Would You Pay for Influencers?

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Last week I received an email from the folks at Klout informing me that Fox wanted to send me a watching kit for its new television series Lone Star.  I am sure that some of you reading this got the same email.

I’m not required to do anything for them but they mailed me a promotional package and I can talk about the show if I want to. Disclosure – I love free stuff, seriously. The popcorn tin and tailgate beer mugs were pretty sweet. Now don’t take this post as an endorsement – I watched the show and was not crazy about it.  I am also not a television critic so my level of expertise on the matter is also questionable, which is what makes me wonder why I was selected as an influencer for this campaign. I am simply using this as a question of influence. Disclosure #2, I do not see myself as an expert or authority in anything; I am just a guy who loves his job, but if you want to send me free stuff go ahead.  ;) There I said it.

To me, this seems like a slippery slope of sorts where advertising can invade in the PR territory a bit. Instead of researching and tailoring a list for your company or client, you can simply pay a list of folks with a large audience without knowing if they fit your brand. This new model sounds like the spray and pray model of PR or advertising.
People in general like writing positively about stuff they get for free, but are the reviews uninfluenced?  I would love to say yes, but I know better. People like free stuff and want to continue receiving free stuff so they will say nice things. I would rather get honest reviews, but love is always better than hatred.

I worked with many mom bloggers as part of my job and still have 50 that I keep in regular contact with, but I never gave a dime to any of them. If money was going to be discussed, I brought in my marketing team – which should be the action of any responsible flack.

Throwing mud at the wall is what gives us flacks a bad name and spending dollars and praying for success is why we have advertising. So I wonder if the Klout influencer advertising model is destined for mediocrity or if it will catch on.

What do you think? Is this new kind of advertorial/praying for positive buzz good for the PR industry or does it set us back some?

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  • Anonymous

    I really like the thought process here, Jeff. The line between “earned” and “paid” influence of influencers is a fuzzy one.

    To me, getting them on-board to be pre-disposed to at least pay attention to the TV show is OK. The proof is in the pudding: Despite the rave reviews from the critics, Lone Star was cancelled after just that one episode!

    So even though they targeted people who would be apt to like the show, the show bombed.

    I think that while people do enjoy freebies, they won’t waste time on subpar products.

    Now, FOX, what about me?????? Send me some stuff :)

    • Anonymous

      Yeah I was not a fan of the show Mike – just seemed unsustainable. The model itself is interesting to me because while it is great to get free things, I can’t be two-faced and inauthentic because I got something for free.

      So they really cancelled it already?

  • http://www.arikhanson.com Arik Hanson

    Has social media become all about “free stuff?” A question I’ve been grappling with a lot lately.

    • Anonymous

      I really hope that it hasn’t Arik. Klout has an interesting concept, but it can be easily manipulated. With the soapbox that SM gives everyone, the free for me model has been popping up lately.

      Free is OK if it is part of a long term relationship that is built between PR and SM person or blogger for that matter. It is the one-hitters that get to me and are in bad form.

      • http://www.arikhanson.com Arik Hanson

        Right-agree completely. And, I hear much more about the “one hitters” than I do these long-term relationships. That’s the troubling part. But, long-term relationships are time-consuming to grow and maintain. I think that’s the part we struggle with. It’s not easy–and most are looking for something quick and easy.

        • Anonymous

          It does make me worry as well. You need the long-term for sustained success. Short term = short-sided

  • http://twitter.com/tjdietderich TJ Dietderich

    My dirty secret: I like giving away free stuff probably just as much as my outreach folks like getting it. I feel POWERFUL MWAHAHA.

    But I don’t think that relationship is just about getting and giving free stuff. It’s an agreement that we respect each other’s positions (mine as content provider and theirs as critic) and that we need each other in order to make our little book world function. I guess the big difference between that and what you experienced with the Fox/Klout outreach is that you don’t feel you’re especially qualified to be their critic, which may or may not be true.

    • Anonymous

      TJ – You got it there. While there are many things that I feel confident in reviewing – books, movies, food, tools that would make Tim the Toolman Taylor grunt and sports – romantic drama is not one of them.

      Like you said above it is about the relationship not the swag.

  • http://rebeccaadenison.com Rebecca Denison

    I’m so glad you posted about this because I got the EXACT SAME e-mail, and I was so confused as to why I was chosen to be an influencer. It did not make any sense to me as my tweets and social interactions do not indicate that I am a TV watcher in general (which I’m really not). I was tempted to write a response asking as to why I was chosen before participating. In the end, I didn’t participate as a form of protest to their poor influencer choice.

    It is incredibly difficult to build community and to truly connect with those who are influencers long before you need them. But it’s necessary. Doing anything less is just plain embarrassing to the industry, and is honestly a bit shady and inauthentic. Oy!

    • Anonymous

      Yeah I am shameless and like free stuff, but I did not write positively as the campaign and show itself were not to my liking. If this means no more free stuff, so be it.

      My philosophy of slow, methodical and strategically helps build up the long-term relationships. The quick hits in my opinion are truly unsustainable and ill-timed.

  • Elise Lopez

    Just my two cents- I think influence is community dependent (tech influencers are influential with techies, fashion influencers are influential with fashionistas, etc). PR people should keep that in mind before they spend a lot of money giving out what Michael Scott would call SWAG (Stuff-We-All-Get) to get people to rave about their clients’ products.

    eCairn Conversation™ is a tool that ranks influencers within virtual communities. Here’s a list of the top 150 social media marketing influencers according to the software’s algorithm.
    http://blog.ecairn.com/2009/11/10/nov-09-top-150-social-media-marketing-influencers/

    It’s a great tool for compiling a list of influencers to engage/conduct outreach to.

    Editor’s Note: Since it’s not clear from Ms. Lopez’s comment and in the interest of full disclosure (which, admittedly, the lack thereof may have been accidental) Ms. Lopez is an Account Executive with eCairn.

    • Elise Lopez

      Sorry, I meant to be more transparent.

    • Anonymous

      Elise, I am familiar with your tool, but your comment misses the point. I am not making the case that hard work cannot yield results, it is the pay wall that I see as unsustainable.

  • http://twitter.com/SMczarina veronika harbick

    I also think that bloggers who were in it for the money generated through reviews will start to fold up shop. PR and social media firms are starting to push back on paying for reviews whether that is fueled by conscience or… fear. :) But to your point, free stuff is still free stuff and has it’s own level of influence.