In episode six of the Marketing on Tap podcast, we ask the question – have social media influencers worn out their welcome?
With recent examples of luxury resorts throwing up their arms in frustration at would-be social influencers asking for free stays worth thousands of dollars, to a “retired influencer”, Josh Ostrovsky, telling wannabe influencers to “get a real job”, is the sun setting on this industry?
And if social influence/influence marketing is seeing its power wane, what does this mean for the brands and businesses that currently utilize this medium?
Settle back and enjoy this week’s topic, brought to you in the usual unscripted manner that you’ve come to expect when Sam and Danny take the mic.
If you prefer to listen on the go, the audio version of this week’s episode can be listened to below.
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Intro: Welcome to Marketing on Tap, a weekly podcast in which marketing pros and authors Sam Fiorella and Danny Brown serve up the latest marketing hot topics, campaigns, and trends, all washed down with a great craft beer. Join in on the fun as they debate the pros and cons of the topic of the week while featuring popular or up-and-coming microbreweries. Topics include influence marketing, brand campaign successes and misses, customer advocacy programs, and marketing challenges facing businesses and agencies. It’s the marketing podcast to listen to for CMOs, senior sales executives, and key decision makers at mid to enterprise level organizations. And with their good natured bashing of each other, each episode promises to entertain and educate in equal measure. Welcome to Marketing on Tap.
Sam Fiorella: Welcome back everybody to our next Marketing on Tap podcast and vlog. Sam Fiorella, this is my buddy Danny Brown, and today Danny …
Danny Brown: Hm?
Sam Fiorella: … yeah, this is one of those rant kind of things that just irked me when I read this. I was sitting in the commuter train. I was flipping through some news articles, and I saw this, and I just went off. I’m texting Danny feverishly, “We’ve got to talk about this one today.” In fact, there was a couple of articles that … And I’m gonna read you the headlines because I think this will get us to where we need to be. Insider Magazine, title of the article, “A luxury Maldives resort says it is contacted at least six times a day by Instagram influencers” … and there aren’t enough air quotes in the world for me to use when I’m talking about influencers. At least six times a day by Instagram influencers, asking for extravagant freebies. Because, you know, I have an Instagram post … account, and so that means I need $10,000 worth of free vacation certificates. The second one from Takeout Online, which is a restaurant trade publication, “Steakhouse caves to insufferable social influencers with dedicated Instagram tables.”
Danny Brown: Yeah.
Sam Fiorella: People wonder why I drink.
Danny Brown: That’s a good one.
Sam Fiorella: Yeah, we got to talk about that one. And then the third article that all happened [crosstalk 00:02:18]. That’s good, that’s funny. CNN Money came out with a story about one of my favorite topics, the fat, Jewish or Joel … Austra … I can’t pronounce his last name. Aus …
Danny Brown: Austrum?
Sam Fiorella: No.
Danny Brown: Joe Austrum, is it?
Sam Fiorella: I say this so many times.
Danny Brown: Fat Jewish.
Sam Fiorella: Ostrovsky. That’s it. Joel Ostrovsky, also known as the Fat Jewish on Instagram. He came out with a statement that says, “One of the biggest social media influencers in the game, Joel, has a word of advice for those hoping to strike it rich as a social media influencer. Get a real job.” And for that, Joel, I applaud you. It’s about time somebody who’s actually milked the game in the tune of a million dollars, thank you for finally stepping out and calling a spade a spade.
Sam Fiorella: So, we want to talk about that and get into this whole thing, is influencer marketing finally dead, or at a minimum, fake social celebrity influencer finally dead?
Danny Brown: Yeah.
Sam Fiorella: But, as always, you poured something interesting here. This one I recognize. I wanna talk about it.
Danny Brown: Mm-hmm (affirmative) yeah, go ahead. This is like Hawaiian-style, pale ale from Spearhead Brewing.
Sam Fiorella: That’s right. Now, this one here has got a little bit more of a hoppier profile than I typically like. However, I encountered these guys at the Toronto Beer Fest. I bought their t-shirt. I bought a hat. I think I even bought a little shot glass from them because I just enjoyed it so much. Have you tried this one before?
Danny Brown: I haven’t, no. I have something else of Spearhead, which I can’t remember off hand. Maybe in a stout or something like that, but I haven’t tried this, and I like the look of the can and the sound of it, so we’ll see what it’s like.
