Will influencers kill the golden goose?

Influencers are making money - a lot of money. But if they want that to continue, they're going to have to make better, more authentic content.

Influencers, a.k.a. the darlings of the PR and marketing worlds, are suddenly being questioned for their worth. Brands, too, are starting to think they’re paying internet celebrities an extortionate amount.

The debate kicked off in May, following an anonymous social media executive’s confession to Digiday that brands throw too much money at influencers and have no idea what to pay them.

The website Who Pays Influencers? was created in response to the article to crowdsource the brands and agencies that hire influencers and their rates of payment. Recent entries claim Honda paid $10,000 for a two-minute YouTube video, and American Express forked over $800 for two Instagram and Twitter posts.

Micro-influencers aren’t doing too shabbily, either. PRWeek spoke with a blogger with a ceiling of about 10,000 unique visitors and 30,000 page views per month. A major retailer recently gave her a $500 gift card in return for a single photo shared across social media. She has also received a home security camera set and a wooden cradle – both valued at around $500 – for a blog post reviewing the products.

People gasp at influencers’ enormous pay rates and the expensive swag they get in return for doing what looks like fast, easy work. But influencers are in demand and they have the audiences brands want. And yes, there is the argument that there is no way to properly quantify their ROI. But case study after case study shows that their engagement figures are through the roof.

The high pay makes sense.

But influencers need to be wary of getting too greedy. The more compensation they expect, the more selective brands will need to be about which – and how many – partnerships they strike. Not just anyone will be able to identify himself or herself as an "influencer." The escalating pay and algorithm changes on platforms such as Instagram will weed out the posers, helping the influencer community gain more credibility.

With higher payouts, brands will also come to expect more from influencers, which should result in improved content quality.

Yet there is also the risk that fewer brands may be able to incorporate influencers into future budgets as the amount of expected pay increases. The authenticity of the relationship and how much an influencer truly stands behind the brand may also get watered down as pay becomes a bigger issue. One way or another, influencer marketing as we know it is bound to change.

Diana Bradley is senior reporter at PRWeek.

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