Social media influencers are not gods. In fact you have more of them walking around than fake pastors on these hilly Kampala streets.  As brand custodians and marketing executives have started to encounter the social media bug, so has the propensity of encountering a less than real proposition. Championed by the“The world is going social!” war cry, its easy for one to get caught is the frenzy.  Hailed by some, hated by others, they are the keys to “unlocking” social media. They can either make you trend or flop your trend.

In Uganda, the journalist community even has a list of people called the “Twitter Mafia” (a list of people who if they aren’t on your hashtag, it won’t trend and you won’t achieve success. The danger with this is assuming trending is the objective. As the discussion has evolved over the years about whether numbers of followers matter or whether likes and re-tweets matter, the more discerning marketing public has started to ask “What do likes really mean?” “What does trending add to my sales targets?” And mostly “Do I need an influencer to do this work?” There are many answers to each of these questions but this post will address the last one. Do influencers really make a difference? And how do you tell the ones who can?

  1. Influencers Are People, Not Gods: like the rest of us. One day they had 100 followers like you. They didn’t always have 100k tweets or 5k iG followers. They grew their audiences by consistently putting out content people who followed them respected, wanted or enjoyed. They aren’t untouchable and they certainly aren’t infallible. What they do have is influence, that means they bring audiences to conversations; large audiences. Knowing how to leverage those audiences  for results is part of the influencer benefits package. Don’t trust influencers who cannot tell you what they can get their audiences to do.
  2. It is a Science & An Art: It is true there a few tools to measure and a few others for strategy or listening. There is a perfect time to reach the highest audience numbers on your channels and the optimum number of words to put in you Face Book or IG post. All of that is measurable, trackable and fits within a formula.  This is the science part. However there is also a creative part of this business. The one that requires original, authentic, engaging and memorable content. The one that hooks followers. The greats constantly walk this knife edge. You must be able to demand this of your influencers. Ask them what tools they use, platforms, and gadgets. You must be willing to  look under the hood.
  3. Everyone Learnt It “On The Fly”: You’ll often get told that there isn’t a school for digital studies and so everyone learnt their craft “on the fly“. This is bullshit. There are certifiable programs set up by social media platforms that teach, train and evaluate “power users”– people who want to make the most out of the platform or channel. If your influencer or your digital partners cannot provide proof that at least one person in their agency has gone through these free training programs then you’ve been sinking money down a hole. Twitter Flight School, Facebook BluePrint, Google Partners all teach how to use and optimize the respective platforms for maximum value. And you get certified once you pass.
  4. Creative Remuneration: As numbers of audiences and followers rise, the rates for influencing will go higher and higher until it just won’t make sense anymore. The truth is that influencers while there should be some form of pecuniary remuneration aren’t exactly influencers because of their “search for money”. They are already in love with the product or service which is why when they speak, audiences listen. They are authentic in what they see and how they articulate the cool things about products. Brands need to find ways of rewarding their influencers in product and not as one offs but consistently so the conversation is also consistent. As an example I always asked myself as to why when Bossini invited celebrities to their Acacia Mall store launch instead of paying them they didn’t announce a year’s shopping worth xxx amount. What a way to create envy. Or the more garden variety influencers who influence for telecoms but are always asking for airtime handouts. That stuff just doesn’t look cool.
  5. You Cant Influence Everyone: Unless you are the Obamas (who make anything from going to college or working out or buzz feed look cool) no one can influence all the people all the time. So brands need to stop being the George Bush of influence mongering. The same people on every hashtag, at every event, on every guest list, every damn account. It makes you look tired and rancid. Find some new faces, fresh content, some authorities. People who aren’t regurgitating some press briefer your PR agency hashed up at 6:30 am because  they’ve been neglecting the job for 3 weeks. People who care about you brand genuinely.
  6. Authority Matters: Topical experts bring authority and credence to any topic. Sometimes this means you will have to even set up these experts on social media or find those who are on. In my biggest career crisis management we were handling the closure of an airline but we were fortunate to find that some influencers and “friends” of the airline were already online. Seasoned, tested and authoritative aviation aficionados who brought clarity to a lot of online conversations. Find some authority for your brand.
  7. Influencers Sometimes Come in Overalls: Not all influencers will come in Windsor-knotted ties and pin stripped Saville row suits. Sometimes, they come in blue overalls because they know the dirt and grease and that’s what your audience needs to know about. They bring real world experience that your air-conditioned-coffee-machine-with-tea-biscuit offices will never have. An example that comes to mind of Shell and its white lab techs from a few years ago and their choice to use real world mechanics who know exactly how much longer good oil takes your car. That’s influence because real influence knows what it talking about.
  8. Conversion Conversations: Re tweets and trending while they are evidently very good signs of content that connects with audiences still don’t pay the bills. Conversions pay the bills. So we must start linking activity to some sort of measurable conversion. Trending a whole month as a beverage brand and yet your beer beverage is still struggling in sales indicates problematic planning. Measure-ability also puts people on alert that they can’t just eat your “influencer biscuits at and tea” at events and not pay for them.
  9. Hygiene: Account hygiene = Body hygiene. Ensure that you infleuncer’s account hygiene is good. Account hygiene is ensuring links work, pictures are captioned properly and names and handles are accurate. Why? Because its the small things that trip us up that shouldn’t. Create a monthly brand hygiene check. As an influencer you also need to create a process that allows you clean up your Tweetdeck or Hootsuite. Log out of accounts that you aren’t managing anymore, delete accounts of events that won’t be happening again. This process allows you to focus on current clients and their tasks. Keeps you sharp. An example is that  “Good morning… “ tweet that went out a few months ago from 12 accounts. #UOT were aghast. But that is life.
  10. Pay Peanuts Get Monkeys: Like any profession you get what you pay for with influencers. You are better off with a few happy influencers at their asking price rates than cramming 10 or so of them at dirt cheap prices because then everyone is giving you shoddy work which overall looks like one big pile of sh*t. When budgets don’t allow, go with less quantity and don’t EVER compromise on quality. Ever.

…Or don’t listen to any of this advice continue letting your IT guy do your social media after all computers are all the same in the end. And you wonder why your career is mediocre.

Talk soon…


12 thoughts on “21st Century Social Media Influencer: Smell The Impostors

  1. Quite an interesting read. Although it doesn’t equip readers with the tools to “smell the impostors” without necessarily relying on the would be influencer for insights on their platforms, which can be manipulated. I think that is quite crucial…my two cents.


    1. John,

      Well, I think the article aims to provide pointers in behaviour, skills, stools and conduct to allow marketers assess the impostors


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