Sam Fiorella: So beer marketing works, gentleman. For those of you out there looking at craft beer, if your can is pretty, Danny buys it. Anyway, cheers, mate. Let’s try it.
Danny Brown: Cheers.
Sam Fiorella: IBU is high on this. What does it … What is it?
Danny Brown: So, IBU is sixty and ABV is a six percent [inaudible 00:04:17] Six percent. So, it’s a little bit of a stronger beer. This is closer for me. I’m surprised. I’m not sure what your take is, but this, to me, this is more like a IPA.
Sam Fiorella: IPA.
Danny Brown: IPA.
Sam Fiorella: Well, they call it a pale ale. I wonder … The thing is, they’re calling this like a Hawaiian style, which is really an American style IPA, which is a little bit more bitter. Surprisingly, I enjoyed this more when I tried it at …
Danny Brown: How many beers have you had?
Sam Fiorella: Well, that’s what I just thought. I probably had quite a bit because … not that there’s anything wrong with this, but it’s definitely a little bit more on the bitter side, like an American pale ale is. But, it is good, and it’s not as fruity as the one that we tried last time.
Danny Brown: That’s right.
Sam Fiorella: It doesn’t have that fruit which …
Danny Brown: It’s about that bitterness and hops coming through versus a citrusy [crosstalk 00:05:01]
Sam Fiorella: Mans beer [crosstalk 00:05:03]
Danny Brown: Anyhoo, so yeah, Spearhead Brewery. They are at spearheadbeer.com, and they’re located in Toronto. They’re right here in Toronto actually, which I never knew. So, that’s cool.
Sam Fiorella: No, I like this. Again, for that IPA style, this is one that … It’s not my favorite, I have to admit from all of them. I know you like this a lot for your style, but I think for, again, in the summer, this is a better beer than some of the others that we’ve been trying that are a little bit more on the fruity side.
Sam Fiorella: Anyway, we’re not here to talk about the beer. We are here to talk about marketing. Let’s start.
Danny Brown: Is social influence marketing though?
Sam Fiorella: Is social influence marketing?
Danny Brown: That’s what I said, yeah.
Sam Fiorella: Well, that’s actually a really good question.
Danny Brown: Joel doesn’t seem to think so.
Sam Fiorella: Well, no. He’s just saying get a real job, not that it isn’t marketing. I think it is marketing ’cause marketing is all about getting your name out there, driving the leads, building your brand. Market awareness, right? Getting those marketing qualified, filling the funnel. And I think influence marketing definitely can do that. I think those of us who have been listening to us all these years, anybody that will ever listen, we talk about this. That this has been a bullshit enterprise from day one.
Danny Brown: From day one.
Sam Fiorella: Now, that being said, a guy like Joel has made a lot of money doing this. Right? Now Joel has made money by posting … creating an Instagram account and being very irreverent in what he posts. In fact, for quite a while, he was stealing other people’s jokes.
Danny Brown: You wrote about this as well, didn’t you?
Sam Fiorella: I did. About two years ago, I wrote about him, and I was saying this is all that’s wrong with influence marketing. So, this was something I wrote for Sunset Marketing’s post, and two years ago, what I called out was he was being paid, and I read an article about how much he was getting paid, and in some cases he was getting $70,000, $75,000, $150,000 …
Danny Brown: To post.
Sam Fiorella: To post a picture with a product. I think at the time it was a wine, ironically enough because that’s the business that he’s now started. Some wine paid for him to do a billboard and then post a picture with the billboard, or something. I thought, he’s so irreverent. It’s actually lewd, a lot of his humor, which is fine. I don’t have a problem with that kind of humor, but does it really match the wine, was the number one. I think a lot of the people that were hiring him to post weren’t thinking, “Who is his audience, and is his audience our audience?”
Danny Brown: Right.
Sam Fiorella: And “Does it lead to sales?” and so, I was calling out. I said this guy’s brilliant as a writer. My thought back then was, “Why don’t you hire him, if you liked him? Hire him as a writer”
Danny Brown: Yeah, exactly.
Sam Fiorella: Hire him as a content creator inside, then, that you can take the content and put it in the audience that is your audience, the channel that is your audience. To me, that just made more sense.
