Are brands getting what they intend when they pay their ‘social influencers’?

pay-for-play blogger

I don’t have big numbers to share. I have five anecdotal conversations – each with a CMO, or equivalent, of organizations ranging from $35m to just shy of $1bn revenue. Here’s the first. There’ll be more to follow.

This East Coast marketing chief paid $9,000 in total to get five bloggers to write two blog posts and a minimum of four tweets over a four-week period about their supposed adoption of a new tablet accessory. These tweets were then re-published as part of the vendor’s launch invite activities. Each blogger then attended the San Francisco launch earlier this year. That’s approx. $1800 each person.

Was it worth it? The marketing head, who’d identified the bloggers through a ‘social influencer’ database provider, was initially “ok with it, though we’d already known two of the five so we could have approached them direct. We’d have preferred to work with independent bloggers who didn’t need payment, but we were told most did, so we went along with it.”

“It felt a commercial arrangement throughout, with them having all creative control. That was a surprise. It felt like it was all give from us. The upside was that all four turned up at our launch, it wasn’t obvious to anyone else we were paying for them, and we could use their endorsements in our web ads. Financially it wasn’t a bad return for us, but I’ll definitely read their future posts with a lot more skepticism than before. I’ll always wonder if they’ve taken a payment to write about what they have.”

I guess it had to happen – an approach from an ‘influence marketing platform’ company!

I guess it had to happen. I was directly emailed on Friday by one of the ‘influence marketing platform’ companies. And my view on them went from very bad to even worse.

On opening the mail I assumed I was about to be harangued for so criticizing them in the past. I think the whole notion of these ‘platforms’ is terrible – they’re just databases linking vendor marketing depts. with freelancers willing to post about that vendor for payment. Can you imagine any credible individual, with real buyer authority, ever being willing to trade that hard-won credibility for a few under-hand payments and a new line in “Am posting this while snacking on some delicious new cappuccino Oreos”?

Their email actually said that they’d identified me as ‘a marketing thought-leader’, that they had tracked this blog’s subject area and that as a result, I might like to consider using my ‘undoubted influence’ (oh the irony of it) to earn additional income by partnering with brands they represented to share my ‘positive thoughts’ on those brands. It said other ‘influencers’ were earning ‘considerable’ amounts through this process. And it gave me a link to their online ‘partner’ form.

So if I didn’t know it before, I’ve now had it confirmed that no-one at this firm is actually reading the blogs & tweets of those ‘influencers’ they’re approaching – they just have bots sucking up relevant words and phrases and then a mass-mailing app which spams them. I can only assume they’re not telling their clients their ‘influencers’ have been so poorly selected.

Would you want those individuals really influencing your prospects to be treated like that?

The shame of so-called ‘influencer marketing platforms’

I sometimes wish people had to pay a small amount of money every time they used the word ‘influencer’. Then maybe they wouldn’t overuse it so much. More importantly, they wouldn’t shamelessly jump on the bandwagon of everyone’s favorite marketing word these days.

‘Influencer Marketing Platforms’ are a red rag to me. They’re nothing to do with influencers. They’re about brokering deals between marketing freelancers, willing to write about anything, and marketing depts. willing to pay them for under-cover endorsements. It’s desperate on all sides.

I was reading about one such ‘platform’ a few weeks back. I wont even put a spin on their words. This is what they say on their website.

“Are you an influencer that would like to work with brands to create content, generate income and engage your readership? We offer a cloud-based application that enables you to connect with brands and participate in influencer campaigns.

We believe that if an influencer’s powerful, authentic and independent voice makes money for a brand; you should be compensated for your hard work. Generate content about products, services and websites you love and let the brands reward you financially.”

A million miles away from our own understanding of influencers.

How can anyone be authentic, independent .. and yet secretly paid? Is this the honest and transparent marketing that I thought the world was meant to be moving to? Or is it just a logical step for those formerly working in advertising?

