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The Ethics of Influence

PR, DigitalEleanor YeoComment

Our team at McQueenie Mulholland has been working with social media influencers for some years now, and this area of work regularly forms part of the strategies we develop for our clients.

It’s not particularly new to say that customers are more likely to make purchasing decisions if the seller comes recommended from a trusted source – either a friend,  individual or company whose values align with our own. Within our team we ask ourselves what is likely to influence us, and we know that there are many individuals out there who can help nudge us towards making a purchase. 

More recently, many influencers charge for their posts, and we’ve found that our clients often seem puzzled by this, sometimes calling it ‘unethical’.

They are prepared to set budget aside for advertising, PR, paid for editorial, pay per click advertising, SEO or help with their own social media strategy. Yet, to them, spending money on influencers can be an alien concept.  

When we are developing an influencer strategy for a client, our approach would be to identify key influencers early on in the planning process. We’d begin following them and suggest that you do the same. We’d be looking at what other brands they’re aligned with, and who else they’re happy to talk about. We’d assess the tone of their messaging and the quality of their images. We wouldn’t just be basing our decision on their number of followers, but would instead look at the wider picture.

We identify influencers who are likely to really appeal to a client’s target audience. We wouldn’t ever recommend just working with anyone purely on the basis that they have 200k followers. We research a blogger or influencer’s followers to ensure they are genuine; we know you’re better reaching to 1,500 engaged followers than an unengaged audience. Have a think about other products that your customer is interested in, and look at who else talks or writes about these. For instance, if you own a holiday property, or a restaurant, what sort of people come and stay there? If you’re keen to attract young families then it makes sense to approach family bloggers and influencers, but if you’re service appeals to an older demographic, then have a think about who else those older people are likely to be following and watching.

Once you’ve identified a small number of potential influencers, it might be that you can offer them something for free, in return for a review of your service or product. And that’s great. The influencer must of course be transparent in their post about the fact that they’ve received something for free, in return for their posting about it. Doing things this way can seem genuine, but with this comes the fact that you’re not in a position to be specific about what they write about.

Understandably the world of influencers has grown so quickly that many are now wising up to the fact that they can earn a living from it. Prices range from a few hundred pounds to tens of thousands – you can pay for one off Instagram stories or posts, or perhaps a Facebook ‘live’. If they are being paid by you they must disclose that this is the case, and they have to use the abbreviation ‘AD’ in the copy accompanying an image. And don’t forget it may seem like a great life being given free stuff and trips abroad, but those things don’t pay the mortgage, meaning that a professional full time influencer or blogger will charge for posting content.

Many influencers do not want their social media feeds to be full of ‘ADs’ so will be aware of the fact that they need to produce some genuine sounding content too. Their followers will lose interest if they feel that they’re just being fed lots of commercial advertisements.  

In conclusion, we really love working with influencers and are proud of our own network of local and national personalities who have helped us and our clients over the years. But, as with any element of the marketing mix, we would help our clients to do their research, and to ensure that any activity of this nature is planned, budgeted for, and analysed. For this to work, it must be as genuine as possible, so we recommend getting to know influencers and building up a relationship.

In short, there are seedy, somewhat unethical elements to this new world, but in our opinion, there are many successful individuals out there who can really help your business to reach new customers. Of course, we can help with all of this, and would love to chat to you about how influencers can help your business.