Sam Fiorella: And here we are, two years later, and he’s coming out and saying, “Guys look. There’s too many of us. Basically, what he said in this CNN Money article was at the end of the day, anybody that has a Facebook account is now an influencer or claims to be an influencer.
Sam Fiorella: If you go to the Maldives article, in Insider Magazine, Lisa Target, the U.K. manager, said that online marketplace where brands can match briefs with influencers, that’s what she does. She still thinks that there’s a market. However, what the company … the marketers at the Maldives resorts are saying that they get people with 200 to 300 influencers, or followers, excuse me, that have reached out and said, “Give me a one week, $10,000 vacation for free and I will post you.” She goes, there’s less than ten percent of the requests that she get that she even considers, let alone take an action on.”
Sam Fiorella: So to Joel’s point, everybody’s doing this now, so there’s no value because everybody’s doing it, so no one is special anymore. Even though he has some 10 or 11 million followers, which is amazing. It’s huge in terms of total number of followers. He’s even saying that it’s not worth it. Now, interestingly, he’s not walking away from that account, but he’s started his own business.
Sam Fiorella: Maybe this is where we pivot in terms of the conversation. What he said and where he’s changing his business is that he doesn’t believe creating fake anything is important anymore. Basically, he was calling it all fake. He needs something real. He goes, “I wanna build something real. I wanna give people something real.” So, he and his friends started a wine company using his humor. It’s called Swish.
Danny Brown: Yeah, I saw that on the bottles and the labels and such.
Sam Fiorella: Yeah, he’s got some really irreverent, like dining with family is hard, red wine or something like that. Again, he’s using his humor.
Danny Brown: And it suits his brand. His audience, I guess.
Sam Fiorella: Right, so for me, that’s a great way. Now, if I was a wine company, I would’ve hired him to write for me as opposed to just posting, you know my Pink Girl wine, or something. It was some ladies’ rose wine. They were promoting to women, some rose wine. It just didn’t sit, but for me that sits.
Sam Fiorella: So, the point anyway, and this is where I want to ask you, it’s … He’s calling social media influence and what he offered as a product fake. He was offering up something fake that has no value anymore. In part, because we all know it’s all fake and in part because just everybody’s doing it now. He wants something real. Is this where influence marketing is going? Are influencers, Instagram influencers in particular, are they dead?
Danny Brown: It’s tough because you mentioned how when I was being facetious about social influence actually being marketing because we know it works. We even work with influencers day in, day out. I think Joel makes a good point, and it goes back to what we talked about five years ago when we brought the book out. It’s all about, is your influence relevant to the audience and are you actually, have you a brand affiliation to the product and the client you’re working with as opposed to they’re giving you $75,000 to put something on Instagram?
Danny Brown: I think where the pushback is coming, and I know we spoke about it in a previous podcast, where the actual pushback is coming, is on the folks that say they’re an influencer but don’t drive anything. It’s people that are just taking pictures in Hawaii and then sending them over to a vacation company saying, “Hey, I took this in Hawaii. I can to the same for you in the Maldives,” or whatever.
Danny Brown: So I think there’s a pushback, and brands are starting to realize it. It comes back to the business code you’re after and the affiliation you have with the client, the product, or the brand. And moving away from the fake crud. Brands have been hit. If you look back at the, I think it was Fire Fest, which was last summer, maybe, huge event, somewhere in the Maldives and not-exclusive area, and they got the youngest Kardashian to promote it, big names, and it just burned. It crashed and burned, and people lost a lot of money on that because the influencers weren’t affiliated to the brand, and that …
Sam Fiorella: Well, I agree with that, and you see, our own, again, just going back to personal experience, you take a look at some of the influencers that we’ve worked with in some of the campaigns are getting called out. Like if we sent them a product to try, and they promote that product because they’ve tried it and they like it, that’s a real problem.
Danny Brown: Yeah, it’s becoming a shill. [crosstalk 00:12:28]
Sam Fiorella: It’s a shill, right? And so people are starting to recognize it. Goes well, clearly, you’re going to talk positively about it because you were … It was given to you, or it was free, or you’re getting paid and even though they weren’t being paid in the cases that we talked about, they were always being called out because there’s a perception, a cynicism around this whole influence thing, right?
