The slippery slope of influence marketing

influence marketing

One of my friends was posting and tweeting from a conference sponsored by a Fortune 100 company. He had actually been paid to attend this event because he is an “influencer.”

Coincidentally, I was also being paid to be at an event from a different company at the same time, on the other side of the country. How did I get on their list? I have no idea.

“Have we hitched a ride on the influence marketing train?” I asked my friend.

“I don’t know,” he said, “But woo – woo!”

Clearly, opportunities for bloggers will increase as brands recognize the benefits of aligning with people who are powerful online advocates. And for people like me, who have given content away for free, day after day for years, it is nice to be recognized and rewarded for the hard work.

But influence marketing can be a house of cards for both companies and individuals.

Rules of the road

A digital agency recently approached me about a host of new opportunities to make money from blogger outreach programs, I had to put on the brakes and give them some advice and I think this is important enough to share with the blog community, too.

What is the source of my influence? I create content, yes. I engage consistently, of course. But at the end of the day it gets down to trust, right?

That’s why the emerging Citizen Influencers have to be very judicious in their relationships with brands. Likewise, brands have to be discerning about their expectations from influencers.

If brands become too exposed with too many bloggers, both parties will suffer. If the credibility of the blogger declines, the effectiveness of their advocacy is doomed.

“No” is a legitimate strategy

That’s why I am saying “no” to most opportunities right now. I have to be incredibly selective. First, it has to be a company I truly, authentically believe in and second, I have to limit how much I do because if this blog ever becomes filled with spammy sponsored posts or suspicious brand advocacy, you’re going to go away. And you should.

nascar jacketI don’t think I would like my own blog if it starts to look like a NASCAR racing jacket. Although I do love M&Ms.

As we all approach this era of incredible consumer content choice, to stay ahead, we need to emphasize radical honesty. You need to believe in me and what I write every day for me to earn a seat at the content consumption table.

Likewise, I think brands need to do their homework and figure out which bloggers have built real authority and trust, rather than making a call based on number of Twitter followers, for example.

I think we are approaching a time when you can make some decent money as an influencer … and it is already happening for mommy bloggers (some have agents to negotiate brand contracts). But we need to fiercely protect the reader trust that got us here in the first place.


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  • Hey Mark,
    What do you think about the opinion that “radical honesty” just means to be much more careful what you say and more importnantly what you do NOT say to your audience?

  • RandyBowden

    Trust, I see this word loosely thrown around by many self anointed influencers. But, when I peek around on their property it looks to me as someone chasing an easy buck! Product for exposure is very easy for brands but once you paste that logo on your blog you become an advertiser. Good thought this morning Mark, I prefer Snickers!

  • Michael Miller

    Mark, I think you are absolutely right. For bloggers who do it as part of their business they need to be wary. At the same time, though, if you’re blogging goal is to make money from blogging, then there is a great short term opportunity here that may outweigh longer term benefits of taking the high road. Just depends what you’re in it for.

    For brands it’s tricky. The opportunity is enticing, but, as you say, the more the more they tap into influencer marketing the less effective a channel it becomes. You can kind of take one of two paths. One, go for it while you can until those bloggers burn their credibility and the opportunity disappears. Or, two, only work with those bloggers who protect their credibility – ones who say no a lot, like you – and work harder to show value. It reminds me of the Groucho Marx quip, “I wouldn’t want to belong to any clubs that would have me as a member.” For brands, the ones that say no are the ones worth chasing in the long run.

  • Interesting question. Everything you say, and everything you don’t say supports your personal brand. Obviously, if you are really honest, I suppose you could destroy your brand! : )

    WHat I was getting at here was the idea of disclosure and honesty. If you are working on behalf of a brand, you better talk about it. If people ever wonder what is going on you will lose their trust and to a blogger, that is everything really. Thanks for the excellent question Michael!

  • Agree. Occasionally I look at other sites and can’t believe what people are presenting there. On the other hand, I can;t believe that so many companies are falling for it. Influence marketing is the new gold rush and there isn;t a lot of thought going into it sometimes. Honored to have you comment Randy!

  • Tremendous insights here Michael and I agree.

    I should also say that I can’t judge what anybody does to make money if they need to feed a family. If they cash-in on short-term influencer fame and it works for them, I guess that is fine. But I do think you jeopardize your audience, and your credibility, for the long run and I needed to make that point. As I said, it is a slippery slope.

  • PeterJ42

    There are two ways to do business – create something people want to be part of, or create something not very special and have to use every trick in the book to get people to take notice.

    Companies who put people first automatically have influential people in the group – and happy to pay for the privilege. Word just gets out.

    Trying to reverse engineer it simply doesn’t work. People may initially enjoy the freebie, but they quickly learn to take it for granted. And buyers quickly learn that the endorsement is not to be trusted.

    The problem is everyone gets tarred with the same brush. It is like product placement in movies – now everyone just assumes that Ford sponsored it, not that Steve McQueen thought it was the best car.

    Bad marketers will kill influence.

  • Chuck Kent

    I’m getting to the point of feeling that “influencer marketing” is nothing more than a variation of native advertising, the latter shown to work best when the reader/viewer most thoroughly mistakes it for content. That mistaking, intended or not, can only damage trust. I’d also like to see you or any content producer reap the benefits of your efforts… but I’d prefer that you simply accept ads on your blog (or even on your jacket), if only because they are exactly what they seem. If/as you proceed into this territory, transparency is a must… but I’m not sure it’s enough to fully protect your, or anyone’s, personal brand from a drop-off in appeal and believability.

  • So, I’ve had my personal “lifestyle” blog for ten years now and have been compensated for some posts, social media, etc for the past 4 or so. I made the decision early on in the game that I would never let the endorsed posts get higher than 15% of the normal posts and that I would only accept work from brands that I either already use and love or am extremely intrigued by. There are so many bloggers that will take it all and their blog has become a blogging QVC. You’re not convincing me that you really believe in this product or company if you give every single one the same glowing review. Too many greedy bloggers out there.

  • I’ve definitely already unfollowed a few people because they have the NASCAR jacket thing going. I can see how people could get swept away by the idea of getting wined and dined, but you are right to point out that there is a cost in terms of your personal brand. And that applies to Klout perks as well as junkets.

  • Peter i think this is a very real scenario. Will there be a shake-out as brands figure this out, or will all the crap out there tarnish the possibilities. I would like to think that smart people will figure out what I have written today but honestly, we are in a world where “smart” does not always win. Thanks for the superb comment.

  • Lots of wisdom there sir. I like your thinking.

  • A very important contribution here Kristen and I appreciate the “in the trenches view.” I wonder what my lifestyle blog would be? “Bacon and Bikes?” “Blogging over Beer?” “WIll Blog for Whiskey?” I could get into this, especially if there are freebies. : )

  • Bacon, Bikes and Beer would be the clear winner, I believe.

  • It is a battle to stay personally centered in this space. I have a pretty accurate view of where I stand in the big picture (a pinpoint!) but I can definitely see how a person can start believing they have some greater significance as an “influencer” and define themselves in terms of the swag they get. This attention is intoxicating if the self-identity is fragile to begin with.

    I don’t view these people with disdain. I look at them with sympathy and wonder what kind of a screwed up life they must have if their self-worth is coming from Hubspot koozies. I want to give them a hug and say “you’re really cool, even without the koozies.”

    I am trying to manage expectations on all sides in this field and land in a place where I can serve readers, maybe serve brand partners, and generate a little cash flow from content that I always believe in.

    An interesting ride.

  • Ding ding ding. Yes, you have the winner. Let the swag begin!

  • Jeffrey Slater

    Mark, the comment you made on your podcast last week is still resonating with me. Trust is the ultimate currency. Either you trust a brand, a blog, a service that is doing the right thing or you don’t. For me it is more binary. Yes/No. Grey areas are confusing to me. Right now, I don’t trust GM for hiding information they knew that could have saved lives. I trust Whole Foods. I trust your blog and podcast to be authentic.

    Marketing either passes the ‘sniff’ test or it doesn’t. Hard to be in between.

  • Chuck Kent

    I’m not sure about wisdom… but I have gotten wrapped up enough in the subject to (you know me) write a song about it…

  • Thanks for your honest opinion, Mark! I agree with what you say.
    Honesty is a very tricky thing (is anyone honest even with themselves? And what is honesty after all? – These are not very easy questions.)

    Anyway, putting such psychological and philosophical questions aside, any decent blogger needs at least not to betray their audience and really be eager to help them (and not just to pretend to do so).

  • Jeffrey, sorry to chime in, but let me just express my opinion. IMO, black/white approach is (almost) always a way to a great disappointment sooner or later. That’s why although many idealists are so happy when they think they found something authentic, and they are so miserable when it appears that it has a rotten part too.

    Most people are deceiving themselves when they believe in something, because they subconsciously want to (i.e. want to be protected from a harsh reality).

    For some people the following approach will go well. It is to understand the personality/strategy of a person/brand you feel like you trust, to understand their interests. And so it will be clear why they say and behave this or that way. And when you know it, you decide – whether you accept it or not.

