A journalist’s aim is to find the truth and tell the story.
An influencer’s aim is to advocate for a brand and tell the story.
While an influencer can be a journalist on their own platforms, there is still a monetary exchange at the heart of the relationship with a brand which is fundamentally different then the traditional role of journalism as editorial, at arms length from paid advertising.
Call me old school but there is a huge difference.
However, I understand the need to embrace new approaches. The last five years have seen a seismic shift in media with the introduction of the online social media influencer, and the concept of paid native content. These shifts have all happened during a time of turmoil when many media buying budgets also moved more to digital options. If you need a quick primer on what native content is, and how it’s becoming more prevalent, link here to a past article “Earned media versus going native in the age of snack and share news”. In a nutshell though, native is a form paid editorial, with a trained journalist actually doing the writing.
While I’m usually on the “marketing/sales/agency” side of the equation, I found it incredibly insightful to sit on the editorial side of a presentation with a bunch of travel journalists and social media influencers at the recent #TBEX conference in New York. I’m no stranger to editorial of course, having been a columnist for Business in Vancouver, the Huffington Post, and a contributor to numerous national magazines and daily newspapers, for both business and travel content. But it was an eye opening experience to see how agencies pitch, quantify and measure the use of influencers to their travel industry clients.
In general, there is one reason why companies hire influencers — they can tell a story that attains massive reach. Companies want to borrow an influencer’s large, trusting audience to get a message out through their various traditional and social channels.
Influencers have appeal because they can be quantified – the number of posts, stories, videos or podcasts can be agreed upon in advance. Topic areas can be flushed out. And there are known followers numbers of people an influencer can reach within their audience.
Journalists who publish through an established magazine, newspaper, radio or TV program are less quantified. We can certainly calculate the reach of the media they write or broadcast on (and that can be massive), but there is no guarantee or control of the article angle – because they are guided by the journalistic integrity of finding the truth and telling the story, from their own perspective. In the pure journalism model, the writer is paid by the publication or media broadcast channel for the content. The brand or topic covered has no monetary relationship with the writer.
Where this all gets interesting is the traditional journalist who in addition to publishing on established media, has also developed their own following on social media as well as their own blog, video or podcast channels that they own and control fully. These JOURNALISTS WITH INFLUENCE are a powerful hybrid, and they are likely where the future of influencer marketing will lie. There are some social media influencers, many youthful who have come out of newly minted journalism degrees or film studies programs, that understand story and have built up their owned platforms in addition to social channels for outreach and engagement. They too will flourish as they earn journalism chops, and this category matures. The ‘flash fame from follower numbers” only social influencer will have less clout as they become a commodity, watered down by other wannabes jumping on board crowding the space, and as clients become more sophisticated in measuring ROI on influencer campaigns.
In fact, there are a couple new apps out there that track media created by influencers, and actual inquiries and bookings as a result which use not only affiliate links, but also NFC (near field communication) on phones for tracking visits and revenue by guests. https://adara.com/ likely holds the most promise in the travel industry, since they work with third parties who have already gained personal data use permission, which makes them GDPR compliant. As apps like this gain traction, only those with genuine clout will matter.
There are a number of influencer listings, and agencies out there that work as a broker between influencers and clients. Here’s an interesting example I found while investigating this area. https://influence.co/ Influence.co brings together influencers profiles and brands/project/campaigns looking to connect. As you can quickly see, there are tons of millennials jumping on this train to fame.
The big challenge for brands and agencies is to understand WHO THEIR TARGET AUDIENCE IS, and which of these influencers, journalists, or journalist as influencer hybrid will produce content that will resonate, and ensure it is broadcast on channels where their customers hang out.
But really it’s all about the economics of trust.
In a world demanding free content, traditional media is struggling to survive. The “blurring” of journalism and social influence could represent an opportunity. We will always need journalism and great stories. Funded influencers, trained in journalism could also be trusted sources of authentic content. But that’s not necessarily the way it is today with a focus on “fame” instead of “truth.”
The best companies will be smart enough to hire influencers, not to shill a product, but to tell an honest story.