Sam Fiorella: I think maybe a younger generation still follows it. They know it’s fake, but it’s just entertainment for them. You know, but are they buying or not is the other issue, but I really like what he was saying about coming real and offering some kind of product, and I’m hoping that this is going to signal a shift.
Sam Fiorella: But from a marketer’s perspective, let’s turn it. If that is in fact the case, and how do we chose influencers any differently today knowing that there is more cynicism about influencers, maybe not worth paying them what they used to get paid for those that got paid, knowing that there’s a lot of backlash. These marketing managers in the Maldives are saying, “Go screw yourself,” ’cause, “No, you’re not worth it for me.” What can they do? Maybe look at it from two ways. What can they do? Should they all follow Joel’s model. “Listen I’m really creative”? What kind of pitch can they make?
Danny Brown: Yeah, some of them are. You look at some of the guys we work with, some of the influencers we work with on past campaigns and current campaigns, and some of them are very creative. They would put video editors in Hollywood to shame with some of their creativity, so they can become almost like a media company and now highly other people come through the ranks that are making a difference in their industry. So see, it’s the stuff like that where you can really start a business for yourself.
Danny Brown: And I think, to Joel’s point, it’s all the [inaudible 00:14:07]. Who’s got the [inaudible 00:14:11] the noose, the nose?
Danny Brown: Anyway …
Sam Fiorella: I only understand every fourth word you say, so don’t …
Danny Brown: I know you ask, noose, nose, [inaudible 00:14:17]. Who’s got the sense, the business sense, if you like, to now take what they’ve built up from a fallen point and you turn that into a hard physical asset? From a marketing point of view, it goes back. We’ve talked about this time and time again. It’s in the trenches, (metallic squeak) doing the manual work, doing the research, getting better chairs.
Sam Fiorella: Sorry, that’s my squeaky chair.
Danny Brown: And just really building a community and building an influencer base up from people that bring volume and they’re not in it for product and whatever. They’re in it for value to others.
Sam Fiorella: Yeah, and I agree with that. Just one of the examples that we have in [inaudible 00:14:52], we have a community of influencers built up for one of our clients, and it’s really just more of a community of fans and users more than it is a community of influencers, but one of the things that we’ve done in that community is invite proposals. So we’ve gone out and said, “Guys, who’s got a great idea? Pitch us an idea.”
Sam Fiorella: So we’re relying on their creativity more than we’re relying on the number of followers that they have because if they come up with really good content, yes, they can share it with their audience, but if it’s good enough content, others will pick it up and others will share it, and that gives us more bang for the buck, and of course, it becomes an evergreen campaign potentially that we could use in other channels. It just makes a lot more sense. I’m glad that he’s finally calling that out.
Sam Fiorella: I do wanna highlight this steakhouse that caves to insufferable social influencers with dedicated Instagram tables. So first of all, can I give a shout out to Kate Bernot who’s the writer just for calling a spade a spade here. The restaurateur is saying that today people make decisions based on Instagram and Yelp reviews in part because of the pictures that are being put out.
Sam Fiorella: It’s kind of funny even when I go out to dinner with my daughter and her friends, the first thing they do, even my wife, takes pictures, and for a while I was doing it, too. Take a look at my Instagram feed. It used to be all about the meal that I made. Now it’s just all about my scotch and cigars. So I guess it’s really not all that different. So, yes, send the hate mail. Call me out for what I’m calling everybody else out for.
Sam Fiorella: But she said, hey, I like Instagram myself, but I’m obviously way out of touch with the kids these days because the main criterion I use to choose a restaurant to friends is whether the food is good. Is what she said, as opposed to … But anyway, what this company did is they spend $10,000 to …
Danny Brown: To [inaudible 00:16:43] table?
Sam Fiorella: To construct a table that has mood lighting so that the person can get the appropriate shot. They’ve actually spent more money creating backdrops so that when they take pictures of themselves in the restaurant or the food, there’s an interesting backdrop to make it.
Sam Fiorella: So, is that going too far, or is that really the future of restaurant marketing?
Danny Brown: No, you know what [inaudible 00:17:04] Sam? It’s funny. Everybody talks about experiential marketing and making an experience for the customer [crosstalk 00:17:09] come in the store.