Do any top B2B bloggers operate on a pay-for-play basis?

Can anyone think of a B2BThe Buyer-side, Nick Hayes, Influencer50 industry sector where any of the ten most influential bloggers or tweeters operate on a pay-for-play basis?

I was talking last week to one of the heads of the so-called ‘influencer marketing platform providers’. His service actually just brokers relationships between vendor marketing depts. and those bloggers & tweeters willing to promote such vendors for payment. He claimed many ‘top’ bloggers are on his company’s books.

The payment from vendor to blogger is typically pay-by-results-based so ten tweets over a month by one person might cost $100 but by another with greater reach cost $1000. I can see why services like this are keen on the idea – they’re charging a 5-8% cut of any business generated – simply for introducing the marketer to the blogger.

I think every influential blogger / tweeter I can think of would run a mile from such a service. They value their independence too much and accepting a pay-for-play deal would instantly kill both their credibility and their dignity.

There clearly are bloggers more than willing to be paid to write. But nothing tells me they’re the influential ones. Or am I wrong? Is there even one industry sector where influential bloggers do take direct commercial payment for writing about particular vendors? I’d be keen to know.

If I hear of any I’d love to apply our company’s methodology to track their level of market influence and see how that influence is being impacted.

Some marketing depts. have outsourced their logic to Eloqua

The Buyer-side Journey, Influencer50, buyersidejourney.comI was in a prospect meeting last week, running through one of our Influencer Engagement Programs. I was surprised at their quizzical faces when I outlined the program. I thought I was talking common sense. Then they explained. They’d been told not to green-light any marketing program if they couldn’t measure its effect in Eloqua. That’s why they’d moved exclusively over to digital outreach.

Click-rates, open-rates, pass-ons, linger-rates, funnel times – these were all fine. And there didn’t need to be a link with sales, but there did have to be identifiable user actions caught in Eloqua.

But what about real market influencers – those who are one-to-one advising the buyer decision-makers, I asked? They might be doing that in physical real-world meetings, or in direct emails to each other, or across their organization’s intranet. Or there might well be an ‘approved supplier’ list to negotiate first. No, none of those would count, I was told.

I asked why they thought their intended prospects were keen to absorb their outreach digitally, why they believed that increasing click-rates correlated with their buyer’s eventual decisions. There were no answers. They cared only about how Eloqua made them look each quarter.

I ran through how they themselves had made business purchase decisions since the start of the year – items they’d bought or sanctioned for their employer – and whether their decisions could have been tracked had the supplier of that equipment used Eloqua themselves. They agreed their purchasing interest would not have been trackable. But it cut no ice.

The entire conversation was about playing the system with Eloqua. It’s not Eloqua’s fault. But the way some people are using it means they’ve lost sight of what they’re meant to be contributing to their company. That connection between Sales and Marketing is more broken than ever.

When will marketing heads question the value of commercial tweeters & bloggers?

I think within six months in-house heads of marketing will be questioning the benefits of reaching out to the paid-for tweeters & bloggers currently being favored by the emergence of the influencer marketing ‘platforms’. These platforms – a development on the Klout approach of identifying those most prolific on Twitter – are selling through subscription the identities of those making the greatest social media noise.

But those bloggers & tweeters who welcome the approaches of (most often) PR agencies – primarily because of the resulting commercial opportunities – are almost never influential individuals. Certainly not influential to buyers. The platforms are in effect just providing a new database source of commercially-oriented tweeters willing to be part of a vendor’s marketing outreach. That’s fine in itself – good luck to them – but in becoming marketing contractors they are most definitely not sales influencers.

If the metrics you’re using for evaluating your Influencer Marketing outreach are sales-focused then this is a major problem. But as many increasingly use metrics based simply on outreach stats, maybe for them it’s doing the job they want. If so, they’re surely pursuing the wrong goal.

“People much prefer to be active participants than passive ones.” Wrong for starters.

