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What your business needs to know about influencer marketing

Carl Reader, author of The Start Up Coach, co-owner of

Recently, there was a story in the media about a bakery who was approached by a wannabe “celeb”from a reality show to ask if she could make a (free) cake for her boyfriend’s birthday. Now, of course this isn’t a unique tale by any means.

There’s been a trend recently for businesses to use social media influencers. These influencers are people with decent followings – anything from 10,000 followers upwards (people with 10k followers are known as “micro-influencers”). These personalities then share some kind of sponsored post where they talk about a product or a service that they’ve used, in exchange for a freebie or possibly cash.

This has happened a lot. Agencies such as Social Chain have popped up to help promote this kind of exposure. Now, I think that’s great. There’s a commercial relationship there, andthe business is using somebody who is prepared to promote their product or service. But the key point on that – and the point we need to understand – is that the businesses using such agencies have proactively chosen to do something free of charge in exchange for exposure.

What’s happened recently is that there’s clearly a change in the dynamic nowadays. Some people are now looking to, in a nutshell, blag free stuff, purely on the basis that they’re an “influencer”. It’s my opinion that it’s completely wrong for the social media influencers to try and twist the tables like that.

Of course, if you’re a business, this sums up a whole wider debate, encompassing all manner of sectors and businesses, from bakers to designers to personal trainers.The big question – should a business do free work?

I believe you should – in certain circumstances.

Often, I see businesses protest against this. It’s usually the more technically focused ones, and also often the ones who haven’t really grown their business yet. They fiercely argue that their work has value and therefore, they must never give it away free of charge. Quite frankly, that kind of approach is naïve. I don’t contest that their work has value – of course it does. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t give it away for free. You just have make sure you give it away to the right people.

Now, if I told you that you could do one piece of free of charge work, and it would expose you to 200 qualified buyers, of which you can get a 10% conversion, what would you do?Of course you’re going to do it! You’d do one piece of work free, and get 20 bits of work paid.

So you need to assess it carefully. What you must NOT do is be naïve enough to think that any influencer will do the job for you. So for instance, for this reality star, there was no indication of how engaged her followers are. It said the number of followers she has, but what you really need to know are the engagement stats – so the figures that show things like whether her followers actually click “like” or comment, or follow links on her posts.There’s little point the bakery investing time and money creating a beautiful free birthday cake if the star in question is going to post a picture of it that nobody will care about – or perhaps even see. Ultimately, you need to weigh it up like any other advertising. Will the advertising actually pay for itself or not?

Put very simply, this Z-list celeb was just trying to blag some free stuff. However,when it works well, influencer marketing can be a low cost, high impact marketing activity. But just be aware, and make sure you get return for any investment you make.

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