Over the last few years, influencer networks have been popping up all over the place. Media companies with the sole purpose of connecting brands with bloggers. They call this influencer marketing.
The concept, at first glance, seems to be one that would serve the needs of each party member: the bloggers receive opportunities to work with brands that they may not have before, the brands get access to readership and the influencer network makes their revenue on the difference the brand is paying and what they pay the bloggers.
What does seem to be happening more and more is that quantity is outweighing quality and it’s causing the effectiveness of these networks to go down.
Quantity vs. Quality
The way that an influencer network attracts big brands to the table is to offer something that the big brand wants: access. And a lot of it.
In days past, bloggers would receive invitations to join an influencer network and then be given invitations to hand out to select people that they thought would bring value to the network. It felt exclusive, it felt limited and it felt like you would be afforded opportunities for your readers that would allow you to set your blog apart from the rest.
Now, influencer networks operate in a very different way. It appears that more and more influencer networks are using the “recruiting” process to bring on influencers in droves. This isn’t just word of mouth or goodwill sharing either. These bloggers are getting paid to promote and talk about the network and recruit individuals to it. The influencer may not even realize that they are diluting the talent pool in their own network.
Why This Hurts Bloggers and Brands
Influencer networks realize that to play a big game and attract the right brands, they need numbers and reach.
It doesn’t really matter so much if each individual blogger’s blog and brand isn’t performing at a high calibre, it’s a sum of the total. If the network can reach 10,000,000 instead of 5,000,000, a brand will be (a) more interested and (b) willing to pay more. This sounds sensible, especially on the brand side, except when you factor in that most bloggers join an exclusive agreement to be a part of a network that promises reach, exposure and opportunities.
The practice of quantity over quality means that bloggers end up getting fewer unique opportunities for their readers and less opportunity to earn revenue from their blog.
You can always tell which bloggers are a part of the same network when you see hundreds of blogs talking about the same product or giveaway at the same time. This lowers the uniqueness of the blog thus resulting in less return visitors (why would they come to blog A when they can see the same content on blog B, C and D?)
Even though at first glance it seems that the brands are being helped in this relationship, they aren’t. Not truly. You see, when an influencer network is focused on quantity over quality, all they care about is getting anyone with some Google Analytics stats, a blog URL and a few social media profiles into their list. Once they have them on the list, the numbers begin to add up and the network’s reach expands profusely. However, when the brand engages the network’s purported reach, there is no guarantee that the posts being produced are high quality.
Are All Influencer Networks the Same?
No, not at all. There are some really, really fantastic networks out there. The key is to figure out what the network’s primary goal is before you sign anything permanent. If their goal is to create a network that is chock full of bloggers (ie: as many bloggers as possible), it may not be the best fit for you and your brand.
A few of the benchmarks that make a great network:
- They vet their influencers before adding them to the network and not everyone makes the cut
- They choose the influencers for each campaign on a case-by-case basis and use applications, which forces the bloggers applying to explain why this is a good fit for their blog / website
- They do not have active “recruiting” schemes in place but instead create a personal connection with their bloggers and ask those bloggers for recommendations
- They pay their influencers fairly and do whatever they can to help build and grow a blogger’s reach
- They look for opportunities to create a win-win-win-win (readers/blogger/brand/network)
If the influencer network that you are a part of is actively engaging in recruiting a lot of members and your opportunities are going down, it may be a sign that the network is trying to stay competitive with what the other networks are promising brands: reach vs. quality.
How Networks Can Create a Win-Win-Win
You know what gives a network true value? When the network has quality bloggers – the best of the best – and getting access to those bloggers is not only more difficult but more expensive.
Some brands may not understand this yet, as traditional marketing is often about reach and amplification, but they will soon. They will come to the realization that the best networks to engage bloggers through will be those who held a high standard for their bloggers and who made sure to place quality as one of their primary benchmarks. In social media especially, it is never about the numbers. It is about quality, effectiveness and engagement. Something you don’t always get with inflated numbers.
The best part about all of this is that influencer networks are still fairly new and there is ample opportunity to create networks that matter. Networks that really do create a win-win-win.
A win for the network would be: quality bloggers who create high-quality, high-performing pieces for the brands the network engages in. Bloggers that understand the difference between slapping up a post and really engaging community, inspiring conversation and making people stop and say, “Wow, that is pretty neat!” Quality content is hard to come by but that is where the true value is. Why is this so valuable to the network? Brands will begin to realize that every marketing dollar counts and when they are getting the most bang for their buck, they’ll be satisfied and proud of the content and conversation happening.
A win for the blogger would be: creating opportunities for the blogger to earn revenue and get paid what they are worth. In smaller networks where the quality is high, the network could afford to pay each individual blogger a bit more to produce better results. Instead of paying a hundred bloggers a $25 VISA gift card, they could pay top performing bloggers out a higher rate that would create content and conversation that truly made a difference.
A win for the brand would be: having the opportunity to work with bloggers who cared about their readership, who worked hard to cultivate and grow their community and who were creating the type of engagement that brands desire. It also means that the brand would receive content that would reach beyond an announcement about a new cereal type and move into pieces that bridged the gap between marketing and relevance, social good and human interest.
In order for these influencer networks to stand the test of time, they need to focus on what matters: cultivating strong relationships with their influencers and making sure they felt heard, understood and respected for what they are bringing to the table as well. If the blogger feels that they are simply one in a thousand and the opportunities are mass produced, the network will not retain their influencers over the long-term. Even worse, if they are “locked in” to an exclusivity deal, they may become resentful over the course of time, which taints the network’s reputation.
Where Do You Come In?
Let’s start the conversation around what influencer networks, brands and bloggers can do better and how we can create a win for all parties involved.
How can we ensure that we’re not playing into the idea that quantity is better than quality? How can we ensure that we’re not just creating noise but instead creating impact? How can we change the face of blogging so that bloggers get paid what they are worth and brands get more than just a copy / paste press release?
Leave your comments below and let’s start that conversation, shall we?