I was reading a formal paper a few days back from a marketing automation firm. I wont name them because I don’t want to give them the oxygen and I’m not into public naming & shaming. They called the paper ‘Best Practices in Social Influencer Marketing’. I see a title like that and I’m curious what on earth they mean.

I then see they’ve taken one of our own company’s original phrases – that of working “to, through and with, influencers” – and prominently highlighted it on their front page. It was a term we publicized when creating the original 2007 Wikipedia entry on ‘Influencer Marketing’. Not surprisingly they used it unattributed. Another red flag to me.

They then wrote a series of absurd statements to make their claim that they understood social influencers. I picked out these gems as further proof of the rubbish some companies write.

 “Becoming an influencer is simply another form of viral marketing, only you’re indirectly promoting yourself instead of your company.”  Just garbage.

 “Good quality influencers post smart and post often.”  I have no idea what they mean by ‘good quality’ influencers! I can only think they mean someone who’s trying very hard to be influential.  Which is patently very different.

 “People much prefer to be active participants than passive ones.”  If that were the case, how come 99% of any blog’s readership are passive and only 1% ever post comments or interact with the author? How come people sign up to follow hundreds of tweet streams yet rarely contribute to any of those conversations? How come we all hate websites tracking us? Human nature dictates that when it comes to social media, the overwhelmingly vast majority much prefer silent, passive roles than active participation.

And there were many more sentences I could have picked out. It was laughable. I can understand what this company is trying to sell. They’re trying to encourage subscribers to their no doubt glorified bulk-mailing software. I just wish they didn’t try and jump on the ‘influencer’ bandwagon when they clearly have no understanding of what they’re talking about. Yet another company muddying the waters and confusing everyone.

Maybe I should go against my nature and actively write to them!

Getting prospects to consider your proposition with any urgency

In a call with a client the other day he told me what his salespeople felt their largest problem was. Getting their prospects to consider their proposition with any urgency. The company could get face to face meetings with their prospects. They could differentiate themselves from the competition. They could even prove the cost-effectiveness of their solution over their rivals. But the purchase decision was always being put on the back burner. They just couldn’t get the check signed in any timely manner. And quarterly sales projections were routinely being missed as a consequence.

I seem to have heard this view several times in the past few years. People are only spending on quarter by quarter essentials. Perhaps just the one priority project, or a maintenance issue that is costing the organization money, reputation, or both. If a company’s proposition doesn’t fit one of those boxes, it’s become a very difficult sell.
When I see the current emphasis on vendors pursuing a content marketing approach, and seeing the subject of that typical content, it just doesn’t address what the sales teams clearly need it to address – what every day of delay is costing the buyer. In tangible and ideally financial terms. But then I wonder how many marketing depts. know the clients’ painpoints, let alone the cost of delay. It’s a pretty fundamental question.

Reblog: Nielsen research: “Content Marketing is 88 Percent Less Effective than PR”


Expect more of these to & fro arguments – especially since most PR companies are now hurtling head-first down the content marketing route!

“Content Marketing is 88 Percent Less Effective than PR” – based on some new Nielsen research. Talks about why experts/influencers are key.

Hat-tip to Robb Henshaw for highlighting the story.

Reblog: Lessons learned at ShareBloc

ShareBloc, Influencer Marketing, Influencer50, Buyer-side Journey

Have just read a fascinating blog post from Andrew Koller and his team at ShareBloc, a new service they describe as ‘Reddit for professionals’, aggregating existing online content relevant to would-be B2B buyers. Until a recent change in direction their service was known as VendorStack. The post outlines why they made the change and offers a number of conclusions reached about what buyers will and wont do when it comes to researching upcoming purchases. As ever, there are many lessons learnt out of failure and the management at ShareBloc has been brave enough to have blogged about this. Respect to them.

Why We Pivoted: A Story About Lessons Learned From Failure – See more at: