Don’t buy friends. Please. Just don’t.

If you’ve been reading this blog regularly, you know that I’m not a big fan of the influencer marketing hype. Because, what is an influencer anyway? And how much is your influence worth?

Influencer marketing is a strategy where instead of selling directly to your target audience, you target people that you think your target audience admire and get them to wear your clothes, eat your yogurt, drink your vodka, sit on your couch, or show up at your nightclub. It’s not a new idea (it’s advertising) or even a new twist on an old idea (it’s also product placement). But, in the age of social media, influencer marketing was supposed to feel more organic and less staged. If I see my favorite athlete wearing a Nike watch in a workout video posted to Instagram, then I’m going to run out and buy that watch. Ummm… no.

Another very big thing changed with social media: suddenly brands could measure influence — and not just rock stars and athletes.

Okay, not really. But they think they can. Because social media accounts count friends and followers. The more followers you have, the more popular you must be, right?

Influence isn’t a car odometer.

Influencer Marketing isn't a Car Odometer

This isn’t an idle discussion. In the early days of Twitter, I used to get ads and email come-ons all the time about buying followers for cheap. Now I get them less, but they’re still out there. And every few months someone asks me about buying followers and whether they should do it. Ummm… no.

A lot of people, however, are doing it.

The New York Times has a terrific long read on famous people who have purchased followers on Twitter. It’s a who’s who of well-known people and people who want to be famous. The Follower Factory looks specifically at one company that is selling Twitter followers. Not surprisingly, few are real people. Most are either spoofed accounts (of real people — without their knowledge) or bots.

At one point the authors write:

Several Devumi customers acknowledged that they bought bots because their careers had come to depend, in part, on the appearance of social media influence. “No one will take you seriously if you don’t have a noteworthy presence,” said Jason Schenker, an economist who specializes in economic forecasting and has purchased at least 260,000 followers.

Seriously?

Market your value, not your influence.

Influencer marketing often gets it wrong by focusing on the wrong metrics. What matters is not how many friends you have, or how many people you follow. It’s who those people are. Are they connected to you? Do they care what you have to say?

The problem with buying influence is that you can’t buy influence. The perception, perhaps, of influence — if you’re into flattery, faves, and sycophantic bots. But not influence in a way that will drive attendance at your events, boost association membership, sell widgets, or otherwise move the needle on your business. Your best customer might be a lurker who has 100 followers on Twitter but reaches all the right people. Or maybe it’s someone with 10,000 or 100,000 followers who’s engaged and engaging with their online community.

Stop trying to be influential. Focus on your value instead.

Car interior by Clem Onojeghuo (Unsplash).

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