The Case for Influencers and Why They Can Be Valuable to You

The Case for Influencers and Why They Can Be Valuable to You

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.

Beauty model macro photo
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.

Shades by Shan Highlighter Palette

Makeup companies like Shades by Shan use influencers to help reach new markets and to get the word out about product launches.

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.

Macro beauty photography with red lip

Two images from a test shoot that ended with me creating a contact with an agency.

Model @cheryl.pico - Makeup: @jessielynnmakeup

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.

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49 Comments

Didn't realise you're the absolute authority on Influencers, mark mark.

Steven Magner's picture

*Reads title. Judges article. Submits lazy comment*

David Justice's picture

I understand where you're coming from, the thing is it's just not true. A lot of people are paid to review things or given free product to review, that doesn't mean everything said about the product is a lie. You're coming at everything from a place of mistrust. Do some lie? Of course. But to say anytime a product is given to someone to review it's immediately not to be trusted is just false.

And that topic isn't even related to the topic of the article. This was written to explain why you should try and work with influential people in your area because they can reach a more dedicated, local audience than putting out an ad on Facebook and Instagram.

I work in New York and if there's an influencer who communicates with brands I would like to work with, I'll try and shoot with them. Because there's a good chance the brand will see my work. I get most of my clients and agency connections because I shot with someone super popular and they saw those photos and wanted to work with me because of it.

And if you don't want to believe me. Here's a video where Lindsay Adler literally says for networking her objective is to get into the sphere of influence of her dream clients by working with people who are already connected to her target audience: https://youtu.be/Rr-z8FxopeA?t=150

David Justice's picture

"Influencers are just part of the marketing portfolio for building up word of mouth."

Jeff Walsh's picture

Imma take a stab in the dark and guess you're over the age of 50. I too like to trash things I have no understanding of, and spew nonsense based in unproven theories and assumptions. My favorite part is that you say "unregulated" yet every single influencer is required by law to state if they were paid to advertise a product. Mostly though, you sound like you're mad your yellow book and newspaper ads stopped working and that damn smart phone is just too much for you.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Tax does not define influencers regulation. In fact, I'd be interested to see how many really report anything before getting caught. It really looks like facing a nightmare the day these people get interviewed by the IRS. Learning curve could be rough.

Jeff- Do influencers need to register somewhere as a spokesperson/pitchman or pitchwoman/ shill or carneybarker? They are not like an ad agency with a legal department.
There are plenty of influencers and youtube reviewers who are taken on junkets, given things to review and the companies are too lazy or smart to ask for the item back. Is that payment... there are a lot of fuzzy areas..
How are they required by law to do anything? When do I change from being a schmoe with an opinion to a influencer with an obligation to know what I am talking about or tell the truth? I guess when I get enough followers...

Jeff Walsh's picture

So, based on what you just typed out, it's easy to say you don't know what an "influencer" is. It's fair, because this type of marketing and advertising is new'ish. Lots of words incoming.

An influencer is simply someone who has developed an audience who listens to them. That's it. Most of the time it's a very small, niche group of people, such as photographers. I'll use someone like Jared Polin because I enjoy his content.

He is a photographer. He is a YouTuber. He is both of those things at the same time. He creates photography related content on his YouTube channel. He has created a community around him and his content. He has developed a trust with his community.

Now then, if you own a photography product company, and you want your target demographic to hear about your product you can cast a very wide net and go through traditional advertising, or you can contact someone like Jared Polin. You can ask him, "If I send you this product for free, would you review it in one of your YouTube videos?" Remember, he isn't an ad agency. He is a photographer. He is a YouTuber. So, everything he says will be of his own personal opinion about your product.

Are there influencers out there who give bullshit reviews? Yup. Are there influencers out there straight up lying about things? Yup. How can they do that? Because they are individuals who have developed a community over whom they have an influence. Everything you hear come out of an influencers mouth is nothing more than their opinion.

This type of "advertising" and "marketing" if both extremely powerful, and extremely dangerous. I'll start with the danger side because it's the most simple: people lie. Plain and simple, people will lie for money. They don't care about the community they've built. All they want is money, and they will say anything you pay them to say. There is literally nothing anyone can do about that. People are allowed to give their opinions. People are allowed to lie about their opinions.

