Influencers vs. agitators: A content marketing dilemma

Influencers are key to your content marketing strategy, but what happens if they stop serving your brand’s purpose?

By Curtis Kitchen, NAA Director of Communications

Short of creating compelling content, the most important aspect to content marketing is having group of influencers.

NAA’s magazine, Auctioneer, has delved into influencers and their pivotal role before. In the November 2014 issue’s “Under the Influence” (pg. 26), Kevin Cain, a Content Marketing and Communications Consultant, noted that “our content marketing program wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without [influencers].”

“Influencers should be a key part of any marketing strategy,” Cain also said, “because they present an opportunity to add credibility to what you do while at the same expanding your reach to new audiences.”
Influencers are what, and who, the public trusts, according to a Nielsen white paper, “The Role of Content in the Consumer Decision Making Process.” Consider this statistic from Contently (a tech company that scales content marketing needs for clients): 74 percent of readers trusting educational content from brands as long as it doesn’t push a sale.

Part of it may be due to great content, but the bulk of that trust is derived from influencers sharing with their networks. Consumers trust the people who share your content, not necessarily the content itself, meaning the referral business has never been stronger in some ways.

But, what happens when you have that influencer who talks up your brand, benefits from your brand, and refers your brand … but then also openly and/or negatively questions your brand in public places? What do you do with a person who claims to “love what you do,” but continually crosses a line between playing devil’s advocate and simply being an agitator?

That can be an uneasy dance for a couple of reasons, but there are a few questions to ask and solutions to follow.

Influencers: Confusion is not a brand’s friend

What to ask: How long has this been happening and how have I responded?

It feels abrasive the first time an influencer cuts against your brand’s grain, and it can cause reflexive defensiveness. But, as you begin to rationalize you might wonder if you aren’t just too close to your brand and overreacting. After all, even if you’ve grown to trust this person to help push your brand message, you realize they may not always share your vision.

The issue, however, is when the influencer repeatedly calls out your brand or you. This influencer has been identified as “in the know” and a “huge proponent” of your brand by their followers, many of whom won’t take the time to discern what they’re seeing.

Therefore, the influencer’s agitating message can quickly lead to brand discomfort and, if unchecked for long enough, distrust. That’s why attentive and timely responses are necessary. Sound answers and information quell those pockets of discomfort and keep things in harmony.

Influencers: Control factor

What to ask: Who is actually influencing who?

If not careful, some brand managers and marketers find themselves slaves to their influence masters. Instead of keeping sight of improving a product or ideal – those same ones that inspired influencers in the first place – social marketing and content marketing decisions are made with the primary thought of “what will my influencers think of this?”

If you’re at this point, evaluate what needs to be done to regain control. Examine and re-establish your marketing plan. Perhaps, it is time to establish a new influencer or influencers. Drill down and pinpoint when and why so-and-so became an influencer. Are they still doing/saying those things? How much influence do they really have? And, if they do wield some leverage, how can you again best use their leverage for your brand?

Whatever the issue may be, correct it because while it is true that a brand is what the public perceives it to be, a marketer can’t lose sight of their brand goals. Losing sight results in brand inconsistency, which is a death knell for any brand.

Influencers: Relationship integrity

What to ask: Did I try to cheat the system?

That question opens the door to the influencer relationship conundrum. Many marketers are not patient enough or confident enough in their product or brand to allow for influencers to organically grow. So, they attempt to shove their way through the process by buying favor.

That might seem like an attractive way to go, especially for marketers who feel they are behind the times a bit, considering a recent article from says the timing is now for influence.

“Twenty years ago, key influencers were movie stars and athletes,” the site says. “Today, they’re bloggers, podcasters, and YouTube celebrities. With the proliferation of social media, there is no better time to leverage influencer marketing to grow your business.”

What the article didn’t say to do – or not do – is manipulate that influence. Why is this important?

Let’s say an influencer has gone a bit sideways on you – one whom you have a vested business relationship through payment or favor of some sort. From the moment you began payment, the influencer began becoming loyal to the paycheck, not your brand. That opens the door to a host of potential problems, and if you get to this point, a parting of ways may be necessary.

So, a word of caution here: leveraging influence is one thing, but paying, promoting or otherwise bestowing favors in return for that influence invites risk to go along with the reward.

All of that said, influencers are indeed an integral piece to your content marketing strategy. You just need to make sure you build, manage, and maintain those relationships so that they continue to serve your brand.