Why I hate influencer marketing

February 1, 2018 |

Every so often, a new buzzword infiltrates the PR lexicon, and everyone seems to collectively salivate over it.

Well this one which has popped up in numerous industry listicles has particularly irked me. It seems to be the go-to phrase for obsessing over lately, without anyone really pausing to think – what does it actually MEAN? Refrain from vomiting – it’s ‘influencer marketing’.

Let’s unpick this terminology a little. As human beings, we are influenced by all sorts of things from the moment we get up right up until our last hour awake. We are not robots; our curiosity is constantly piqued from our daily environments. Whatever we are exposed to has an impact on what we feel, think and believe. And our threshold for being knowingly influenced varies. Some are willing to absorb what the famouses of our society (are paid to) push. Others? They prefer smaller, more niche, localised recommendations. As you’re reading this you’re probably subconsciously evaluating how you tip this scale.

So to translate this into a service, influencer marketing is identifying and working alongside these key individuals (increasingly the ‘micro-influencers’ with smaller yet more specific followings) to promote whatever product, organisation or brand is within your remit.

How do you find these individuals? Well, with any trend comes a million different start-ups offering roughly the same thing, and in this case, the opportunity to find, engage and measure campaigns with relevant individuals. I recently spotted a list of 40+ online tools, each claiming to be the holy grail of co-ordinating influencer marketing campaigns. Pfft.

Despite what many might have us believe, the latter demographic of ‘micro-influencers’ have always been a part of any robust PR strategy. Essentially, influencer marketing, which is hijacking this collaboration between agency and ‘content creator’, has existed for years. As a term, it is a shiny, glossy, repackaged, more expensive version of what any PR professional worth their salt should be doing already.

And this is my issue. Industry discourse has labelled it the Next Big Thing when in reality influencer marketing has been used and refined and applauded in practice for YEARS. Calling it something new without recognising that bloggers, online commentators and those with strong personal brands on social have been filling up our heads for at least a decade already is, quite frankly, unfair on our clients.

These agencies claiming they are doing something ground-breaking are pulling the wool over their clients’ eyes. It is dubious and opaque and greedy and pretentious – everything that a solid partnership between agency and client shouldn’t be.

In the same vein that my teeth will grate at a mere mention of ‘reaching out’ or ‘touching base’ (I am not touching anyone’s base, thank you), can we just stop using terms like influencer marketing and instead recognise how to use those fine-tuned relationship-building, research and communications skills within an existing digital PR campaign?

‘Influencer marketing’ as an umbrella term is lazy, self-aggrandising and, if we’re truly acknowledging what it means, old news. And old news is a PR professional’s worst nightmare, no matter how you define it.

So what else should we call it?