The power of influencers comes in with their ability to speak directly into a market. This is why Nike "sponsors" so many professional basketball players. They are given money to wear the shoes, and Nike gets their shoes on professionals who have influence over people who are fans of those individuals.

Over time, what will happen, is that influencers who are liars and greedy will betray their audience enough times that they will lose their audience eventually. That's what happens when you say a product is amazing and it turns out like shit. The key to all of this is partnering with someone who is developing/developed a trusting relationship with their audience, and is honest with that audience. Those are the influencers that will thrive, and will help their clients grow as well. Their audience, over time, will learn that the product reviews are honest opinions, and will be far more willing to just believe what the influencer has to say.

This doesn't need to be regulated, because it's all opinion based on people who admittedly aren't advertisers. They are content creators, who have developed a community who trusts them/is entertained by them. So your comment at the end about getting enough followers is 100% correct, even though it was dripping with sarcasm. If you have enough legitimate followers who engage with you and the content you create, you automatically begin to have influence over them. The things you say matters to that audience, and that allows you to leverage that attention into dollars. Whether they are honest dollars, well, that's up to your moral compass.

That was a lot of words. I am aware of what influencers do, in fact I even know a couple. Thanks.

Jeff Walsh's picture

Are you sure, because everything you've stated says otherwise. I mean, just a quick glance through your replies and it's pretty safe to say you actually don't get it, like, even in the smallest amount. But what is clear is how upset influencers make you, which I'm sure is awesome for the ones you "know" personally.

Jeff, the 2 people I know who could be called influencers I have known since before they influenced anyone. And they are not in the photo world.

Nope the influencers don't upset me, they sometimes confuse and amuse or entertain me.

Hang on, most adverts are paid lies, or paid twists of truth, or paid misrepresentations, or paid skewed facts.

The whole point of lifestyle adverts (which is what you'll mostly see on Instagram) is to make something aspirational.

I've worn Lynx deodorant, but I've never been dry humped by a gaggle of women while doing so!

My grandad wore Old Spice, but he didn't turn into a rippling black demigod!

The point has never been to tell the truth, it's been to create a controlled lie that you're willing to buy in to. And in all honesty, it's more strict now, with influencers having to clearly stick to the facts and be transparent for fear of hefty reprisals, than it's ever been in the commercial advertising world.

Of course, I didn't say anything about photography or the source of the imagery. I was talking about the adverts. An advert is made up of much more then the imagery. You've got the concept and the sell, and that's what I'm referring to, which is something created by the agencies as you say. So we're both in agreeance still. It doesn't matter who creates the content, the fact is traditional adverts may not lie as much anymore (ahem... Huawei....), but they sure can be flexible with the truth a lot. Nobody ever advertises the negatives after all.

While you can be explicit in a lie now, such as saying wearing Nike Will make you run faster, you can sell a fantasy world where everyone you see wearing Nike is is a professional fitness model, and has a great life.

In some regards, influences are there to advertise to the people who don't want to buy into a particular brands concept, but want to buy into a particular person's concept (because people are the brand of 2019).

Are they always truthful? No. Is anyone always truthful? No. Does a bad product placement risk harming their authority and fan base? Yes. Is that a bad business decision? Yes. Is everyone in the world ethical? Of course not.

I don't personally subscribe to influencers, and I don't subscribe to traditional advertising. I work as a print journalist, and let's just say, neither are perfect, but both are necessary.

And one more interesting fact for you... Traditional media needs those advertising bucks a lot more than new media... Figure that into the equation.

Of course, as you're aware, a model working on a decent commercial campaign can easily earn 20k. However, 20k will buy you a Lot of micro influencer postings, likely enough for an entire campaign over a multitude of platforms and posts.

Of course, it won't buy you much in the way of celebrity endorsements. The highest followed Instagram account (excluding Instagram) is Christian Ronaldo, and in 2018 he charged $750,000 for a single post. One of the Kardashians (I don't remember or care who) was charging $1 million for a post. So the budgets are still there, but they can be spent much more efficiently.

A large scale campaign that runs in print, TV and billboards for example will now reach less than ever before, but at the same time as just simple reach dropping, it will hit fewer of its target audience.

A well placed promotion with a micro blogger at a fraction of the costs will likely yield a much higher ROI and CTR than a large scale campaign. That's why influences are so important these days.

