Posted 03.09.13 by

Everyone is an Influencer on Something

As humans, we share stories of experiences that have a positive, neutral or negative impact on something that triggered us to take action. Having a communications degree, I remember studying the variables involved in how communication is delivered and came to the same conclusion now as I did in college; people drive interest about any topic through their sincerity in how they tell their stories.

Fish leaderEvery human has 3-dimensional experiences, which makes every perspective different from the next, without potential of complete replication. These experiences become uniquely shareable. This level of sharing comes at us every day in advertising, on the radio, in a magazine, or on television. But NONE of this is as strong as your closest friend telling you what they think around that same topic. The next time you are talking with someone, take note about how many experiences were mentioned (or inferred) and whether it made an impact on the way you spend your time and money. People influence people.

Here’s a great example. I’ve been thinking about getting a bike, and I know the first person I would go to is my friend David. Not only has he owned all kinds of bikes, but he took the time to get to know all the brands, the local store owners, and the model differences for every style of riding. David is my friend – we hang out, have shared some beers – so he wins in my eyes for being more trustworthy than a stranger store owner whose motivations are, I know, to sell me a bike. I know that there’s nothing in it for David to steer me toward one bike or another; he’s just excited at the prospect of gaining another riding buddy (win/win). Like most influencers, David doesn’t actually realize how much influence he has over my purchasing a bike, he simply loves to ride and has put a lot of thought and energy into the topic. It’s his sincerity and passion for riding that drives him to seek knowledge about it and want to share, and it’s this passion that deems him a trustworthy, knowledgeable source in my eyes to ask about which bike I should get.

So here’s a question: Should David get paid to influence me? After all, he’s put in all the time, effort and serious research to make sure he could suggest what would work for me. Maybe for David, the concept of getting paid to endorse products is new to him, but to Hollywood and athletes, they’ve been doing it for years. I think we all question whether they actually use the products they are getting paid to sell on camera, and for me, that’s a major distinction. If actual real, everyday people are using products and sharing their experiences and knowledge with others….why shouldn’t they get paid?

Is it inauthentic for an enthusiast to reap the monetary benefits of his passion? Is it crossing a line to move from word of mouth influencer to paid endorser of a product you already love? Is there room in influence marketing to blur the lines between paid and earned media?

If you haven’t read Porter Gale’s book “Your Network is Your Net Worth“, she walks through a great formula for picking your sweet spot for influencing the right things that make sense for you. I highly recommend reading her book not just for this formula, but the book is all around awesome! (Did I influence you to buy it? I hope so. Full disclosure, I did not get paid to say that, Porter is a friend, I want to help her succeed and I truly loved her book. Do you trust me more, or less?)

KEY TAKEAWAY: Everyone has a unique perspective on something. If you’re looking for answers, question your influencer’s motivations for sharing; are they benefitting in a way that’s authentic, or are they in it for something else? Then you be the judge if their shared experience triggers you to take action, one way or another.

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  • Bryan, I really enjoy the questions you ask in this piece. I also really enjoy that you ask them instead of answering them – it reinforces your thesis that every perspective is unique. Well done.

    The question that keeps flashing at me is: “should everyday people…get paid [for their influence]?” I think it’s a very important question – especially in this era of social media and its resulting torrent of analytics. Now that each person’s level of influence can be tracked, measured, evaluated, and leveraged by brands and free agents, the ethical lines are starting to blur and questions like yours are beginning to present themselves rather insistently. It’s so important that we answer them, because consumers today have more collective bargaining power than ever, and it’s critical that we each critically analyze what it means to us for a company to behave ethically. Does it matter to us? If so, it’s important that we know what a shill looks like, how to distinguish between credible endorsements and PR, and when we are being manipulated by marketing geniuses.

    I believe that as a society in an ever-more connected world, it is up to us to influence what companies do, how they behave, and whether they add value to our lives.

    I hope lots of folks ask themselves the questions you pose in this piece. It’ll benefit all of us!

    • Thanks Christina! It’s definitely something I have been pondering because whether we like it or not, I feel like it’s about to all shift. YES, we must influence what companies do. It’s a shared experience and that is the biggest shift of them all! Thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts 😉

  • Bryan, thank you for sharing your thoughts! One model to help evaluate your scenario is the six degrees of separation. For instance, since Kevin Bacon is likely five or six degrees of separation away, I am not going to raise an eyebrow if he gets paid as an influencer. As you point out, celebrities have long enjoyed this privilege.

