Surprise! Follower numbers don’t matter

Surprise! Follower numbers don't matter

If you’re trying to decide if someone is influential on social media, what’s the first criteria you’d use? Most people would say “high follower numbers.” And for some people, there is no next criteria! They figure that no matter what, if an influencer has 100K followers, then a good chunk of those 100K people will hear what they have to say.

And that would be a huge mistake.

Follower numbers are too easily faked

Follower numbers matter so little, and can be faked so easily, I now recommend they be completely disregarded when assessing the influence of any social account.

In other words, if you’re ready to hire an influencer, or invite them to your event, or cite them as an expert, and the only criteria you have for trusting their authority or popularity is their follower number, you may be about to vouch for influence they don’t actually have.

You will have used lazy logic to fall into a common trap – you don’t know why someone is popular, but the numbers suggest they have some indefinable juju, so you’re convinced. If 100K people follow them, they must be helpful, knowledgeable, or entertaining, or very savvy at social media, right?

Not necessarily.

The problem with prizing popularity

So, say you join the perceived bandwagon of a certain influencer and add your accolades (whether that’s by giving them likes, commenting on their posts, or actually hiring them to promote your business). Your patronage confers to them certain bona fides; people take your sponsorship as proof of their good qualities.

But what if they don’t really have 100K followers? What if every couple of months, they pay an overseas click farm to boost their following by having 10-20K fake accounts follow them?

What if they are just an average person, with average qualities, an average ability to make attractive Instagram photos, making statements of average value? What if their true following is no more than what you might expect for a niche market Instagram account that’s reasonably active – in other words, around 1-7K?

Then you will have essentially vouched for a liar. And if you hired them, you will have paid filet mignon prices for hamburger, or even an empty plate.

There’s nothing wrong with being average. But if an influencer demands top dollar, they should have have a true following that’s above average. If they don’t, and have actually misrepresented their numbers, that’s fraud.

We are so used to the idea that someone can be “Instagram famous” – i.e., a non-celebrity who somehow has thousands or millions of fans – that we believe it happens far more than it actually does.

Buying followers creates distrust

Faking your follower numbers seems like a victimless crime, right? But it’s not. Inflated numbers skew reality. Those with honest social media accounts who don’t know the fix is in get discouraged, because it seems like they’re doing it wrong. (Note: young girls are especially vulnerable to this.) Social media agencies, who live and die by their customer’s perception of analytics numbers, struggle to compete with follower counts that are literally unreal. And businesses who hired an influencer with fake followers do not get the spike in awareness and sales that they were expecting.

When social influence starts to look like a bunch of hooey, expect a backlash. Stories are circulating about influencers having embarrassing falls from grace. One fashion influencer with over 2M followers launched a capsule fashion line, and wasn’t even able to sell 36 t-shirts. Kim Kardashian, arguably the most recognizable influencer in the world, was paid $6 million to lend her name to an eyeglass line, which then only sold a disappointing 20,000 pieces. Other “influencers” demanded free dessert from an LA ice cream truck so often, the owner posted a sign that says INFLUENCERS PAY DOUBLE. And armchair critics use these stories to cast doubt on social media marketing in general.

Trust, but verify

Don’t give in to cynicism. Social influencer marketing can reap big rewards, but only if you hire someone with real influence. Here’s how to find them.

Check for fake followers

Use tools like SocialBlade, HypeAuditor, and FakeCheck to determine if they’ve cheated to get to high follower numbers. Here are tips for using these tools.

Look for high engagement, not high following

Anyone who’s taken the lazy way to appear fabulous is not doing the hard work of engaging with an audience (who then engage back). They will have lower than normal engagement numbers for an account their size. You want an influencer people are paying attention to. HypeAuditor can tell you whether an influencer’s engagement is relatively low or high, and takes into account Instagram’s recent algorithm changes.

Assess them outside their follower count

Do you like what they have to say? Do they appear authentic and relatable? Do their posts conform to mundane “Instagram ideal,” or are they remarkable in a way that’s appealing? If the only thing that stands out about a certain influencer is their follower count, steer clear.

Be active on social media yourself

Learn by doing, and become active on social media yourself. It will then become easier to see who is worth your attention and who is not. You won’t be so impressed by someone’s clever flat-lay photo or brilliant quote if you’ve seen it before on another account. Good content takes time and effort – cheaters skip that step.

