We have all heard the old metaphorical expression “don’t judge a book by its cover,” meaning not to prejudge something based on its outer appearance alone.
This classic phrase takes an ironic twist in the digital age and with respect to social media specifically.The digital world is alight 24/7/365 with social-media influencers – those purported online taste shapers and opinion leaders – whose very association with a brand, product, destination or service is believed to drive traffic, move a sales needle and create word-of-mouth excitement.
And, without a doubt, influencers can do all that – and more – which is why marketers so actively seek them out as brand ambassadors.
Just as often, however, influencers appear to be chosen purely by their number of followers, and not because they are the best “fit” with a brand, its marketing messages and, most importantly, its target demographics.Marketers seem to be disregarding the above adage: If the influencer is the proverbial “book,” then all too often brands are making snap decisions based on the “cover” – in other words, the number of followers alone.
To this point, consider an Instagram “It Girl” – a pop-culture phenomenon with more than a million followers.(Identities are being withheld to protect the truly superficial.)This globe-trotting influencer travels continuously to far corners of the world, hopping from one glamorous, exotic and ultra-luxe destination to the next, and chronicling her stays on her Insta feed.From her posts, it’s clear she’s traveling at the expense of hotels, travel operators and tourism authorities.While each of these posts receive literally thousands of likes and comments from followers, only a scant few ever refer to the hotel, resort or destination in the photo.
The takeaway (at least to us) is that the vast majority of the comments are from followers who simply don’t fit the demographic of these five-star destinations and would likely never stay at any of them.In more than a few cases, these comments have the potential to backfire and have precisely the opposite effect: to repel or alienate loyal customers who are turned off by social posts that dilute the exclusivity of their favorite hotels and resorts.
So, then, when is an influencer truly influential?
We are continually captivated by lifestyle and design legend Kelly Wearstler. Called by the New Yorker the “presiding grand dame of West Coast interior design,” Architectural Digest includes her on its list of 15 must-follow designers and architects on Instagram, where she has about 500,000 followers.
With her breadth of glamorous design work across residential and commercial installations, not to mention her own fabrics, wallcoverings and furnishings, Wearstler’s followers are disciples themselves.(We are huge fans of her hotel work!)Based on the Insta comments, her acolytes, though, are other interior designers who are looking to the “grand dame” herself for inspiration and her eye-popping portfolio for design ideas.
Wearstler may have just half the number of Insta followers as the “It Girl,” but they’re nearly all on point.Our assessment here is unempirical – we’ll leave the web and social media analytics to the quants. But experience building brands and managing reputations tells us that having the right influencer who’ll draw the right audience is what marketers really need. Kelly Wearstler’s Insta feed speaks to this.
Some rules of thumb worth keeping in mind:
What’s a follower really worth?
Not all influencers (or their followers) are created equal.
How do you discern? (For one, start by analyzing comments.)
No doubt social channels and influencers across them are here to stay. They have the power to supercharge brands faster than ever before.But marketers need to be more cautious than ever, too:Product or service reputations can be undone just as quickly.