How did the world of Influencer Marketing come to this?

When we started our company, and then wrote one of the original books on Influencer Marketing, our intention was to identify the real-world sales influencers – whether they made a noise about it or not. We wanted to better understand how sales were being made – and better understand what was standing in the way when sales weren’t made.

Today when we read discussions about Influencer Marketing they’re most commonly nothing to do with those subjects. They’re invariably about social scoring, about how brands can create databases of those who are most active online on a particular subject. Want to know who tweets most often, to the widest number of people, on the subject of say Android? Or who the most prolific pay-for-play bloggers on the subject of consumer goods are? How did we get so far from real-world sales?

Klout certainly affected the perception of influencer marketing by saying they were something they were not. They said they were ‘the standard for influence’ and because of their notoriety, and the level of funding behind them, people listened. Then everyone realised they weren’t – but by then all kinds of newcomers had entered the fray. Most criticized Klout for just how speculative its evaluation system was, just how easy it was to game their score, and then tried to make their own company’s scoring a little more robust. But Klout established the concept that identifying influencers meant identifying social influencers, that influence meant activity on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and the like. And that’s the connection I think has been most damaging to the real world of influencer marketing.

Over the past eight years we’ve identified the market influencers for hundreds of organizations across more than forty countries – from the U.S. to Australia, from Vietnam to Sweden. And in almost every market sector the number of ‘social influencers’ – those influencing a real-world market primarily through their social media activity – amongst our top influencers has been less than 30%. Way less. Sometimes it’s almost unmeasurably low. And that’s because we’re measuring ‘purchasing influencers’ – those who have a direct effect on the sales of a company’s products & services. Occasionally, and I mean occasionally, the number of ‘social’ names within the top influencers can be significant. But only in very specific and very ‘online’ markets.

Most companies operate in a mix of the offline, online and social worlds. That’s where their existing customers, and prospects, live. What I’m most interested in are those who are really influencing sales. It seems a very different path to the 2013 version of Influencer Marketing. And I’d like to help it back on track.

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