Dear influencer-marketing haters,
I recently read Mark Ritson’s article, “How ‘influencers’ made my arse a work of art”. Besides being provocative drivel, his experiment is complete bullshit. Just because you can burn a pan of cookies doesn’t mean baking, bakers or cookies suck. All you proved was that you don’t know what you’re doing.
I've said it many times: I have little interest in the semantics of "influencers" vs "creators" vs "bloggers" and so on.
For me, these nouns classify a phenomenon, and it's the phenomenon that businesses and the media need to understand.
In short, the range of human interests is limitless and cannot be adequately served by mass media. With the advent of individualised media (aka social media), people can now form social environments that congregate around niche interests. Every niche interest will have a few experts or entertainers that lead by creating written, visual or audio content for the community’s education or entertainment.
This is the phenomenon, and it’s not going to revert back to archaic mass media, despite the recent spate of negative news making you think otherwise. People have been empowered by the internet to create, share and consume the content they find most interesting, and no way are you going to take the limitless freedom on the internet away from them.
It simply does not make sense for any single brand to try and serve the boundless interests of its target customers on the internet. Instead, it makes sense to support the people who do.
The only thing I will confess is the fact that my expertise is limited mainly to one country, China. So it is difficult for me to speak to the world at large. However, China has been and is paving the path in social media, e-commerce and mobile payments that the rest of the world is following. I also believe that Chinese society’s high-context culture and relationships built on reciprocity underlie its thriving influencer economy.
But instead of hypothesising about the big picture, we don’t need to look any further than what the most massive and wealthy organisations in China are doing to see the real impact of influencers:
- Alibaba just led a US$300 million investment round in the social commerce app Xiaohongshu. Xiaohongshu is flourishing due to its blend of social media and e-commerce, by and large supported by influencers.
- Alibaba has also doubled down on Weitao by integrating social commerce—again, primarily driven by influencers—into its most valuable ecommerce properties: Taobao and Tmall.
- Douyin, a short video platform, originally growth-hacked its rise to dominance by employing hundreds of influencers to create content and invite followers to the platform.
Follow what the companies with all the users, data and money are doing to see what's working.
And then we can get into the topic of influencer incubators.
These incubators are currently creating influencer-owned brands that compete with multinational fashion and cosmetics companies. In other words, influencer brands are outperforming some of the biggest firms in the world. For those who have seen brands sell millions of dollars of products in minutes by collaborating with selected influencers, this is not so surprising.
The reality is, I know very little about the influencer marketing world outside of China. However, I find it impossible to believe the haters who say the industry is garbage.
What I do know is this: For all the haters, fake data and distrust surrounding the influencer-marketing industry, it's thriving—and I'm betting on its sustained health far into the future.
P.S. I take zero issue with statements made by Unilever's Keith Weed or Mastercard's Raja Rajamannar on influencer marketing. On the contrary, I agree and believe there is a need for greater transparency and optimization in the industry.
Elijah Whaley is CMO of influencer-marketing agency Parklu.