Follower numbers: The future looks brighter

It will get harder for fakers to impress people with numbers they didn’t earn. Instagram is taking steps to hide like numbers and delete fake accounts. People who employed dirty tricks are probably going to experience a steep drop in follower numbers.

But until they do, it’s up to you to protect yourself. Do your homework, and don’t endorse large social media accounts stuffed with fake followers.

Need help finding an influencer that doesn’t fake it? Contact us.

Enlisting an influencer in 3 easy steps

Enlisting an influencer in 3 easy steps

So you did your homework, and found the perfect influencer to promote your optical business. Now what? It’s time to enlist the influencer and set the terms.

You just need to do three things:

  • Connect with them and gauge their interest
  • Figure out what to offer them, and negotiate payment
  • Then put it in writing!

Reach out to your influencer

The simplest and most effective way to make contact with an influencer is to direct message them on the platform where you found them. For example, if you’re trying to enlist an Instagram influencer, send them a direct message on Instagram from your business account.

Some influencers get a lot of DMs from bozos, so if you don’t hear back from them in a day or so, try another method. See if there’s a website in their bio, and look there for contact info. They may have a form specifically for collaborations, or they may have an email there you can send to.

Your message should be simple and direct:

“Hi, I’m Peggy from Heck Yeah Optical Boutique here in Albuquerque. We saw some of your posts, and we think you’d be a good influencer for us in this area. Can we talk about a collaboration?”

Note that I didn’t mention an offer or terms, just started the conversation. If you’ve tried two contact methods, and you don’t hear from them within a week, move on. They are likely not interested. But if they do show interest, it’s time to talk terms!

Make the offer

At this point, move the conversation to email. Ask for their email, and say you’ll send them details about what you’re looking for.

Then, write an email that describes:

  • What you want from them (say, 1 Instagram Post and 3 Stories promoting your shop),
  • What it will take to get there (an eye exam and a fitting at your shop), and
  • What you will offer in return.

For a local influencer whose following is in the tens of thousands, it’s usually enough to offer a free eye exam and fitting along with a free pair of eyeglasses or sunglasses. This gives the influencer the customer experience with you, which is probably the best source of content for their posts. It’s also the best choice for promoting a local business, so start with that.

However, some influencers work strictly for money. This is their full-time job, or they may be a local celebrity and an endorsement from them is quite valuable. In my experience, influencers who have 1M followers or more can command up to $2,000 per post. Under 1M followers, and it’s more like $250-$1,000.

But before you commit to a paid endorsement, please make sure that they have the audience you’d like to reach. Read my last blog post, and run reports on their audience. Did they artificially inflate their audience size with fake followers? Is their engagement percentage actually low, so people might have followed them, but don’t listen to them? Does something seem fishy, like they have millions of followers, but are a local average person you’ve never heard of?

Another consideration: be honest with yourself about the state of your business, and what effect you expect from influencer work. Social media marketing is a long game. Its effects are rarely instant.

Are you using it to build awareness, trust, and engagement among a community so its members patronize you? Or are you desperate for a quick fix?

If your business is sinking and you’re hoping for a miracle by paying top dollar to a big influencer, don’t do it. It won’t work, and you’ll be out the money.

Write the contract

At this point, you’re in tentative agreement with your influencer on terms. Now you just need to nail it down with a contract.

I am not a lawyer, and this is not a substitute for legal advice. I will just share with you what has worked for me in terms of drawing up an influencer contract.

If you Google “sample influencer agreement,” you will get any number of templates you can download and adapt to your purposes. Just make sure it includes:

  • Date
  • Deliverables (posts and follow-up stats reports)
  • Cancellation terms (for both sides)
  • Exclusivity terms (so they can’t go do the same work for your competitors within a certain time period)
  • Compensation terms (goods and services, or payment)
  • Signatures, names, and titles of both the influencer and the owner of the business

The most critical point to discuss and include in the contract is exactly what you want them to post (Instagram Post, Instagram Story, Facebook Post, Facebook Story, etc.), how many posts of each kind you expect, and that they be published by what date. These should be posted to their account – remember, they have the audience. And they should give you a follow-up report on how well the posts did: likes, comments, shares, views/impressions.

Once your contract is drawn up, get signatures from both parties. Then see how you can help your influencer as they create content for you!

Not sure how to find the right influencer? Read our last post.

Need someone to run a comprehensive influencer campaign for you? Contact us.