Sam Fiorella: Yes, which I agree with.
Danny Brown: That’s fine. This to me is not experiential marketing. This like insufferable Instagram. Do you promise here to use our phrase. Because what does that achieve? How do these people, if there’s any followers, going to actually eat at this kind of place? Or are they just going there to get free food, take some pictures, and maybe you can get some dining in at the same time.
Danny Brown: And what do the other diners think that are coming into that place for the ambience that is now interrupted by a bunch of Instagram folks getting the right selfie, the right shot.
Sam Fiorella: How annoying is that? Also, if you’re at the table next to them, and they’re spending all this time getting the right shot, and then they have to eat cold food. How can they actually recommend the food ’cause they end up eating it cold? I don’t know.
Sam Fiorella: Anyway, the bell is happening. Believe it or not, we still don’t have a bell.
Danny Brown: Maybe by episode nine or 10, I don’t know. No one’s gotten the hint apparently, so either we have absolutely no listeners or viewers …
Sam Fiorella: That’s feasible.
Danny Brown: Or they just don’t care. Anyway, we’re gonna have to splurge and get a bell. So last call, what’s that one thing given this topic, given that Instagrammers themselves are … Successful instagrammers, successful celebrity influencers on there are calling out the industry and saying it has to change. What is that last message or actionable comment we wanna give marketers who are listening?
Sam Fiorella: I think it just goes back to keeping it real. When you do any kind of marketing, any kind of business. You’re not in it to be it fake. You know, hopefully you’re not in it to be fake, right?
Sam Fiorella: When you’re working with people on behalf of your clients, you gotta make sure you’re presenting the best people to these clients as well. So, for marketers, continue to do the legwork. Know that industry is probably coming to an end in one facet, of the fake, and people are looking for more, whether that’s results or more tangible quality, if you like, from the actual influencers that they’re dealing with.
Danny Brown: Yeah, for me, that’s a good point, and I agree with you. I think this may be to expand on that a little bit. I think that we have to stop it. I think one of the reasons influencers have become insufferable and this has become what it is because we as marketers have enabled it. We’ve looked for the shortcuts. We’ve looked for people who have half a million followers who have built it up. We know that 99%, that’s a bit of an exaggeration …
Sam Fiorella: 80%.
Danny Brown: We know if there’s a large number that are fake, right? Because in the early days, actually not in the early days, today. I’m still getting pitches to buy followers. The cyber-shills and the shill farms are out there. So we were paying for that, so we created this monster. Yes, they wanted it.
Sam Fiorella: I teach an influence marketing courses, as you know, and I actually had somebody who came to one class and was disappointed after day one ’cause I was teaching real influence marketing, and they said, “I signed up how to be an influencer, not to learn how to market through influence marketing.”
Sam Fiorella: So people are looking to do that ’cause they don’t want to work any more. They figure that this is just an easy way for me to make some money, so I think that we, as marketers, that’s the change. Build those communities as we’ve said many times. Work them. Put the opportunity in front of them and to step up and give you an idea. Have them come up with the campaigns. Use their talent. Don’t use their followers, necessarily because nine out 10 times, it’s not going to lead to sales, and they’re fake anyway.
Sam Fiorella: That’s my two cents on it.
Sam Fiorella: We’re at our time today. Thanks for the opportunity to rant a little bit. I appreciate that.
Sam Fiorella: [crosstalk 00:20:52] to rant.
Sam Fiorella: Yes, and thank you to Joel for calling out this industry. For those of you that are kind of enjoying what we’re doing, we’re certainly having a lot of fun doing it. We do it anyway. We just put a mike in front of us.
Sam Fiorella: Don’t forget to hit subscribe to the vlog or to the podcast if that’s where you’re listening. We do this every week, 15 to 18 minutes or so of some banter about whatever topic happens to piss me off that week as it’s turning out in the marketing fields.
Sam Fiorella: Thanks, Danny. Thanks, Anna, for helping us out. Cheers everybody. Until next week.
Sam Fiorella: (glasses clinking)
Danny Brown: Until next week. Cheers.
Outro: You’ve been listening to Marketing on Tap with Sam Fiorella and Danny Brown. If you enjoyed this episode, make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss the next one, and please, feel free to leave a show review. That’s always worth a cheers.