Are there a bunch of over privilidged 20 year old who think a few followers, who turn out mostly to be old men who want to look at their ass, is enough to demand the world? Yes. But, is this mostly a global shift from traditional media to new media? Absolutely.

Its always been the same, advertisers have always twisted the truth to some degree. However, the advertising standards have started to clamp down and impose strict penalties on bloggers who aren't being entirely transparent. Stricter than, in my experience, traditional outlets. It's adapting, and my humble circulation of 40k (making us the best selling publication of our genre) is a small drop in the ocean.

Like it or not. They're here to stay.

I get where you're coming from, but I ask you instead, how long has it already lasted?

And I'm not saying I appreciate lies, or misleading truths, but I'm talking about your original statement:

"influencers are the textbook definition of false advertisement (regulated in traditional publishing). Basically means that traditional ads can't lie. Influencers can."

And as you've just pointed out in your last reply, both politicians and traditional media can "lie" already and get away with it, so I don't see where influencers are any different.

100% correct mark mark.
They're leaches on society.
Seems to be a lot of confused people on this thread....

Steven Magner's picture

The word "Influencer" has been so diluted due to overuse that it falls into the realm of calling someone a "Hipster" because they dress/act differently. It's just the lazy approach.

By definition Brett Favre is a Wrangler "Influencer" because he is in all their advertisements during football season. I highly doubt many people would consider him as such though, rather an ex-athlete marketing his likability for personal gain. And please, don't try to convince me he actually ONLY wears Seven jeans...

Most people will get hung up on the fact that nobodies can become somebodies from "influencing"... wow, what a concept.

Also, good article, David

Adam Palmer's picture

I can't stand the word influencer but I do agree with the main point of the article that most of your advertising will be done on social media in the future so we better get used to it.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I'm not that certain. A large part of the advertising I can retain on social media are products I've searched on my own, since already purchased or decided on not to purchase. Someone is paying a lot for me to review my recent past and it makes no sense. I compare this to some form of multimedia robocall annoyance.

Steven Magner's picture

You're referring to ad-retargeting based on previous searches. I think Adam is referring to users he may follow selling items that he may or may not have searched or heard of before. If you're on Instagram, Facebook or YouTube you will come across this all the time.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Same thing to me really. I don't "have to differentiate the two" just because the model is different. They do the same in the end.

Jason Lorette's picture

Very well articulated point of view, the only 'influencer' issue I ever have is if they are offering 'bad' advice to people just to add another notch to their belt. My girlfriend works in the skin care field and gets extremely upset at some random influencer hocking the latest 'miracle cure' for some face issue that has no basis in scientific fact (slap that mashed avocado cream on your face...no, eat it...don't wear it).
But I understand this happens in traditional marketing/advertising as well (just ask Gwenyth Paltrow, uugh).

To me a great example of that in photography is Ken Rockwell. I first heard of him several years ago when he was spewing blanket nonsense that megapixels don't matter. With most of what some of the blow hards say there is some grain of truth bur only in specific cases. In order to be sensational and get attention wild sweeping opinions and exaggerations are stated as facts and some people believe them.

Rob Mitchell's picture

‘Effluentcers’ I have to deal with them. I hope the term vanishes soon.

David Justice's picture

"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 think one of the issues is that the influencer wants a disproportional amount of services for their influence from relatively small photography businesses. A large clothing or cosmetics company will budget for giving away hundreds of products for the advertising. Even a meal for two in a restaurant that turns over a hundred covers a day is not too big a deal.
A large camera or photography related company will loan or give away products to photographers with a large following in the hope that it leads to more sales.
If you have a small one or two person photography business giving away a wedding shoot or afternoon of work it is a lot higher cost to them. The influencer needs to be far higher up the food chain for it to be worth while and its likely that if they are that influential they will either pay for photographers that work at their level or have talented photographers who want to break in to the business approach them.
The disconnect is that being a influencer with a "small" under 100k following starts to require good photography and equipment to grow but the photography and equipment is expensive and they cant afford the services.

Not sure I see the difference between working free for a branded business or an influencer (a branded business with a personable face). Though I wonder if those exchanging services for exposure are advertised for an agreed-upon duration and intervals.

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