Influencer Seppuku

They say that any press is good press, and up until the advent of social media (and the social media influencer) I think that adage held true. But social media changes things. Perhaps it’s that you can destroy your life in a single tweet and the media will gobble it up. Regardless, Influencers have a different set of rules where good press is GREAT press and bad press is TERRIBLE press. I want to share a little story before I get into what this post is actually about…Media Piece

Back in late 2010, I was emailed by a journalist from the Wall Street Journal – she was doing a story about Klout, and my name had come up when she was searching for an expert. We had a little back and forth because I needed to know what the intent of the article was as there was a tiny bit of curious wording. She got me on the phone and put my fears to ease about the article. I gave her a long detailed interview about my experiences and this new concept called ‘influencer marketing’. I was excited to be sourced as an expert by the Wall Street Journal!

And then the article came out… “Wannabe Cool Kids Aim to Game the Web’s New Social Scorekeepers”. I remember the sinking feeling of that headline, and then reading the article only confirmed my disappointment. It painted me as the headline ‘wannabe’, instead of someone who was experimenting too see the cause-effect of these new tools. Most know me as quite the experimenter. On Twitter I lamented about the headline, and I never shared the article on Facebook. Yes, it was cool to see my name printed in the Wall Street Journal… but it wasn’t good press.

Yesterday, I read an article called “No More Likes: Are the Days of the Style Influencer Numbered?” and later changed to “Peddling Influence”. The article is directed at style/fashion influencers, but the overall piece is a commentary on every content creator. I certainly cannot argue the fact that the article is very interesting and well written (credit to Anya Georgijevic), but it is certainly not good press. It’s especially bad for one blogger quoted as the expert who commits what can only be described as influencer seppuku.

I have known Jay DeMaria aka Jay Strut’s name for years now – he appeared on my Toronto Twitter Influencers list, and despite our lives being vastly different we often find ourselves at the same events and, ironically, media pieces. All that said, I’ve never met the guy. I assume, like I do of most people, that he’s probably a nice person which gives me some hesitance in even writing this. But I’m not one to bite my tongue when I think there’s a lesson to be learned. I think he just made one of the biggest mistakes of his life – he admitted to the world that any brand that works with him… get nothing in return:

“There isn’t one guy in this whole restaurant that’s going to my website and saying, ‘Oh, I’m gonna wear those tights, that low tank top and that gold chain. And women aren’t coming to my page and saying ‘Yes, I want to look like that tomorrow,’ … But, there are aspects of me – the freedom I have in my expression, my attitude towards things and my overall aesthetic – it’s not relatable, but it’s relatable.”

The author adds ‘He doesn’t sell clothes; he sells the fantasy’. It is the most unbelievable quote I’ve ever read from an influencer. Here is a guy that is given luxury products… to promote; is flown to foreign destinations… to promote; and is paid well enough to buy a condo through gigs that are… to promote the brands involved. Meanwhile he’s admitting that he has no influence over anyone’s purchasing decisions. It’s exactly why influencer marketing is getting such a bad wrap lately – you’re paid for a service you can’t deliver.  “Jay Strut is flown around the world to hype up designer labels, but even he’s questioning the future of social buzz.” You’re right, it’s over.

It’s Influencer Seppuku

The article goes on to discuss the recent Digiday ‘anonymous social media exec‘ tirade, makes reference to an article that talks about how Toronto fashion bloggers are garbage titled “Sophie Grégoire Trudeau vs Wannabe Influencers“, and then mentions Justine Iaboni’s post called “The True Cost of Blogging“, which offers the only counter balance to an otherwise lopsided ‘influencers should be paid in yogurt’ article. As if the authors bias wasn’t evident enough, she closes by saying she’s going to be ‘sticking to her day job’, which she should remember is in journalism.

Digital Seppuku

Make no mistake, influencer marketing is about generating a return on investment. I do think that a lot of influencers charge too much and deliver too little to the brands they work with. I think it’s especially true in the beauty/fashion/lifestyle genres where the supply is excessive. It’s also not entirely their fault – brands/PR/marketers are still trying to figure this all out and as such, play a bit of a guessing game in determining who to work with and what the ROI of working with them is. Experimentation leads to a LOT of mistakes.

But I also think that all WORK has a price tag attached to it. Bloggers are still offering a service – content creation/promotion through their own channel. EVERY creator HOPES that millions will want to read and then buy the product mentioned. It doesn’t often turn out that way, but the intent and desire is for it to be a huge success. No creator is trying to rip anyone off, especially not the brands taking a chance on them. As such, it behooves the creators to only talk about the great things they have done, improve their social and traffic numbers, and do their best to create great content.

There world of influencer marketing is still in its infancy, and much like a child learning to walk, it takes time to find footing. But through all the weird partnerships, over payments, ineffective content, brand deals that didn’t make sense for the influencer and all the other mistakes being made, slowly we’re all starting to figure it out. Once we get through this rocky phase, those that survive and can actually deliver value will thrive. Until that point, creators need to keep putting their best foot forward – and try not to tell the world how non-influential you are.