Opinion: Genuine influence can't be bought

Lifted by hot money, the rising practice of 'influencer marketing' is doing unkind things to the meaning of the word. Real influence can only be earned.

Christopher Graves, global chairman, Ogilvy Public Relations
Christopher Graves, global chairman, Ogilvy Public Relations

We chase magical marketing and PR solutions the way desperate dieters chase obscure berries and Dr Oz miracles. Now, agencies, clients, marketers and communicators all rush toward ‘influencer marketing’.

Dozens, if not hundreds of ‘influencer-marketing’ startups have erupted. They attract hot money.
But while it feels brand new, there are hoary aspects here. Some startups have built an old-world Hollywood-style model of talent management. Others offer a sort of traditional media network buy clothed in teen YouTube talent. Others broker product-placement or reviews in exchange for payment or freebies.

The very word ‘influence’ is being thrown around in many contexts and some completely abuse the real meaning or conflate it with popularity.

Real influence means to convince someone to choose to do something on their own—without threatening them or bribing them—which they would not otherwise have done. That’s much tougher to come by. It is earned through sustained relationships, and not fleeting or dependent on compensation.

Influence is a demonstrable chain of persuasion from person to person leading to new attitudes and behaviour. Having a large audience does not necessarily mean wielding influence. Views and likes are not measures of influence though they may correlate or be coincidental. Sinan Aral, a top influence expert at MIT has revealed that many times what we call influence is actually just a coincidence due to very similar people happening upon the same things at the same time.

Influence—true influence—must be earned. Those experts who understand that will outlive any social tsunamis of hot money skateboarders.

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