Is it time for influencer marketing to mature?

I was in Montana at TBEX, a travel writers conference last week. But I was wearing two cowboy hats while there – both marketing expert at and travel journalist/blogger at My eyes are wide open learning about the travel industry, but I couldn’t help frame it all from where I’ve always made my living the last 20 + years.

Influencer marketing is hot. And yet with all the heated brand and company interest, it’s an area rife with controversy. Influencer marketing is new, it offers amazing opportunity, but it’s time for it to grow up. I’m sure we will look back on this period in the future fondly as a “wild west time” when almost anyone could swagger into town with their follower numbers, legit/fake or purchased, put down their stake as an influencer, and go about pitching for goodies (often travel, comped tickets and merchandise) in exchange for a couple selfies in exotic locations. While there are many great influencers on Instagram, the ease of fame and a glamorized lifestyle has attracted a lot of folks that are giving this category of editorial coverage, and I use that term lightly, a bad name.

Legitimate influencers in my mind are people who are first and foremost storytellers with a passion for seeking out investigative journalism, albeit in a new format. They create original content hosted on assets they control (blog site articles, podcasts, video, photography) but they also have a presence and following on a broad range of social media platforms, not just one. Good influencers have a combined reach across all these assets that challenges or exceed some traditional print or broadcast channels that clients may have purchased ads on the past, or pitched for editorial publicity. They have a genuine earned and loyal audience through their own assets first, as well as tremendous broadcast reach on social media space. They put in the hours and work to produce amazing content, and work in a cooperative and consultative manner with clients to understand goals, objectives and the target audience needs. They also are given freedom to speak to their audience in an authentic voice and manner which the client understands, and the value which that brings.

But I can say right now, given what I know about marketing and strategy, the gig will be up soon on the single platform influencer (Doing it for the ‘GRAM anyone?) in particular very soon. It’s not that Instagram is going away anytime soon, but like all social media platforms it is maturing. It is owned by someone else who can change the rules, and he likely will. Algorithms shift constantly, pay to play will be the only way to show up soon, and the pressures to respond to user mental health addictive issues will further push efforts to remove things such as follower counts and push notifications. It will, I predict become a platform to go deeper with those you truly engage with, not broader with those you know superficially, if at all. Stories and direct messaging are where it will have strength, but the ability to scale, which is what influencers count on, will be a whole lot more limited. Toss in an American election bound to stir up controversy over the ability to influence news through social media, which is based on a commerce model of profiling audiences, and Instagram will face even bigger challenges then Facebook has seen. At the very least it will be shaky ground for influencers to build a business on. You can count on it.

Not that I’m getting on an Instagram soap box – but, I guess I am. I like the platform, but I also appreciate its limits, and I would never build my business entirely on it.

My point here is that true influencers should be building a following on platforms they actually “own” such as blogs, websites, original video and photo content, or podcasts. Ideally, they have a suite of platforms and products that they can tap for creative combinations that enable them to tell a unique editorial story when working with a client.

Influencer marketing, done right is a long-term play. Articles and video can continue to deliver for years through online search and content links. Influencer marketing is not a quick fix through a single post, aimed at a passive audience who is scrolling.

Until the great Instagram reckoning hits though, clients still tend to classify all influencers primarily by their Instagram follower counts, rather than by combined assets, at least on initial consideration anyway. We can blame the media for glorifying and over simplifying things this way. It’s the only way many can start to grasp, or hypothetically measure and justify, shifting budgets towards influencer marketing

So with all that said, what are the tiers used to classify influencers?

Mega influencer: 1 million +

Macro influencer: 500K – 1M

Mid-tier influencer: 50K – 500K

Micro influencer: 2K – 50K

Nano influencer: 500 – 2K

Keep in mind that influencers with smaller numbers in the micro and Nano range are much more apt to be engaged with their audience, and this when combined with other platforms they are on and original content creation, can actually make for a much more appealing prospect.

What should you expect to pay to work with a true influencer? It really depends. A genuine content-based campaign with a professional as I’ve defined it above will likely be in the $5,000 – 15,000 range. There are some who will start at $25,000+ depending on how involved the project is and how long it lasts. And yes, there are those that will do stuff for free, value in trade, or for $1,000 deals, but they are unlikely to produce anything of long-lasting value across multiple channels. The way I like to frame the investment in true influencer marketing is from a traditional perspective: Clients who may have been willing to pay $5,000 for a full-page magazine ad in a regional publication, or upwards of $20,000 for a national print or broadcast ad should consider how this “one off” effort with large reach, stacks up to an influencers reach and story content across platforms, which will last forever and be searchable online.

The bottom line here?

Influencer marketing is maturing and due for a shake out. You need to choose wisely and think strategically.

If this post was of interest, you might also enjoy these past articles on

Influencer marketing versus journalistic influence

Influencer marketing

Pitching media in the age of native advertising and sponsored content

Mary Charleson

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