An article I came across the other day ventured to make a pretty bold claim about the world of social media influencers and whether they really had any influence after all:
Millennial travelers know better than to trust pretty Instagram photos. A recent survey revealed that social media influencers barely have any influence over young holidaygoers’ decisions when it comes to traveling.
Let’s break this down; because even if we assume nothing at all was biased about the survey itself (unlikely, since even with the best intentions, it’s nearly impossible to ask an unbiased survey question), there’s no way the responses about social media influencers would really be all that telling. Why?
1. No one likes to believe they’re being influenced.
Who in their right mind readily admits they’re being manipulated by external sources?
It’s a lot different to say: “I asked my friends and family for recommendations, then chose my own thing based on their recommendations,” than to admit: “I think the social media influencers I know are being paid to do sponsored posts by big companies changed the outcome of my purchase.”
No one is going to fess up to the latter.
It’s embarrassing and even a little bit uncomfortable to think external forces you have zero influence over could influence you in such a strong way.
2. True influence is hard to measure anyway.
Let’s continue to use this example of holdaygoers decisions when it comes to travelling. And let’s use me as an example so you can see my point more clearly.
Imagine I want to book a vacation and ask my friends and family where I should go. They recommend a few different places, some they’d been to, some that are on their bucket lists, some they heard were good value for money. Where do you think their recommendations came from?
Likely, it’s a combination of various things: spots they’d seen pictures of in blog posts or videos of in vlogs, a snap here or there on an online celebrity’s social media page, slathered across friends’ and family members’ Facebook pages after trips of their own, mixed with a little of their preferences they’d formed throughout their lives to some places over others.
Now imagine I’m taking their options into consideration and making my own decision. Where do you think my bottom line choice is coming from? The very same spots. And boy does the fact that I’ve had repeated exposure to a place help.
If I’d never heard of a place, never seen pictures of it, never known anyone else who’d spoken of travelling to it – I doubt it’d be anywhere near the top of my list of places I’d actually go. And the more exposure I have to a place? The higher up it goes.
Maybe if I’m trying to make a point to be different, daring, adventurous, I’ll pick somewhere I haven’t seen many other people go. But even then, probably not, because I’m more likely to go to the same place all the different, daring, adventurous people I know of went.
We all do it. And it isn’t a silly, stupid, or ridiculous thing to do. When you travel, you’re spending a lot of time, effort, and a heck of a lot of money. Why exactly would you waste all that on a trip you have no idea if you’ll like – when instead you could choose to go to one of the amazing locations or on the astonishingly reasonable airline you’re always hearing about from other people. Who on earth passes up a sure bet for something more risky without a good reason?
Influencers Will Have Influence so Long as They Have Views
You can argue that some influencers have more influence than others. That those with smaller audiences that are more niche, who custom tailor their content to a specific hobby or even a subset of that hobby are going to have more influence over their audience (due to being more relevant) than others.
Fine. But as long as an influencer has eyeballs – as long as he or she has views, clicks, and those are real people rather than bots behind the scenes – he or she has influence, regardless of whether or not that influence is as strong as another’s.
As a marketer, the amount of influence an influencer has is important to your bottom line. But when we’re talking about overall trends and huge patterns of behaviour in a social sense, the weight of individual influencers is less relevant.
Overall, more exposure will lead to more people being interested. Repeated exposure by influencers does influence consumers. And it always will.
It doesn’t matter if Hamilton, Ontario was an unpopular holiday destination yesterday. If everybody and their mother’s favourite social media influencers travelled there and showcased themselves having fun in Hamilton today, you can bet your bottom dollar it’s going to be hot stuff tomorrow.
Because repeated exposure feels like proof. And with enough proof that a thing is good, trustworthy, fun, [insert whatever other adjective you want here] – why wouldn’t you believe it?