Influencer Marketing, or Just More Clickbait?

At its inception, brands that looked to influencer marketing had worthwhile goals; engaging their fan base and potential customers in authentic, real-time conversation. And wow, has it backfired.

David Hunegnaw, writing in Ad Age, explains how influencer marketing has effectively turned into clickbait.

“Like much of the internet and our social media news feeds, influencer marketing started off with the best intentions: Brands hired the instafamous to help them promote their products,” Hunegnaw writes. “Sadly, the industry has effectively devolved into one similar to clickbait advertising, an industry filled with publishers that monetize their content through shocking headlines, while the instafamous monetize their large followings.”

“This is bad news for brands have embraced influencers to create ‘authentic conversations’ with their fans and customers,” he continues.

The problem is that, for the most part, the influencer interaction is neither authentic nor a real conversation, but thinly-veiled advertising and product placement that savvy consumers can see right through. Either that or these insta-stars aren’t exactly what they appear. Like the potato with the large – and largely fake – following.

Social media influencers with huge audiences are often sought out by brands and paid hefty fees to endorse products and services. And those endorsements are skating on very thin ice, according to the FTC, when they fail to adequately disclose themselves as ads.

Legality aside, brands face a serious risk potential here. As Hunegnaw notes, tricking your customers is a bad business model. Period.

“Rather than engaging celebrities and the instafamous in order to engineer campaigns, brands should be engaging real fans and customers for authentic, brand stories — using those stories to help drive like-minded consumers down the path to purchase,” Hunegnaw advises.

Meanwhile, brands are pouring vast amounts of money ($225 million a month on Instagram alone according to Capitv8) into celebrity social endorsement, and the protocol for identifying the content as ads is sketchy at best.

There is still a place for real influencer marketing – when people who actually know you and your product or service share their experiences with their networks. And those kind of relationships are absolutely priceless. But given the recent spectacular flameouts of some of the new media’s “stars,” relying on these social celebrity entities purely based on their follower count is a recipe for brand disaster.