The term “influencer” gets thrown around a lot when it comes to social media marketing. Just about anyone with a reasonable size audience on platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Youtube and Pinterest who do some form of paid promotions, product advertising or destination marketing calls themselves an “influencer”. But does having an audience really make someone truly influential? Or is this new form of marketing really just a low cost, high impact method of promotion for brands who have become savvy to the new channels people are consuming content through? Are many of these people really just acting as a paid marketing channel for those brands willing to pay cash for comments, or those willing to hand over money for a few pretty pictures of their product or destinations?
In the world of photography the “influencer” marketplace is highly competitive and cut-throat. Everyone wants to be paid to travel or be sent amazing new products. Who out there wouldn’t love to receive some form of compensation to visit their favourite travel destinations, take a few nice pictures and write a positive story about their experience?
This exact thing is happening the world over right now. People are being paid to travel, use their camera and keyboards and spread a positive message about these experiences. People are being sent products in return for a few posts on their social media accounts or articles on their blog. But again, the question needs to be asked – does that make them influencers or just people being compensated to market something?
Let’s take a look at what real influence actually is and compare that to what really happens in the social media world.
What does “influence” really mean?
The true meaning of “influence” is – the capacity to have an effect on character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself. In other words the act of producing effects on the actions, opinions and behaviour of others. Influential people wield the power to have a positive impact on the way people think, act and perform. Truly influential people are generally leaders in their chosen field and can help shape industries and effect positive change on a large scale. Influential people will also generally act for change outside of any direct financial compensation and use their skills, public image and ideas to inspire others to gain success in whatever they may be hoping to achieve.
Influence vs Advertising
This is where the social media world and the term “influencer” becomes very interesting and somewhat confusing. Advertising can in may ways be considered a form of manipulation. The purpose of advertising in a commercial sense is to introduce people to a brand or service that already exists and to “influence” or sway their way of spending towards that product or service. In the marketing world good advertising will be one of either two things – highly targeted at a specific audience – or cheap enough in terms of outlay and investment to get mass visibility in the hope that the right people will see it.
Social media marketing is highly effective with both of these. There are ways to identify people who produce content in a specific niche market that will hopefully allow a brand message to reach the right people. There are also very successful, low cost campaigns where brands reach out to anyone with a reasonable sized audience and hope that some of them agree to be part of a less targeted, but wider reaching campaign to market their products.
I am a photographer with a social media account. That makes me an influencer.
So you have a camera, you take nice pictures, you have a social media account or two and you have earned a good audience. That must make you an influencer right? Wrong. That makes you a photographer with an audience. What you do with that audience, your skills and the positive impact you have on people who follow you could potentially make you influential. Just having a large following does not instantly mean you are a social media “influencer”. Being paid to travel somewhere and post pretty pictures on your social media account does not instantly make you influential. What those brands who you are working for are doing is using you as a marketing channel and someone who is willing to accept money to deliver a brand message, or are paying you to produce some nice images they can use on their own channels. What you chose to do outside of that paid work, and the positive impact you have on your audience base, your chosen industry or niche market is the only true measure of influence.
A big mistake many people make is assuming that having an audience on one platform makes them a social media “influencer”. Truly influential people build a brand which is not specific to any single social media platform. They are active in their chosen niche outside of the posts they make to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, Youtube or wherever else they may be.
Let me pose this question to you – if as a photographer today you no longer had your Instagram account, what would you do? How would you reach out to your followers or deliver whatever message you chose to deliver? I am guessing that to many people not having their Instagram account anymore would be a massive loss to them. Instagram has become synonymous with the photography industry. Instagram is a great way to market yourself, your clients, and to share your amazing images. But take that away and what does that mean to your overall brand or image? Truly influential people are not reliant on that single marketing channel to deliver their message. They are recognisable outside of that single method of sharing content.
Stop looking at the stats to gauge “influence”
Many people measure their own and other people’s success on the simple numbers and social media statistics which can be measured through any number of online tools. There are many examples in the world of social media of people who have tens or hundreds of thousands of followers who have very low engagement rates. Does that make them less influential than those that get massive amounts of engagement and comments on their posts? What cannot be measured by any single tool is the reach beyond these mainstream social media platforms.
The true “influencers” have turned that audience base into reach far beyond any single social media platform – they most likely have accounts on all of the previously mentioned platforms. Have contacts throughout mainstream media. Have a recognisable brand within their chosen niche publications. Are instantly recognisable as an authority within their chosen field. Have earned the respect of their peers ( respect doesn’t necessarily mean they are liked – being liked and respected are completely different things). Are genuine leaders and trend setters within their markets rather than just copying others. Quite possibly host seminars and workshops helping others to achieve success themselves. And more often than not spend a lot of time outside any paid or sponsored work attempting to have a positive impact on those around them.
True social media influencers will generally be leaders whose methods, content style and business practises are replicated by others hoping to achieve the same level of success. They will be the ones leading the way and at the forefront of new strategies, content styles and be constantly innovating. They will not be looking at other people and worrying about what they think of them or complaining about what other individuals, who are more often as not those that are considered competitors are doing. They think of the bigger picture and help shape entire industries. They help people achieve success and inspire others.
So, are you a photographer with an audience who is seen by advertisers as a method of possible exposure who accepts cash, products or experiences for comments and pretty pictures in return?
Or are you a truly an influencer who leads the way by helping shape the world around you and inspiring others to succeed?