Some Clarity on Influencer Marketing

Feb 27, 2018Social Media

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January wasn’t a good month for influencer marketing, or more specifically, for the social media influencers themselves.

First, there was the Logan Paul’s Japan video where he was disrespectful and completely insensitive to suicide victims. A type of controversy that is not new to the Paul brothers or to YouTubers in general.

Then it was followed by a regional campaign that not a lot of people heard of outside of Saudi Arabia that was aimed to block influencers; a campaign that lasted many days, became a regional trending hashtag, and led to some influencers closing their accounts (Arabic source).

But probably the most interesting incident came later that month in what some called the “bloggate.”

It all started when the 22-year-old YouTuber and Instagram influencer Elle Darby sent an email to the Charleville Lodge hotel (the less popular sister of the White Moose cafe) offering to feature them in her YouTube channel and Instagram account in exchange of a free accommodation. The latter was polite and clear.

Paul Stenson, the owner of both venues, replied publicly with a screenshot of her email with a rather less polite comment.

White Moose influencer post

(The post has since been removed from their Facebook page)

Although he scratched off her name and personal details, you could still easily see he Instagram account if you bothered to zoom in the screenshot. Next thing you know, she started getting nasty comments on her Twitter and Instagram account, as she explains in her vlog.


This drama didn’t grow in a vacuum. There has been this anti-influencer sentiment for a while now. I’ve heard this in networking events, Facebook groups, Twitter.

I’ve heard influencers being called everything in the book from influenzers, to freeloaders, to “a short weird awkward stage the world went through before we all grew up” (an actual quote on Twitter).

Kill them all

It is really tempting to jump on the influencers hate bandwagon, but the fact is, influencer marketing is not going anywhere anytime soon. There are millions who follow everything they do and engage with them, and many brands see the value of working with them. In fact, almost 40% of Twitter users say they’ve made a purchase as a direct result of a Tweet from an influencer.

Sometimes, even people who claim they are not influenced by influencers actually are. While researching for this article, I came across a thread of someone asking if an influencer ever made them buy a product or a service. In one of the comments, someone says, “of course not,” only to follow it with another comment saying “I’ve been influenced to check a restaurant or a place but never looked at Instagram pic and said ‘dayyuumm I want dat’.” Except it worked. If it influenced someone to go and check a place, then dayyuumm, it worked!

Influencer marketing effectiveness - dayyuumm!


So, without further ado, I’m going to use this incident as an example to explain more about influencer marketing as someone who worked with many of them.


First things first,

What is influencer marketing, anyway?

Influencer marketing is a marketing activity that dates back before social media, as a concept. It’s basically collaborating with someone who can influence people’s purchasing preferences or raise awareness about a brand or a product. It’s not that much different than celebrity endorsements or even product placement.

Brands use influencer marketing throughout their customer’s journey to increase brand awareness or engagement, generate demand, or acquire leads. This can be paid, or in exchange for a certain service (like getting some free products or services), or through employees of that brand, like their CEO (most notable examples are Richard Branson and Elon Musk).

After this detailed definition, we can understand why many people (including many marketers and brands) don’t understand influencer marketing for what it really is.

So, whether we like it or not, influencer marketing is an effective method to achieve business goals – if used right.


Yeah, but who is an “influencer”?

Great question! There is a problem within the marketing community and among many brands of defining who is an influencer and who is not and if that person worth working with.

An influencer can be anyone really who has an influence on your target audience. In the context of marketing, they are usually people who can have an influence on their social media followers. They are much more than people with thousands (or millions) of followers.

Guess what, even Mr. All-bloggers-banned (the White Moose guy) is a social media influencer in his own right. He got over 20 thousand followers on Instagram and few other thousands on Twitter and Facebook, and he uses this influence to market his business. Just like a true influencer.

Within marketing, an influencer marketing campaign needs a good planning on who is the influencer you want to work with, what KPIs are you expecting from them, and how do they fit in your overall strategy. Paying someone with many followers to post about your product is just simply lazy marketing.


Yeah.. but,

Is it ethical?

I was presenting a social media strategy for the CEO of a big corporate last year. It was already presented to the marketing department and they knew about it, but it was new to the top management. When I reached the part about the influencer marketing strategy, I got this question: “Is that ethical? Paying people to talk about us on their social media accounts?”

I never get tired of hearing different variations of this.

Have you read the latest article in your favorite magazine about the best 5 restaurants that you should visit this weekend? That’s probably native advertising. It is paid for to appear as an editorial.

