Social Media Influencers Need To Turn The Table On Brands

It seems the luster of social-media-influencer marketing is wearing thin. Some influencers are corrupting the system with fake/bought followers. Some are pushing merch they’d never use in real life. And consumers/fans are getting wise to inauthentic “influencers” posting pics on Insta of their new Glam Bag from Ipsy just for the brand payout. Well, brands like Ipsy, Beautonomy and jewelry store Alexis Bittar have had enough and are moving on from influencer marketing.

But it occurs to me that the problem in all this is not the influencer model itself, but the sometimes poisoning direction of the business transaction, which is currently FROM the brand TO the influencer, as follows:

  • Brand wants to market a product and they need eyeballs.
  • That celebrity influencer over there has a huge following, so brand explores how much it’ll cost to get the celebrity to post something about their product.
  • Influencer posts.
  • Brand pays influencer.

It’s the brand who initiates these deals so it’s not surprising that the money involved can sometimes speak louder than any authenticity the arrangement may or may not reflect. Influencers are human, after all. I’m reminded of the closing scene of Talladega Nights when the Will Ferrell character “Ricky Bobby” endorses a box of MayPax Tampons with a confident pose and wink to the camera.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. If influencers were to turn the tables on the business transaction, where the influencer pitched the brands, the result would not only save the “social media influencer” model, it could turn many influencers into more focused, profitable brands.

Influencer-driven brand alliances are inherently authentic.

When a celebrity approaches a brand with the hope of landing a roster spot on their list of influencers, at least one of the following is likely true:

  • The celebrity likes the brand, uses the brand.
  • The celebrity believes in the brand and what it stands for.
  • The celebrity’s fan base intersects with that of the brand.
  • Or some combination of those three.

With all the brands in the universe to choose from, the active choice FROM Influencer TO Brand means authenticity is built in. It transforms the model from “influencer campaign,” which is from the brand’s perspective, to “endorsement campaign,” which is obviously in the interest of the brand, but it’s also in the interest of the influencer.

The last thing an influencer wants is to cross their fans/followers. People are following them for a reason. There’s an invisible, non-articulated pact between followers and influencers and when followers smell a rat, they’re probably right. So if the influencer drives these deals, then there’s zero chance of inauthenticity.

Further, and particularly when a celebrity “believes in the brand and what it stands for,” it means the activation of these deals becomes evidence of the celebrity’s own beliefs, or evidence of his/her own brand.

The question is, how can an influencer/celebrity better articulate their own brand so potential allied brands can more obviously see the connections?

Remember when Fidelity invested in Paul McCartney?

Several years ago a representative from Paul McCartney’s promotional company, Marshall Arts, called me when I was at Arnold Worldwide. He asked (paraphrasing), “Got any brands over there who might want to sponsor Paul McCartney’s upcoming tour?”

Sounded pretty cool, but frankly I had no idea. I mean, I knew McCartney was a famous Beatle, and I happened to be a big fan. But the representative didn’t give me anything to work with from a branding standpoint. What did McCartney stand for? What did he believe in? Who were his fans?

In short, why would it make sense from a business/branding standpoint for one of our brands at Arnold to sponsor McCartney’s tour? It had to be more than just buying eyeballs.

I suggested that the rep come into the agency so we could “unpack” and articulate the McCartney brand so we could more easily decide if we had any brands that made sense. Long story short, one of the McCartney “brand pillars” in this exercise was about Paul’s investment capabilities. Did you know he bought Buddy Holly’s entire song portfolio in 1975 and that he also owns the rights to Grease, Guys And Dolls and Annie? The guy can play a mean bass guitar, sure, but turns out he was a savvy investor, too.

Well, armed with that insight about McCartney we successfully pitched Fidelity, which was one of Arnold’s clients, and that turned into the “This is Paul” TV/Print/Event campaign that you may remember with the theme, “Never stop doing what you love.” Worked hard for Fidelity and, importantly, worked hard for McCartney in the form of free advertising for him, his songs and his tour.

We didn’t go to Fidelity and say, “Hey, want to sponsor Paul McCartney’s tour?” We said, “Fidelity and Paul McCartney share a love for investing…” Huge difference.

And that’s exactly what influencers/celebrities can be doing now to eliminate these inauthentic random acts of “sponsorship” and instead land meaningful brand “alliances” that work hard for both parties.

Influencers, think like a brand.

Influencers/celebrities, here are a few things to think about as you consider approaching brands with your influence. First, stop thinking about potential brands and start thinking about yourself.

Who are you? What do you believe in? What do you think is wrong with the world? What are the patterns in your life so far? What motivates you to perform?

It’s in the answers to questions like these that your core essence will be found. I have been experimenting with this method in a partnership called The Branded Athlete. It’s specifically for athletes, but the goal is exactly the same. The important thing we’ve found is to get to a solid brand idea–a tag line, even–that you love and only THEN start thinking about potential brands.

Because you want brands who will help you prove your brand idea with every activation, who will help you be more of who you are with your fans/followers, and whose presence in your social media only enhance your image in authentic ways.

With you–the influencer–driving the transaction there will be less shilling in the world and more authenticity. Brands will be buying motivated influencers and not just “eyeballs.” And along the way the “brands” of these influencers will become more focused, stronger, and more in demand not because of what they are, but because of who they are. And do so without spending a dime.

In the end, brands, influencers and consumers will have influencers who are authentically influential. And the eyeballs will follow.