What is an Influencer & What is ‘Influencer Marketing’? NOT WHAT YOU THINK

People often ask, ‘What is an influencer?’ or ‘What is influencer marketing’ especially on Instagram, YouTube, and Tiktok? Well, this question gets me a little ticked off because what you read on the blogosphere isn’t exactly what is going on in “real life.” Let’s investigate.


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What is influencer marketing?

First, there’s the simple definition. “What is an influencer?” or more correctly “Who is an influencer?” Well, an influencer is a person with influence; that is, a person who can get his or her followers usually to buy something. So, you might think of Oprah as an “influencer” – when she lists her “favorite things” on Amazon each holiday season, people flock to buy them. They want to be “like” Oprah, or they “trust” Oprah. Thus in a marketing or commercial sense an influencer is a person who a) has a following, b) can influence the purchasing decisions of those who follow them, and c) is willing to do so. But… that’s not the whole story.


Second, here is the dirty little secret about “influencers.” The term has come to mean a person who is willing to sell their influence for a price; think “product placement.” Think, “it slices it dices I love it” (and you should buy it). Influencers are quite usually “guns for sale,” people that brands hire to tell their followers they are “excited” about such-and-such. In this way, influencers are – in my humble opinion – often a little duplicitous. While the FTC (and many networks like Instagram) say that influencers MUST reveal that they are getting paid to promote a product, they often fail to do this. So, it’s a little sleazy at times. In fact, there are networks where brands can “buy” influence – such as –

Now, I’m not saying that “influencer marketing” is right or wrong; but it is not (generally speaking) powerful people just loving your product or service out of the goodness of their heart. And that means it can backfire; when “fans” find out that a given influencer who is near and dear to their heart has “sold out,” then they may turn on the influencer but also on the brand. If it’s not “above board,” consumers may really resent it.


Which brings us to “influencer marketing” vs. “superfan marketing.” The former – generally speaking – is thus when brand PAY influencers to “mention” their product or service, to endorse it, often without revealing that they are receiving payment for this. The latter – superfan marketing – is when a real user so passionately loves a product or service that they really love it and recommend it WITHOUT receiving any payment. So, for example, I am a “superfan” of Buzzsumo, which is a way to track what’s trending on social media. I do NOT receive any money from them, but I love the product and mention it often.

Bonus. What are your thoughts about – a) the ethics of “influencer marketing” and/or b) the “effectiveness of it” (over time), as sooner or later consumers will get hip to the fact that many “influencers” are “sell outs?”


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About Jason McDonald

Jason McDonald is a top-rated San Francisco SEO Consultant. His consulting services include search engine optimization consulting, social media marketing consulting, and Google AdWords consulting. Jason's motto as a consultant is that he doesn't do SEO 'for you' but rather he does SEO 'with you.' That goes as well for his social media marketing consultant activities and Google AdWords consultant services. Besides serving clients in the San Francisco Bay Area, Jason consults with clients in Silicon Valley (San Jose), Oakland and other cities throughout the Bay Area. Beyond the Bay Area, Jason is available as an SEO consultant, Social Media Consultant, and as an expert witness in litigation involving social media marketing, search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising.