Would You Read This If You Knew A Brand Paid For It?

I read in the WSJ that there are now over 200 companies that promise to connect brands with "social influencers" — many of them no more than software and/or database providers that make brands and agencies do their own outreach. This has led to the complaint that "many of these startups seem to employ the same databases of influencers without having any established business relationship with the talent."

The whole notion of "social influencers" would not exist if there was not some proof that when they mention brands in the proper context, sales (or perhaps Web traffic) jumps. Yet, there seems to be no agreement on how to measure the impact of social influencer mentions. It remains a mystery to me why anyone would trust the views of someone who is paid for them.

I never rented a car because a football player said I should (BTW, great job on the O.J. series by ESPN), I never bought a car because an actor mused thoughtfully about the cosmos while sitting in one, and I never bought financial products from actors or former congressman with gravelly voices that were supposed to intone seriousness and security. I know that these folks are utterly insincere and shilling for a nice fee.



I suppose in social media it is a little harder to discern who really likes and recommends a product or service, and who is on the take. So my default is not to trust anybody (especially if they are under 30).

On the other hand, I am a huge fan of crowd-sourced reviews, although I acknowledge they can be gamed in one direction or another.  I never watch a pay-per-view movie until I check its Rotten Tomatoes status of total scores from reviewers and viewers. That alone has saved me hundreds of dollars and hours of wasted time.

I use Trip Advisor all the time, but am careful to read both positive and negative reviews looking for perspectives that reflect my own general likes and dislikes about restaurants and hotels. So far, this strategy has provided provide pretty accurate advice, probably because of the sheer volume of Trip Advisor’s reviews. Yelp reviews, by contrast, seem less thoughtful, characterized by short blunt statements that seem more emotional.

I tend to trust "editor's picks" on technology news sites, although it is wise to also read the consumer experience comments to see how they match up with the editor's reviews.

It stuns me that manufacturers don't take a more active role in helping consumers in those forums who have faced product disappointments. Just a simple: “Hey, we hear you - call us anytime and we will try to fix this" would be the best advertising imaginable, targeted to hard-core buyers.

I confess that I will watch “how-to” videos to try and fix something beyond my abilities, not caring if the content is sponsored or not. In fact if the content is great and the pitch is soft, I will take note and try to remember that brand next time I am at Home Depot. Interestingly, I am put off by recipes that recommend a specific brand ingredient. Gotta say that cream cheese is cream cheese is cream cheese.

My social media world is not nearly as wide as those occupied by my kids, so I am not as exposed to “social influencers” as they are. As they have grown, they have thankfully evolved from believing nearly everything they see on the Internet to digging down to get at the source of the information to see if it is has been "influenced" in any way.

Over the years, my kids have learned to follow those who seem to have unbiased opinions and advice on things they hold most dear, mostly music. But they still hate it when I ask, ”And just who is 'they'?"

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