    As your thesis suggests, this paradigm is shifting, as influence becomes democratized – we’re all influencers to some degree. From that perspective, I don’t think there is any absolute ethical or moral objection to influencers being compensated.

    There’s a downside, in that we don’t expect our close circle to batter us with marketing messages. If my friend constantly spams me to Like this or that product’s page or to follow some brand or another, he or she will likely not remain a friend for long, whether or not they are compensated for their efforts. On the other hand, if a friend can provide insight and value, I’ll appreciate them sharing stuff with me. This latter principle is at the core of any social transaction, online or otherwise. And again, it won’t matter much if he or she is being paid, so long as the exchange is authentic and of value.

    • Thanks Roger. Yes, it is shifting. And the word friend is being redefined (online). It will be interesting to see where it all heads. Cheers!

  • chumbuggy

    Great article Bryan, and great comments from Christina and Roger.

    It would be very difficult to make a decision based exclusively on your personal relation to the influencer. Every potential customer is accountable for their own decision, and thus has to evaluate the quality, price, durability, etc. of a product based on their own needs and using the information they have or are willing to acquire.

    If your friend is able to assist in your buying decision through trust and/or additional information, then it makes sense for them to be compensated. Compensation does not have to be monetary, but could also be in you returning the favour by being an influencer in something else – little bit of quid pro quo!

    • Agreed! Compensation comes in many forms! So glad to hear that from you and thank you for your thoughts.

  • Jaxi West

    I think both Christina and Roger make great points. I think the bigger question is: does the person who is doing the influencing want to get paid?

    David did what he did for his own purchase. You sought him out as the closest thing to an expert in the bike riding world. If he knew he would get paid for recommending xx bike, etc. David doesn’t sound like the type of person that would push that bike on you anymore than another bike. So it depends on the person, and what their motive is.

    So the questions come down to:
    1. does the influencer want to get paid
    2. what is the influencer’s motive or true intent for the recommendation or advise
    3. what should that payment structure look like – or what should that payment be?
    4. is the amount of money going to have any contributing factor if the influencer will subconsciously recommend product a over product b more even if they didn’t intend to
    5. will the influencer soon feel guilty for taking payment for something he would have normally just recommended and then stops recommending entirely and this ultimately then ruins his passion (along the lines of: ‘don’t start a business on a hobby/what you love because that hobby will be ruined’ – never be the same again)
    6. will this really have a contributing significant factor to sales for the company being recommended? Is this worth it? Is it generating such a larger amount of sales it’s worth it, or for the few more it does each year, is it worth paying someone to do this?
    7. will the receiving person feel the recommendation was still authentic if he/she finds out the person recommending the product is getting paid. Even if it’s your best friend, would you always?
    8. Could this start to hurt relationships more than it’s worth the paycheck? Relationships are hard to replace. There is always another product to buy. Relationships are worth more than money.

    Overall, I don’t think being compensated for something you are passionate about that you tell friends about every now and again is wrong. I don’t think I would do it, unless I did it for the purpose of extra money, then I’d set goals around it and then I’d actively treat it like regular sales, etc. I’d still be genuine about it, but I would separate the two.

    I would treat that more as a sales job on the side, and I wouldn’t take money for the recommendations I made to my personal friends – because I would have made them whether the company was paying me or not. So I just wouldn’t tell the company about those, so they wouldn’t pay me for them.

    Great question overall Bryan. Cool to know you hang around someone so thorough in their purchase! Gosh, puts me to shame on my ‘evaluation’ process of product choice. 🙂 I will consider David’s method next time big purchase – so thanks for sharing this story – super tip!

    • Always a pleasure seeing you, thanks for leaving a well thought out and thorough comment. I think these are great questions! Cheers my friend 🙂

  • Kyle Ohlenkamp

    The idea of who should get paid for what is over as soon as we hit the word “should”. Ask a musician if they think they should get paid for making music. Now ask someone making $8 in a meat factory.

    I do not think either should be paid and here is why. Do what you do. Live you meaning or die. There is no inbetween. If you are living in between no one can see or hear you anyway. So save it. Only the strong and the one that understand certain things and not other certain things.