Product placement in movies and TV, CSR campaigns, educational webinars that you spend 30 minutes on to find out it about selling a product and getting leads.

The bitter truth is, one way or another, this is how big part of marketing works. Marketing is much more than straight, in-your-face advertising. If you want to do an effective marketing strategy, you need to work on different channels using different tactics.

And to be perfectly clear about this, influencer marketing doesn’t have to be about fake reviews. It’s even a bad practice for the influencers themselves to give a good review for a bad product as people will find out, sooner or later, and it will affect their reputation leading to fewer brand deals.

Even in the White Moose case, the influencer mentioned that she sent emails to the hotels that she actually liked and wished to stay in. So she wasn’t going to give a good review for something she didn’t like.

I follow few tech influencers on YouTube. If they gave a fake review once, I might disagree with them, but if it became a habit, then they will lose my trust and I will simply unfollow them.

Of course, some influencers are more transparent than others. Look at these two influencer marketing videos from two different YouTubers. The first one is from Anwar Jibawi, a Viner turned YouTuber with 2.5 million subscribers. The second one is from a Dubai-based vlogger called Mo Vlogs with 4.8 million subscribers.

Both videos were done in a great way, except in the first one Anwar clearly discloses it’s a sponsored content, but in Mo Vlogs’ case it was hidden within a “real” story. Anwar’s video got 6,613,799 views with only 1.57% negative sentiment, while Mo Vlogs video, although it was published a year earlier in a channel with twice the subscribers as Anwar’s, got 969,115 views only with 5.88 % negative sentiment.

I think that says a lot about the impact of true ethical influence!


Fine! But..

Influencers are entitled little pricks with bad behavior, aren’t they?

Let’s go back to the White Moose guy (I think that’s his official name). In addition to his ill-mannered reaction to a polite email with a simple business proposal, he is notoriously known for his rude behavior (to say the least).

In 2014 he got his business in the news for the way they talked to customers on social media, did it again a year later during the Ed Sheeran concert, later that year he “jokingly” said “any vegans attempting to enter the cafe will be shot dead at point blank,” the next year he made fun of Brazilian people, same year he made the news again for demanding that “guests who demand gluten-free food are required to produce a doctor’s note which states that you suffer from coeliac disease,” last year called a customer behavior “a little c**tish” [source link has been removed since this article was published] replying to her bad TripAdvisor review, back to the controversy (and news) again just a few weeks before that influencer incident, he was telling guests that “you will not find any other hotel selling at a lower price. This means that your rights as a guest are limited.”

Even before the influencer controversy heat cools down, he got in trouble with Michelin (the company that rates restaurants) for claiming his restaurant to be a 5-Michelin-Star restaurant while it’s actually not, so he replied to them publicly on social media saying “If you are going to send a legal letter please ensure it’s of the edible variety. Gluten-free if possible.” Of course, he did, why wouldn’t he.

There’s so much of that, but I think you got a glimpse of his pleasant personality.

So, to put everything into perspective, people are expressing their hate for the attitude of social media influencers by rooting for.. This guy.

The reality is, he uses these tactics the same way influencers like Logan Paul use it, for publicity. He has been promoting himself as an expert of what he calls “outrage marketing.” He even gives workshops about it. It’s a strategy he uses to generate viral content the same way Salt Bae used his over-the-top performances that made him a meme.

(Who would have thought that it would work! If only celebrity chefs, talent show judges, stand up comedians, motivational speakers, and boxers only knew that talking trash in public will lead to more publicity!)

Working with many influencers in my life, I have built a database for the agency I worked with (more of an Excel sheet, really). When we work with a difficult influencer, I usually add them to the “blacklisted” tab to remind myself and the team to avoid working with them in the future.

There will always be the likes of PewDiePie and Logan Paul among influencers and non-influencers, but we will also have the likes of Lilly Singh (aka. IISuperwomanII) and Anwar Jibawi.

Some of them have it easy, but some of them bust their behinds to produce quality content that entertains millions.


In this whole White Moose fiasco, he mentions is one of his posts that “who is going to pay the staff who look after you? Who is going to pay the housekeepers who clean your room? The waiters who serve you breakfast?” The same guy who pays them when you publish a newspaper ad or print a flyer. It’s a marketing activity that goes from the marketing budget.

Influencer marketing is a legitimate form of marketing like any other and it’s here to stay. Especially now with the decrease of organic reach for business pages, influencers are becoming a more viable option. But with anything that involves a human element, you are bound to have the good and the bad. Eventually, brands will drop the bad and those who maintain good and professional behavior will remain in the market.

Copyright © 2019 Gus Younis