Through the Hype
Win friends and influence people
By KEVIN NANCE
Social media influencers — people who leverage their large followings on Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and other platforms into lucrative sponsorship deals with companies and the ad agencies that represent them — have gotten a fair amount of bad press in recent years. Several infamous cases have featured influencers offering inspiring personal narratives that turned out to be fictional and/or ghostwritten. Even worse, some influencers’ followers themselves have turned out to be fictional, having been bought or otherwise fraudulently conjured out of the ether of cyberspace.
But a few bad apples doesn’t mean the whole barrel is rotten — in fact, many social media influencers are well worth the investment, opening doors to markets unreachable by mainstream media, says Jason Falls, a digital strategy executive for the Lexington ad agency Cornett and the author of Winfluence: Reframing Influencer Marketing to Ignite Your Brand, a new book published in February by Entrepreneur Press.
And anyway, Falls says, an influencer doesn’t even have to be a creature of social media. He or she just has to be influential — a fact that companies looking to expand their marketing campaigns would do well to consider.
In Winfluence, therefore, the author explains how businesses can more effectively harness the power of influence (no R) marketing in ways that go well beyond narrowly focused pay-per-post strategies.
“Influence marketing without the R is inclusive of more than social media,” says Falls, 48, a Pikeville native and Morehead State University graduate. “Doing it well means finding out who influences the audiences you’re trying to reach and then developing strategies to work through them.”
In local influence marketing campaigns that Falls writes about in Winfluence, he and his colleagues have successfully deployed social media figures such as Derek Wolf, who has more than a million followers for his over-the-fire grilling videos on Instagram and other platforms, and who delivered a new audience for Frankfort’s Buffalo Trace Distillery by creating a new recipe incorporating its bourbon.
Elsewhere, Instagram-based influencers such as Leigh Roach and Tamara Schneider, the team behind Kentucky Taste Buds (@kytastebuds), Tif Fannin (@brightonabudget) and Rynetta Davis (@really.ryetta) have figured in campaigns, but so have non-social-media notables such as local PTA officials.
“The audience for the book,” he says, “is anybody who owns a business, or is a marketer for a business, who wants to find new, effective ways to reach new customers in an era when many consumers don’t trust traditional advertising,” Falls says. “That means using online influencers, obviously also people of influence in your community. Their influence may not necessarily have been built online, but it can still have an impact.”
Selling the sizzle
“The sizzle has sold more steaks than the cow ever has, although the cow is, of course, mighty important.”
—John McNulty, The New Yorker, 1938
When you meet Jason Falls, you instantly know who’s going to play him in the movie of his life — a fact he readily admits after growing his current epic beard. “‘Dude? Jack Black looks just like you now!’” he’s been told, and he’d be fine with this big screen treatment. “That’s probably as good a fit as I can think of,” adding, “I have a feeling we share a lot more than handsome beards in common.”
In his third book on digital marketing strategy, Winfluence, Jason Falls claims that businesses, brands, and agencies have influencer marketing all wrong.
“When most people think of influencers and influencer marketing, they think of Instagrammers and YouTubers posting about a product,” Falls explains. “It has biased the way most businesses think about the practice. But influencer marketing is far more than social networks or even online activities.”
His two-sentence elevator pitch: “If you own or promote a business, influence marketing has to be on your radar because it may offer the most efficient marketing spend to connect with the audiences you wish to reach. This book helps you see through the hype and negativity around influencers to learn how to partner with them strategically to grow.”
Still, he had to sell the sizzle, not the steak. “The whole time I was researching the book and drafting the proposal to sell it to a publisher, I went back and forth about a way to underline that we had to stop thinking about the practice as ‘influencer’ marketing and focus on ‘influence — as in the goal of what we’re doing. I was brainstorming titles that expressed by focusing on the verb or action rather than the noun or channel, your business could win. Winfluence just came out as I was jotting down ideas.”
His biggest social media pet peeve, because we know he has to have one, is life insurance people InMails on LinkedIn. “I suppose it works some of the time or they wouldn’t spam the living bejeezus out of us. But think about it: You buy life insurance once or twice every 10-15 years or so. Based on the number of ‘associates’ who contact me on LinkedIn, you’d think I was dropping $100,000 bills every 3-4 days.”
Falls is an award-winning digital strategist who has been recognized as a social and digital thought leader by Entrepreneur, the BBC, the Wall-Street Journal, Forbes and BusinessWeek. He has served as Director of Digital Strategy at Cornett in Lexington since 2017.
Winfluence: Reframing Influencer Marketing to Ignite Your Brand is published by Entrepreneur Press and is available in paperback, e-book and audiobook format.
This article also appears on page 10 and 11 of the March 2021 print edition of ace magazine.
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