Chances are that you and your business have considered influencer marketing. In a survey, 93% of marketers planned to put over $10k into influencer marketing channels this year, making influencers one of the fastest growing trends for marketing ad spend. But is influencer marketing the home run that many marketers think it is, or is there more to it under the surface?

The difference between influencers and advocates

Influencers: online personalities that are financially motivated to speak positively about your product or service. (paid)Advocates: members of your brand community that are so delighted by your brand they can’t help but tell others about it. (earned)

Influencers can break down trust in your brand

Influencers with a big social following can generate a ton of impressions and traffic for your site. The problem is that it’s nearly impossible to calculate the ROI of that impression and traffic increase. In fact 76% of marketers say it is the biggest issue with influencer marketing - you can sink lots of money into a campaign and not get anything valuable out of it.

So if their value is difficult to calculate, what do you get from using influencers?
You get a marketing channel whose devotion to your brand is for sale, and doesn’t care about you to begin with.

Influencers allegiances are to the highest bidder

When you scroll through your social media feeds and see a post that is an influencer-style #ad, your reaction is probably annoyance at the inauthenticity. Why should your customers feel any different?

With that in mind, it’s no wonder that only 18% of consumers trust influencers - we all know an advertisement when we see it.

One of the biggest dangers then is that you never know who an influencer is going to promote next. Your brand is trustworthy, but the one that gets promoted right after yours might not be so reputable. This disconnect was front and centre in 2017 with the Fyre Festival fiasco in the Bahamas.

The event was hyped up to be an exclusive musical festival that would be an experience of a lifetime. In order get the word out about the festival, organizers hired hundreds of influencers to promote the event - like the video above featuring model Bella Hadid and her agency. It seemed to work too, as thousands of people spend thousands of dollars on tickets to the event.

When guests arrived for the festival though, they weren’t given any of the advertised features of the event. The entire festival turned out to be a fraud, and left concert goers scrambling for shelter, food, and a way home - not to mention a refund.

How Social Media Influencers Can Destroy Community - Fyre Festival tweet about kendall jenner fire backlash

As a result, followers lost a lot of trust in the influencers like Kendall Jenner who promoted the event. Now brands who consider hiring those influencers going forward will battle their knowing they will promote just about anything for enough money. Plus, any brands who had hired them in the past will undoubtedly have their businesses scrutinized as well.

Unlike advocates who share your community because they love your brand, influencers’ recommendations are up for sale. Your brand’s reputation is always on the chopping block then, because you never know who they might sell their allegiance to next.

Influencers don’t care about your brand

Most influencers are contracted for promotions through an agency or advertising platform of some sort. Since they are really just another paid advertising channel, they are not going to care about how they represent your brand - they have your money, and that’s all that really matters.

How Social Media Influencers Can Destroy Community - Scott Disick BooTea instagram caption error

One of the best examples of this happened in-the-wild was when Scott Disick didn’t look at what he had copy and pasted into an Instagram caption. Instead of sharing what his contact at BooTea had wanted, he posted their entire email to him. I think his followers realized that he doesn’t actually use BooTea’s protein shakes on a regular basis; he couldn’t even be bothered to follow their instructions.

You are always taking a risk when you use influencers instead of building up advocates. There’s a chance of hiring influencers who represent your brand well, but there’s an equal chance of them not caring about your brand at all, and completely destroying trust and authenticity of your brand community.

Inspire brand advocates instead

If influencers are putting your brand at risk, advocates have to be a much safer alternative to be a viable option. Luckily 78% of people said they trust word of mouth marketing - also know as advocates. In addition to being more trustworthy, advocates usually spend 2x more than first time shoppers, so there’s clearly value to investing in them.

Advocates want your brand to succeed

One of the biggest differences between influencers and advocates is that advocates actually want your brand to do well. They are delighted with your entire customer experience and have developed an emotional connection with your brand, so they want their friends and family to be able to join the community.

How Social Media Influencers Can Destroy Community - Run Gum referral give $5 get $5

A great example of this advocacy in action is the success that Run Gum has had with their advocates.

"The idea of having an energy gum is, for most consumers, unheard of because they just don't know that there's gum out there that's functional beyond nicotine."
- Nathan Woods, COO (Chief of Stuff), Run Gum

Run Gum was faced with the problem of their energy gum being a completely new food category. The solution they found was to empower their most enthusiastic customers to advocate their great experience with a rewards program.

Run Gum repeat purchase rate

The result: a huge increase in customer engagement with their brand, deepened relationships with their existing customers, and an over 200% increase in repeat purchase rate. Since advocates are delighted by your brand, not paid for a quick promotion, they actually want the community to flourish, and can’t wait to tell everyone they can about it.

Community inspires advocates so you don’t need influencers

Influencer marketing is just another form of advertising, and carries with it all the unknowns and possibilities for missteps that come with hiring someone that doesn’t care about your company.

Advocates on the other hand, are emotionally connected to your brand, and are actually interested in your business succeeding because they want their social circles to experience the same joy they have had with your brand community.

So take your pick - paid, unreliable ads, or emotional, sustainable growth.