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Confessions of an Influencer

 

Recently I found myself at the launch of a well known high-end restaurant in South East London by happy accident. Not because I am some V.I.P., or because those are the circles I move in, but because my other half had just returned from two weeks in Australia and it was an opportunity to give her the nice warm welcome home she deserved (given that I'd overslept and been unable to surprise her at the airport!).

As we sat there enjoying being back together again, I was distracted by two incredibly fashionable gentlemen sat at the table next to us. It wasn't their on-trend clothing or flawless grooming that distracted me, rather their behaviour.

They hadn't even sat at the table before they had asked the waitress for the WiFi password. Not entirely uncommon, you may say. But then they asked for the hash tag. I looked at my Fiancé with a wry smile. Were they serious?! Did that just happen?!

Sure enough, the odd behaviour continued. No more than 20 words exchanged during the three course meal, but easily 100+ pictures taken. The table; the cutlery; the plates; the menu; the dishes; the glasses; the wine; the seats; the view; themselves - nothing was off limits. They were either absolutely bonkers, or lived their lives through Social Media.

My inquisitive nature took over and I asked them. It transpires they had been brought in by the Marketing team as part of the launch strategy. They were Social Media 'Influencers'.

What follows is the Q&A that unfolded. As a Marketer who is often told by clients that they want to connect with Influencers, I wanted to dig a little deeper and learn about Influencer Marketing from 'the other side'.

Why did you become Influencers?

"We used to do modelling and a friend told us if we had a certain amount of followers on Social Media, that companies would pay us to go to events, eat their food, drink their drinks and wear their clothes. London is expensive; who doesn't love a freebie and to be paid to go to nice places?"

I have to admit, while it's not on my mothers' 'real jobs' list, being an 'Influencer' sounds like it's not such a bad gig after all.

How did you get such a large Social Media following?

"To start with it was tricky. We were trying to fake it. We were taking pictures of each other in certain hot-spots, in particular clothes, using specific hash-tags and tagging the brands in the hope that they would contact us. But that didn't really work. Nobody Liked or Shared what we posted. It was all kind-of flat.

We gave our friend a bit of a hard time, but then he let us in on something he had been doing...there are tonnes of companies out there that we could pay a few bucks and they would increase our following by whatever amount we wanted; 5,000+, 10,000+, 20,000+, or more. Some of [the companies] would even Like and Share our posts from those accounts which would lift our rankings and boom - it took off from there.

Our following started growing organically and we started to hear from PR companies, Brand Managers and Marketing companies offering us real money to do what we would be doing anyway and without having to pay for it!"

Do you not have to let your followers know you're being paid to wear those clothes and be at those places?

They looked at each other and laughed.

"Well, sometimes we post with certain hash-tags like #Ad, but people don't Like of Share when they know it's an advert. Besides, it's not really an issue.

We try to post discretely. Like today we've posted one picture as if it was a fashion shoot outside the venue. [the clients] get brand exposure and we don't get risk getting in to trouble. The other [pictures] we will post over the next few months peppered between other posts so that it's less obvious."

Here is where I struggled to hide my frustration and they started to get suspicious as to this line of questioning. They didn't know I work in Marketing, they didn't know I too like to post on Social Media. Before I could ask any further questions, they made their excuses and left.

Just a couple of weeks ago I posted 'My problem with 'Influencer' Marketing' talking about exactly these types of 'Influencers' and there I had been, sat face-to-face with two of the very same.

Now, I appreciate this isn't exactly a direct confession and that they didn't know who I was or why I was asking these questions, which is why I have anonymised their identities and that of their client. But I find myself asking a question; does their approach irk me so much because I (like so many others) work hard and honest so that I can afford to eat in nicer places and wear better clothes, or does it annoy me that they are gaming a flawed, unregulated system, being rewarded for it there's nothing I can do about it?

Answer: It's both.

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