  • I think that is the right way to look at it.

  • You are crazy creative! Thanks for sharing!

  • Chuck Kent

    I only hang out where (constructively) crazy is welcome 🙂

  • Jeffrey Slater


    Thanks for your comment. I guess I just either trust a brand or person or not. I believe a brand until they prove me wrong. I recently bought another product from LG. I trust the brand. They delivered on their promise. Unless I see reason think differently about them, I’m going to trust what they say. I write about this a lot on my blog in case you are interested.

    I have managed my own company and marketing teams for years. I always tell people that I trust them 100%. If they give me a reason not to trust them, then it goes to 0% . I don’t know how to trust 50%?

    Thanks for your thoughts and observation to what I wrote earlier.

    P.S. I trust you.

  • Jeffrey, I appreciate your position. As I see, this is a whole philosophy that you live up to. I respect it. Will definitely check out your blog.

    By the way, I’ve just listened to your interview on It was both calming and inspiring at the same time.

  • Agreed and amen to that! Cheers! Kaarina

  • Jeffrey Slater

    Thank you for your kind comment. Calm and inspiring are two things I aspire to be. I enjoy being around people who are positive, optimistic and happy.

  • Nice conversation guys. I tend to side with Jeffrey here. To me, a brand represents a promise. If you found out that Disney is using horse meat in their Tomorrowland burgers, the promise is broken. If you learned that Ben & Jerry’s was exploiting child labor, the promise would be broken, etc. Of course these brands have built up a lot of equity and love among their fans but the key is, never, ever break a promise to your customers. And that, I think, is black and white.

  • Heather MacLean

    I couldn’t agree more. It all comes down to trust. As an influencer a lot of people are placing their trust in you to provide information. Trust and Influencer Relations is part of the research I am doing for my PhD.

  • I am in the same boat too- ten years of blogging and year four of monetizing it all.

    I haven’t made a conscious decision about how much advertising to take or not to take nor have I devised a plan for how many sponsored posts/endorsements I will either.

    What I can say is I pay attention to who and what gets “air play” on my blog. I have turned down many opportunities, including some that paid well but if you don’t have standards you lose the foundation and opportunity to build/maintain the trust you have with your readers.

    But I understand how and why some bloggers take more on. It is fun to be wined and dined and it is cool to be able to do things for and with your family that you might not otherwise get to do.

  • jasoneng

    Hi Mark, great article and I totally agree with what you’ve written here. For brands it’s hard to figure out which “influencers” to work with, and I put that word in quotes because everyone can be called an “influencer”. Relationships play a huge part in that, as well as the transparency of intentions.

  • Thanks very much for first-hand perspective Jack. An honor to have you comment here!

  • Oh you must send me that thesis when it is completed! Would love to see that!

  • We still have a long, long way to go in this area on all sides. I do believe there is enormous potential here if done right though. Great to hear from you Jason!

  • Thanks Kaarina!

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  • Heather MacLean

    Will do, but you need to be patient. I am wee bit off from that yet 🙂

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  • Herb Silverman

    As always, you’re honest and truthful portrayal of picking quality people is right on track. As I am choosing my people religiously and, hopefully correctly, your approach is most helpful.

  • Susan Avello

    Amen! Hear hear!

  • Dr Amit Nagpal

    Valid points Mark.

    As with most other things in life, we need balance here. The blogger providing free content needs revenues and monetization, yet we can’t kill the hen laying golden eggs (or silver for that matter) due to greed. Of course, a suitable undertaking of our commercial interest is a must, when we get sponsored or paid.

  • Torrey Dye

    Mark, you are dead right. I’ve gotten the opportunity to work with several companies’ content marketing efforts and see them use influencers in various ways. One company has regular contributors that are industry influencers. These influencers spend most of their time creating content for other brands and I saw the quality of that content decline over time. There is only so much good content that one person can create and when someone starts going over that threshold they begin just repackaging the same stuff that they have given to a bunch of other brands and coming up with new subpar topics. The influencers such as yourself need to protect their reputation, but brands also need to start being vigilant about the quality they are getting from influencers.

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  • Joe Cardillo

    To tell the truth, I’m not really big on influence marketing. I think it’s an offhand way to suggest you can easily scale trust, which is not the case.

    The content exchanged between people (ideas, practices, inspiration, stories, emotions) is what really builds trust. Having someone who isn’t really involved with your brand on a deeper level sign on as an influencer may give a temporary boost but it’s communicating a thorny long term message.

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