. It’s always been this way; before, it was just inviting Paris Hilton to the perfume opening party so she gets printed in People’s Magazine at the event. Now, you’re inviting 5-10 influencers who actually post behind the scenes with the products to their dedicated audience who are likely interested in the product in the first place.
But Dave, What About the Influencers Who Are Just Attractive People and Have Followers Because of Their Looks?
It’s all ad space. Do you get mad people buy ads in Maxim when that’s only purchased because it’s attractive women? No? Then, what’s the difference? People have made money by pushing pictures of attractive women for decades.
But What About the People Who Reach Out to Companies Asking for Free Product?
It’s business. Not everyone is going to be aware of who you are, even if you could help them. I reach out all the time to companies so they know I exist and I can do good work for them. I don’t just sit around waiting for people to hire me. That’s not being proactive.
Do some people go overboard with it? Of course, given certain contexts. But in every field, there's a group of people who think they deserve to do everything. How many photographers are reaching out to Nike and Vogue everyday saying they can shoot for them? People in every field overreach because they don’t know their true value. You just don’t hear those stories because they’re not 19-year-old women whose only leverage is followers.
I don’t see the problem with it, though. How many celebrities get free hotel rooms just for a magazine to say they stayed there? How many celebrities get free dresses to wear to award shows because the designer will get free publicity on the red carpet? It’s the exact same thing, just with smaller, more dedicated audiences.
What About the Fake Influencers Who Buy Followers?
Any company that gives products out to people without doing their due diligence on the numbers and demo can only blame themselves. You can easily verify the follower versus average like and comment numbers and even ask them for their demographic numbers on Instagram. If a woman who only posts swimsuit photos is followed by 75% men, maybe don’t have them advertise beauty products. Maybe Red Bull has new flavors to release, though, and the woman would be a good fit for that.
Influencers Aren’t New. They’re Just Celebrities Under a New Title.
Seriously, think about it. Instagram to a lot of people is just a virtual magazine rack. You get makeup tips, fashion tips, and see your favorite celebrities doing fun things. So, instead of buying print ads in Teacher’s Monthly, you pay Amy Groesbeck to create content based around your product and all the 23-to-35-year-old teachers who used to own a magazine subscription but now just follow Amy and others like her.
Okay, So How Can This Help Me?
Influencers are everywhere. They're not just attractive women selling detox teas. You just need to find the influencers in your field and work with them. Here are some off-the-cuff ways you can do that.
For photographers who want to shoot fashion or beauty, you want to find someone well-connected and agency-signed, someone who, by looking at their profile, you can tell has a lot of friends who are also models from the comments she gets and maybe even beauty brands as well. These are the people you reach out to test with. One test with an agency-signed model can become five paid shoots and a new connection to an agency, which can turn into even more paid work.
If you shoot headshots, use LinkedIn. Find people who have lots of connections and offer to shoot their new headshot for them. Chances are, when they update their profile photo people, will ask them where they got it done. Do the same with Instagram's Location feature to see who's checking in at larger businesses around you. Find people who work at the businesses and have a lot of followers and offer to shoot their headshot for them. It's all word of mouth.
If you're a car photographer, go to car shows and find people with the best cars there and offer to shoot for them in a stylized setting, something they can get printed. For starters, having an older Mustang in your portfolio probably looks better than your friend's Subaru, and the person with the Mustang probably has friends who would be interested in their own similar photoshoot with their older cars.
Dave, Stop Telling Me to Work for Free.
It’s all how you leverage the experience. At the end of the day, you’re just offering your services to people who happen to be decision-makers. There are influencers and popular people for all walks of life. You just need to find the ones that fit what you want to do. And here's the thing, if you’re at a point where no one knows you and you need more eyes on your business, then this isn't working for free. You’re just spending time and money on advertising.
It’s a Gamble, But All Advertising Is.
You could spend $500 on an Instagram ad campaign and have it go nowhere. And now you’re out $500. With that same money, I could rent 20 hours of studio time with a makeup artist and work with professional models I’d never have the opportunity to shoot if I waited around for them to pay me.
Influencers are just part of the marketing portfolio for building up word of mouth. Banner ads and sponsored posts are usually ignored because we’ve seen millions of them across the internet and they are usually of little to no interest to the viewer. Seeing someone you know (or think you know through an internet friendship) actually use a product will give you a much stronger connection to the product that you wouldn’t have had before.
Stop Complaining About Influencers and Embrace Them
Influencers are people who have large, dedicated followings. You’re just trying to buy ad space on their page. That’s all this is. Since the internet began, the way media has been consumed has changed. A large portion of it is now in the hands of the many smaller creators and no longer in the hands of 20 large organizations. Instead of complaining about how people look at content, adapt to it and make it beneficial for you.