(NB: This is part one of a two-part blog, because I ended up writing too much about this and feel it needs splitting into two more digestible servings.)

Are you a marketing influencer?

Am I a marketing influencer?

Is that guy over there walking his dog, a marketing influencer?

I don’t know, and I won’t pretend I do. It's a term which is bandied about a great deal - and nowhere more so than on LinkedIn. But what does it really mean? Is it even a real thing, or is it a figment of our imaginations?

I thought I’d look into this a bit more. Towards the end of last year, I set up a survey for some of my industry colleagues, and I sought out an 'official' marketing influencer to see whether I could get some clarity on the whole thing. 

Over the course of December 2017, I surveyed over 100 marketers (the majority of whom were digital marketers), and I approached ‘marketing influencer’ Mark Schaefer, asking if he’d help me ‘demystify’ the whole concept by answering some questions.

Mark is a globally-recognised keynote speaker, educator, business consultant, author and blogger.

He is, without a doubt, perceived to be a marketing influencer.

He’s consistently present in a multitude of industry ‘league’ tables: including Marketing Insider Group’s Top 25 Content Marketing Influencers for 2018 (position #6), and Onalytica's 'Top 50 Influencer Marketing Influencers' (position #5).



SO For starters, I'm not convinced that most people are clear on what A ‘marketing influencer’ is

And that it’s different from 'influencer marketing’.  

I asked survey respondents to describe ‘influencer marketing’ as though they had to explain it to someone else:

55% managed to define it well enough - it was clear they knew what the meaning was (my favourite interpretation: “Using people who know good stuff to sell shit, innit”).
43% defined it incorrectly - or they defined as something similar to influencer marketing (but not accurately enough for me to count it as something they fully understood).
2% defined it as a term relating directly to being an influencer specifically in the field of marketing (i.e. a marketing influencer).

To be clear, there’s a basic difference between the terms ‘influencer marketing’ and ‘marketing influencer’:

Influencer marketing is a form of marketing in which focus is placed on influential people rather than the target market as a whole.

A marketing influencer is someone who is deemed a thought leader in the world of marketing, or an aspect of that industry – e.g. social media, digital marketing, etc.

Mark says that:

"The definition of ‘influencer’ really goes back to the company and their goals. The value of an influencer only comes from the goals you are trying to achieve - and that might be different for every company."

It’s not just me who scratches my head over this stuff

People have been writing posts like this:

LI thought leadership screenshot.jpg

Because of people like this: 

Who write stuff like this (some of us will know who this is):

One survey respondent said that the sheer number of influencers out there has served to basically dilute the meaning - and the impact of any activity associated with it.

In fact, the survey revealed that 63% believed the term ‘marketing influencer’ was over-used.

Carrying a blue tick against your profile on Twitter doesn't necessary mean you're 'someone' anymore.

So how DO WE KNOW WHO the real influencers are?

There are so many people 'badging themselves up' as one.

Survey results revealed that:

Only 18% believed people who called themselves marketing influencers, actually were marketing influencers.

Here’s what Mark Schaefer had to say about this:

“I tend to refrain from judging who is a thought leader and who is not. A thought leader to me may be a 'pretender' to you.

"In the end, a pretender has no impact on me. I ignore them. So who really cares what they do? In the end, true thought leadership will win. The marketplace will take care of the pretenders.”

I love the notion that ‘true thought leadership will win’. Related to this, I’ve noticed a big change on my LinkedIn news feed over the last year. Whilst people may have previously ‘followed’ thought leaders aka influencers (almost blindly sometimes) and hung off their every digitally-written word, I’m now seeing more and more of my connections pushing back and scrutinising the so-called ‘wisdom’ thought leaders are trying to impart.

People are losing their fear of publicly challenging influencers

As Mark alludes to, the result is that it’s serving to expose those who are just playing at being thought leaders, testing whether their 'insight' holds water - we're kicking the tyres. 

There’s one example which comes to mind on this - Oleg Vishnepolsky. There appeared to be an emerging ‘Oleg’ backlash at the tail-end of 2017 - people had grown tired of being talked at, irritated by the somewhat formulaic structure of his posts, and cynical about whether the content is even being written by him at all...

Mark’s take on this behaviour:

“I love this trend, and feel it is healthy. I enjoy it when people challenge me. That is how I will learn and grow. That is how we will all learn and grow.

"It takes a lot of guts to challenge an influencer, so we should be thanking these people. I want to be clear that this is different from trolls who only get some weird emotional reward by being disruptive and cruel. True dissenters who attack problems - not people - are heroes."

I personally think that it's been building for a while; we've become increasingly aware that we're swamped by lots of these people saying they 'know stuff', we're overwhelmed by it, and our gut instinct is to try to weed out the phoneys in response. 

The fact that some of these 'thought leaders' post so frequently has driven perfectly sane people to spend time designing niche browser plug-ins like this:

(Paul Berry designed LinkedOut a plug-in which blocks out any LinkedIn posts from users who get on your tits – even if you’re not directly connected. Praise be for Paul Berry.)

So… are you a self-proclaimed ‘social media expert’… 'a digital influencer'… ‘a leader who can leverage a competitive edge’?

Really? Are you? Well watch out, because there’s nowhere to hide if you’re talking out of your a**e.

And now there's just one thing I want to know...

Do you agree?*  


(*Oleg-related joke)