The Whole Fuss About “Influencer Marketing”

Sand Art at Port Aransas

When I write a post like yesterday’s about my experience staying at The Port Royal Resort, there are invariably some people who voice concern and dismay. Some rattle their swords and say that I’ve sold out. Others say that I’m disingenuous (a word I evidently can’t spell, so thanks squiggly line gods). Still others just don’t know what to think, because it’s not a straightforward post about business or marketing. It’s what amounted to a trip report on a few days away from such matters.

There’s a whole “to do” about what is or isn’t okay with “influencer marketing.” In a nutshell, the concept behind this type of marketing is that if you (the company) give your product or service to someone who has an audience of some size and value, that you’ll stand to benefit from the association. But that’s the straightforward intent. I’ll get back to that in a moment. Let me talk about how it gets tricky quickly.

Blogs and Social Networks are the Battleground of This Mess

One challenge is that blogs and social networks have no implied or explicit rules about how such interactions should be handled, and people are forced to presume and assume far more often than not. In the US, the Federal Trade Commission published guidelines around this kind of interaction, but they’re dodgy and people interpret them differently.

The way I’ve handled such matters here on [] has been relatively consistent over time. If there’s a reason why I might be biased or otherwise have some explicit and obvious reason to express something, I disclose it. If I sell something, for instance, I put (affiliate) or (affiliate link) after the link where I’m selling. (Sometimes, if I have lots of affiliate links in the same post, I might blanket explain that.) I also have a very robust about page that explains my potential biases even more.

But sometimes, people don’t go to that effort. Sometimes, they just promote a product or a service or something where they have the chance to directly gain from an interaction, and they choose not to disclose (or they omit) that relationship.

And at other times, people don’t see a disclosure, but still worry that a piece of writing or a tweet or whatever might be biased, and so they don’t take any action for fear that they’re being sold, but without any disclosure. Still another whole chunk of the web has no idea any of this is going on and they just click through because others haven’t explained that these kinds of relationships could exist.

Me? I’m a big fan of disclosure. In yesterday’s post, for example, I wrote this:

(For those who ask such things: we received free lodging, and Cheryl in the gift shop gave us both a nice hat, but otherwise, this isn’t a paid piece. I’m just writing about a very nice stay.)

Danny Brown and I have talked about disclosure in the past (not so much directly, but in dueling posts and tweets and the likes. ( Here’s a sample of such.)

Danny’s more stringent about disclosure than me, even, and I applaud that. I believe that comes from a PR and journalistic background, though I’m not sure. I just know that he feels strongly about it, and if ever I seem to be out of alignment with his perspective, he lets me know. That’s why I figured I’d write this post, to refresh my thoughts, and/or to hear what else Danny and you have to say.

Disclosure and Influencer Marketing

I’ve written about disclosure at least a few times in the past few years. I think that if we’re going to honor our community and create material that is of value, we must be clear in explaining when we want to express any material reasons to knock a few points off our stated experience.

What’s In It For the Company Who Engages in Influencer Marketing?

A few years ago, I was part of a paid post experience led by IZEA in support of KMART. It was met with some very harsh views by my fellow bloggers and media makers. People were decrying my end, the fall of me as a “brand,” and that I had sold out.

Meanwhile, from the perspective of KMART and IZEA, the project was a success. Sales went up. The brand got a second look from a bunch of people, and except for people who continued to think I was now the anti-Chris for having conducted an experiment in marketing on a – gasp – marketing blog, life went on. By the way, here’s how I responded to the pitchforks back then.

But again, this segment of this blog post is asking what the company gets from influencer marketing. Most times, they are seeking two rewards: some attention from the “influencer’s” audience, and some brand-sharing from the person’s endorsement of their product or service. It’s a challenging territory for companies to explore, and it’s also a bit complex to manage for those people who choose to associate themselves with a brand. I wrote about it in the February 2012 SUCCESS Magazine cover article about celebrity marketing.

But Who Are the Influencers, Anyway?

In inviting me down to their resort and paying my lodging for my stay (I paid for airfare, food, etc), the Port Royal Resort was dipping their toe into the water of seeing what comes of inviting bloggers and the new media publishers of this world into their fold. They picked me, I would imagine, the way others have: they know that I reach a bunch of intelligent people, and they know that I value my reputation. The two together means that if I’m to say something nice about their organization (and the general Texas Gulf area), then I probably mean it.

More accurately, I’m sure they’d love it if my post tips someone’s interest from “hadn’t even considered it” to “I’d seriously put this place in my potential categories for my next trip or event or whatever.”

Who are the influencers? Is it me? Sometimes. Is it you? Often. It’s fluid. For instance, anything Dave Thomas likes in music on Spotify, I’m bound to check out and eventually purchase. Likewise, if Steve Garfield or C.C. Chapman blog about some new photography product a company’s given them to try, I’m going to give it consideration.

I’m asked all the time why I don’t much like Klout. It’s because I think the platform is flawed in how they determine influence. They measure chatter. If I tweet a link about some product in a category, and a lot of people retweet it or the like, it counts as influence. (This is the least accurate portrayal of Klout ever. Read Return On Influence (amazon affiliate link) by Mark Schaefer for a much better one).

Instead, I think you determine who’s influential. You’re going to read my post about Port Royal and think one of several things:

  • I’m not interested in where Chris and Jacq took a few days off.
  • I like Chris, but I could care less. In fact, I live in India.
  • I was thinking about a place for next month’s vacation, so maybe I’ll look.
  • I’m a rabid Chris Brogan fan and even have his action figure, and I’m buying a condo there tomorrow.
  • Whatever. How do I get more followers on Twitter?

But you determine that. No level of my chit chat will somehow mind-meld you into my slave. And even if it did, I don’t stand to gain anything if you visit that resort. Though my opinion on some products or services might grant you a favorable consideration, you still make the ultimate decision, don’t you?

Just because I was invited to check out the Disney Dream a while back, it didn’t mean that people rushed the ships and booked them solid for years to come. Because you decide what you want to do with influence.

I Will Continue to Accept and Appreciate Interesting Experiences

In the past, my relationship with you and with companies has come together to let me enjoy some really interesting experiences. I toured Maker’s Mark headquarters with Jason Falls. I have spent time learning about USA Today and got to drive a bunch of cool cars at GM Headquarters (which led ME to buy a 2010 Chevy Camaro SS, so maybe GM was the influencer).

I have dozens more experiences like this. My last handful of years have been filled with exciting chances to go behind the scenes somewhere and enjoy sharing them with you. That won’t be stopping any time soon. Whenever I’m invited to explore something interesting, I’ll share it with you.

I’ll let you decide whether or not you want to be influenced by it.

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