Influence is not a static quality. It’s a status one has to earn, then maintain. That, as much as any fact, underlines the importance for a business to pay close attention to the influencers it uses for marketing efforts.
Case in point: In 2012, I became somewhat familiar to Entrepreneur readers. In the wake of my first book (No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing, Que 2011), the magazine engaged me to speak at several events it hosted and allowed me to contribute some social media how-to content here.
By 2015, my book was old news and I sold my popular social media blog and agency to my business partner. My career journey took me to a senior position at online retailer CafePress and away from time spent being a marketing influencer.
As I started the process of writing a new book in the fall of 2019, the reality of the fluctuations in the quality of influence smacked me between the eyes. I didn’t have the top marketing blog in the world anymore. My sporadic contributions to Entrepreneur and other platforms had faded. My 16,000-person email list was now the property of someone I didn’t know who purchased Social Media Explorer from the person who bought it from me.
While my personal journey from obscurity to a small degree of notoriety and back mapped out over about eight years, the volatility of influence can have a much shorter wick. And if your business isn’t watching the influence partners you work with closely, you may wind up not getting the best out of your investment.
There’s a such thing as too much influence
Jim Tobin, CEO of influence marketing firm Carusele, told me of an influencer his firm had engaged several times whose sponsored content saturation rate triggered a change. They stopped using her for client projects because her feed became one sponsored post after another. Engagement rates dropped.
“She called and asked why we weren’t working with her anymore,” Tobin told me in an interview for Winfluence. He explained her engagement rate was suffering, likely because of her high saturation of sponsored content. Tobin’s clients benefit from his ever-watchful eye on the fluctuations in influence.
As your influence partners get bigger audiences, and perhaps more opportunities to work with other brands, a similar shift in engagement rates may happen. The time an influencer spends with their community ceases to scale past a certain point.
Then there are more subtle changes. The bigger an influencer gets, the more susceptible they are to their own ego. Few things can turn a social media audience off faster than sudden narcissism.
Influence is affected by the environment, too
Covid has put an exclamation point on the requisite attention to influencer detail. What do you think happened to all those influencers in travel, food and drink in 2020? Some found themselves scratching their heads trying to solve for the fact the main focal point of their influence was either limited or completely evaporated.
Gary Arndt, perhaps one of the most celebrated travel influencers in the world at Everything Everywhere, told me recently he didn’t know if his segment would recover from the pandemic. And it’s not just social media influencers, but traditional media as well.
“Right now, every travel section in the United States as far as newspapers, with the exception of the Washington Post, I believe, and maybe the Minneapolis-Star Tribune, is gone,” he said. “All of them. The New York Times said they’re taking it offline temporarily during the pandemic, but I don’t believe it’s ever going to come back.”
Arndt is resourceful. He’s pivoted to a history and trivia podcast to continue creating interesting content. But even that pivot means the topical dynamic of his influence footprint is changing. He’s not counting on being simply a travel influencer anymore.
Protect Your Investment
Your influencer marketing efforts will likely gravitate towards a small group of online voices that resonate with your audience. Smart marketers build relationships with the ones that can move the needle for their business.
But just like market conditions, these partners’ level of influence and effectiveness will change. Continually review your influencer roster for changes in focus, themes and the all-important engagement metrics. Doing so will help ensure your dollars are being well spent.