    You will think I am kidding but we are so far off base it is funny. Go to Walmart sometime if you do not believe me.

  • As you well know, Bryan, this topic is near and dear to my heart.

    So, while I’d love to speculate, I’d rather not. instead, I will reframe the question slightly.

    Are brands willing to pay “small time” influencers? And the answer is yes.

    Do brands have a choice in the matter? No. The media landscape is so fragmented that the eyeballs are now everywhere, so brands have to be everywhere, but they cant.

    Who can? Your friend David, and millions of bloggers each with a small audience of their own.

    Do small-time influencers like your friend David want to make money? I’m dealing with 100s of Davids on daily basis, and this question is easy. Yes. They do. Very much so.

    Is there a loss of trust? No more or less than in the celebrity example you mention. Trust has a lot of moving parts, and being paid is just one factor. And a small one at that.

    What is a HUGE factor is relevance and congruence between the brand and the influencer.

    Anyways…I could go on. Where can I torrent that book you mention? 🙂

    • Thanks Dino, I agree with your thoughts here. So glad to see organizations like yours testing this model. I think it’s about to change the way we view influencers. here is where to get the book:

    • I agree with you @dinodogan:disqus. The landscape is changing and the gray matter between influencer and media are blurring.

      • Me too — Dino put it quite well, and thus again pulls me to Tribrr – got to join and learn about it

  • Hey Bryan, I always wondered where that phrase came from you network is your net worth. I’m going to buy the book! There you go, someone I like and trust mentioned a book and I’m going to buy it!

    • Porter’s book rocks @iancleary:disqus! I forgot to mention that in my comment above. A must read.

    • Thanks @iancleary:disqus, Let me know how you like it Ian? It’s a rare business book that I couldn’t put down!

  • Interesting discussion here @purematter:disqus. I don’t think we can put an answer to the question “should an influencer get paid” in one bucket. There are too many variables and factors that go into play to answer if it is good or bad. Many have been mentioned in comments below.

    I am seeing many confuse “influencer” with media. I think the important question to ask is when does it become ethically required or expected that a brand pays an influencer.

    Questions to consider…

    1. How much time is the brand wanting to take from the influencer?
    2. Is the brand wanting to formally consume real estate on the influencers platform (i.e., blog posts, tweets, Facebook timeline, etc.)
    3. Is the brand expecting that the influencer communicate about the brand at a specific time or day? Within a window?

    We get at least 5-10 requests a day via our web contact forms from brands wanting us to mention them on Twitter, talk about them in our blog, or share their infographic, product announcement and the list goes on. To me it is wrong. If they want me to do such then they should start by building a relationship with me, and second consider it as a business transaction. If I like and use their product I will talk bout it.

    I think the key is that brands that want to tap into the communities of influencers or every day consumers in a formal way should earn that right. They either need to provide such an awesome product that people want to talk about it and tell all of their friends about it, or they should approach it as a business discussion.

    Expecting influencers to talk about, blog about their products for free is something brands should plan an wish for but it is not guaranteed. A more formal influencer and evangelist program will often deliver better result.

    However, as I stated at the start of this comment (not turning into a blog post) there is no perfect answer. Every situation is different.

    And to answer your original question… should David get paid… I don’t really care if he does or doesn’t. If he was my friend and I trusted him completely my trust wouldn’t change because he was getting sponsored by the brand as long as I knew he would recommend a product to me agnostically without being attached to only one. To do that would require much trust.

    As an example, I see people on Facebook every day who I know are sponsored by brands such as Verizon and others. I am an ATT customer and will never go back to verizon. The fact they are sponsored and pushing Verizon’s products every day actually makes me not want to go back to them.

    I guess it is as you mention and other mention here… all about relationships. If I trust the person then their word is going to be trusted by me, regardless if they are getting paid or not. If I don’t know them nor trust them then it becomes almost useless.

    My 2 cents…I have a feeling I’ll have a blog post on this soon. 😉

    • Pam, thank you for your VERY thoughtful response!! It’s certainly something that will become more and more pronounced in the next few years. Can’t wait to chat with you more about this!

  • sharing expertise is one kind of influencer Bryan yet there are others where it somehow does not feel like expertise but celebrity to which others want to be attached… am still murky on this

    • Thank you Kare, always puts a smile on my face to see your thoughtful comments.

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