Influencer marketing is in many ways a broken model right out of the gate in its current form.

Through the proliferation of influencer marketing platforms that exist, 44 of them shared in this blog post alone, and the variety of intermediaries that serves as paid gateways to bloggers, content providers and instagram stars, we are seeing an explosion of pay to play advertising. That’s really what it is. Let me be clear, I don’t judge. I come from a libertarian school of buyer beware in most cases and feel that in most instances, government legislation and mandates around influencer advertising is an over reach.

In revisiting the conventional definitions of influencer marketing I shared in an earlier blog post, we learned the following:

In the Ebook titled The Value of Influence: The Ultimate Guide to Influence Marketing written by Nick Hayes Principal, Influencer50 Inc., and Co-author, Influencer Marketing: Who Really Influences Your Customers?; Nick Hayes defines influence marketing this way.

Influence marketing is an updated approach to marketing and public relations where you target the people your prospects turn to for information. These influencers help generate awareness and sway the purchasing decisions of those who seek out and value their expertise, read their blogs, converse with them in discussion forums, attend their presentations at industry events, and so on.

Other definitions of influence marketing include the following:

Influencer marketing (also influence marketing) is a form of marketing in which focus is placed on specific key individuals (or types of individual) rather than the target market as a whole. From Wikipedia

Influencer marketing is a type of marketing that focuses on using key leaders to drive your brand’s message to the larger market. Rather than marketing directly to a large group of consumers, you instead inspire / hire / pay influencers to get out the word for you. From Tap Influence

This particular definition is skewing closer to how I perceive influencer marketing needs to be viewed. Influencer marketing involves marketing products and services to those who have a sway over the things other people buy. This market influence typically stems from an individual’s expertise, popularity, or reputation. Marketing to an audience of influencers is similar to word of mouth marketing, but it doesn’t rely strictly on explicit recommendations . Influence can come from a wide range of places. Any person, group, brand, or place could potentially be an influencer. For example, celebrities are often used to market products because they are highly respected and highly visible. When a celebrity uses a product, the maker of that product gets exposure and the respect that comes from a celebrity endorsement.

What is broken about current influencer marketing definitions? They ride on a cult of personality. Celebrity selling. Again, not judging here but I know when I’m being gamed in most cases so if I’m not totally on board with the authenticity of the messaging or narrative, I’m not buying the influencer.

On the other hand, if I’m liking the individual involved and I know they’re authentic to me in the entirety of their dealings, I’m into the message and may be a buyer or at least allowing the brand in my radar.

There are inherent risks to brands with influencers used in traditional ways. Forbes just published an article around the antisemitic statements made by PewDiePie and the way brands have withdrawn support. We can count many examples of film stars, athletes, and now social media influencers who let slip some version of their true selves and the unvarnished truth comes out to offend a sponsoring brands following.

I would suggest the following changes need to be baked into a new version of influencer marketing. These are my thoughts as for now. I reserve the right to change my mind.

I. Instead of paying for reviews, content, and posts about a product, that the influencers involved receive product or services. They choose whether or not to write or review. There would be no cash exchanged on a platform or by the brand paying the influencer. If the product didn’t warrant a mention from the influencer to his or her audience, too bad. No press.

II. The participating influencers have to post on their sites that they are for hire. Their sites would becoming like NASCAR race cars. Marks of the brands they have pitched or mentioned for money show front and center.

“A better influencer marketing platform would provide influencers the experiences needed to authentically promote the brand.”

For instance, in the travel business, there are what are known as FAM trips or Familiarity Trips. These aren’t simply vacations. These days, you have to have demonstrated some ability to book trips for the resort or destination and you generally pay for your own airfare. However, you have the experience of having seen the destination first hand.

In the case of restaurant launches, the soft launch provides staff a way to become familiar with systems and processes while offering a set of special insiders the ability to share the experience prior to talking about it.

I can think of few products or services that are currently using influencer marketing that wouldn’t be served better by literally comping their offerings to the right people and NOT paying influencers to shill their company or brand.

The best hairdressers in the world start out by giving away a lot of free cuts to the right people.

Word of Mouth marketing is still the most viral form of lift a brand can utilize. Leveraging word of mouth is a lot harder than paying for clicks generated by a blogger or social media star.

If your product or service is really buzz worthy follow these steps.

I. Launch it via a platform that will allow you to track the offerings delivery to the user.

II. Find a platform or build one that will allow users to comp or gift your offering to others they care about.

III. Track what happens with the individuals that are comp’d or gifted your offering by someone other than your company.

There are technologies that allow this type of authentic experience with your offering to take place. If a recipient of your brands product or service doesn’t love it, share it, or recommend it without being paid to do so, you have work to do.

Sherman Mohr is CEO of Shared Spirits. Share Spirits is a mobile app serving the spirits, wine and beer industries with an innovative ad/tech platform built to leverage word of mouth marketing.

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