Fact #1: Though increasingly popular, influencer marketing has its drawbacks

Applications. Photo: Marketing land

About a month ago, the Internet (and by that I mean the world), woke up to the (sordid) antics of “youtubber” Logan Paul who, during a trip to the Aokigahara forest in Japan, stumbled on the corpse of an apparent suicide victim.

Aokigahara forest is notoriously known as the suicide forest of Japan. American born Logan clearly found the experience hilarious enough to post to his YouTube account.

The post went viral attracting millions of views and the Internet reacted with outrage. Following the worldwide condemnation, Logan deleted the post, apologised profusely and the world moved on. That didn’t stop Youtube from slamming him with sanctions that almost amounted to severing ties with him.

Oh, did I mention that Logan is a social media influencer? With more than 15 million subscribers to his Youtube channel, he sits right up there with some of the most popular influencers in the world today.

Now imagine if Logan was contracted by a brand to push out content during the same period of his trip to Japan. Two things would have likely happened: either the brand’s content would be drowned in the avalanche of negative comments or, worse still, the brand would be sucked into the vortex of vicious comments from the outraged online community.

Therein lies a key drawback for influencer marketing. These days, most influencers command celebrity status and there’s always the tendency that collateral damage will affect the brands they are associated with particularly in the immediate aftermath of a scandal. Marketing and brand managers will do well to heed this.

Here’s another drawback of working with influencers: what if they miss the mark? Influencer Marketing in its truest form thrives on objective and detached opinions of the influencer about a brand. The assumption is that brands have no influence or control whatsoever on the influencer’s opinion about it.

So, what happens if the influencer does not find the product as exciting as the brand promises? For example, what if a brand touts its product to be as good as Nigerian jollof rice while the influencer feels the product is more comparable with Ghanaian jollof rice? (for those who do not know, the Nigeria/Ghana Jollof war has escalated into such proportions that even CNN’s Richard Quest had to run for cover).

Sorry, I digressed. However, the points being made is that this is another factor brands must contend with if they must take the risk of using influencers.

Yet another drawback of social media influencers is that they are increasingly becoming commercialized. My last article which dwelt on how Influencer Marketing is increasingly pushing brand ambassadorship to the edge attracted a number of interesting reactions (thanks to everyone that chipped in). Most opined that the ‘hire-for-money’ approach adopted by an increasing number of influencers will erode their credibility. I completely agree.

Some influencers make themselves available to any and every brand, even to brands with contradicting promises. Consumers are not always stupid. And even if they have been stupid, chances are that they won’t remain so forever. Sooner than later, consumers will catch on and both the influencer and whatever promise they have attracted for a brand will be viewed with skepticism.

Do the aforementioned drawbacks render Influencer Marketing ineffective? Certainly not! I strongly believe that when handled right, influencer marketing can enable brands tap into the vast opportunities that the digital space offers to grow their equity and up their conversion rate.

Fact #2: StoryTelling is not as recent as made out to be. It has always being the core of PR

Storytelling has become the buzz word in PR in the past five years. A colleague and I participated in a joint strategy session sometime last year. We were the only PR people in a roomful of Ad men, Activation experts and Media Buyers bouncing ideas around back and forth. The convener of the meeting suddenly turned to me and asked: “What will be your storytelling strategy for the campaign?” I was startled. Now, there was nothing wrong in the question itself, but what struck me was the way it was phrased. If we had had that meeting, say, five years before, the fellow would have phrased the question differently. He probably would have used the term PR strategy rather than Storytelling strategy.

This experience drives home my point that both industry experts and the wider public now acknowledge Storytelling as sine qua non for PR. And they are right. What rankles is when people, including and especially industry experts, carry on as if the concept was born less than a decade ago. LinkedIn puts it this way: “In early summer 2011, the number of marketers listing storytelling as a skill on their LinkedIn profile was miniscule. It effectively didn’t exist as a marketing discipline. Just two years later, storytelling was a key part of the profile of almost a quarter of a million marketers, 7% of all marketers worldwide, in fact.”

Really? What did they think PR was all about before the term Storytelling became popular? What did they think all the press releases, feature stories, newspapers interviews and Op Eds., TV and radio interviews, news mentions and everything other thing PR executives pitched to traditional media platforms were for? Storytelling of course! And this has always being the core of the PR practitioner’s job. We identify relevant publics, then seek out and exploit storytelling opportunities to the identified publics leveraging on available media channels to build strong brand reputation and equity. Simple!

Which begs the question: why is storytelling such a big deal now?

Well, look no further than the Internet or, more specifically, the social media. With the explosion of social media, brands now have a better and relatively inexpensive way of telling their stories. They have a wider reach and they can feel the pulse of the target audience almost unfiltered. More importantly, social media has given consumers a voice by democratising the marketing space. With social media, your brand is not what you say it is. It has become what the public say it is.

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