Off Topic: Why The Influencer Marketing Debate Is Not An Influencer Marketing Debate.

(This piece focuses on discussions that are currently going on in Germany and in Switzerland – but I have no doubt that they aren’t the only places where people only have a vague understanding of what influencer marketing is. Let me know if this is true in your market.)

Taking a look at the advertising and marketing trade press in Germany or at Switzerland, it’s easy to see that influencer marketing is a hot topic. There isn’t a day without yet another view, another opinion. Some people in Germany even think that influencer marketing needs to be “rescued”. What’s remarkable too: most of the discussions about influencer marketing simply don’t talk about influencer marketing.

Almost all of the articles on this subject focus on fashion bloggers with millions of followers. And they love to talk abot how these bloggers don’t have much to say, apart from pretty pictures and videos.

Here’s the problem with this: If you run a campaign with these super-influencers, you have to ask yourself the question whether you are really doing influencer marketing – or whether you are really just doing digital advertising with the help of a celebrity testimonial.

In other words: Just because a campaign centers around a digital celebrity and uses the social media channels of this digital celebrity, doesn’t turn that campaign into influencer marketing.

An influencer is, quite literally, a person that has a certain amount of influence on other people. A person that publishes content on social media, centering around a subject that person feels strongly about. This content is liked and trusted by other people that share the influencer’s passion. This sympathy is indicated by the likes, comments, and shares the influencer gets.

Naturally, the quality of the content varies. Consequently, some of these influencers have more followers than others, and higher rates of interaction – meaning that they are more successful than others in what they do. More successful equals more influential, and more attractive as a brand ambassador.

Using influence

It’s an obvious next step for brands to cooperate with these influencers. When I want to promote a product and see that someone on the web is trusted by a high number of people on a subject that is close to my product, a cooperation is simply a sensible thing to think about.

And as long as I work with the influencers that are followed because of the high relevance and quality of their content, a cooperation is a good thing for all parties involved. The influencer is suported in his or her work, the brand promotes its product in an environment that doesn’t waste any of the coverage, and the followers get product information in a format that they like.

It works well – partly because influencers need to watch out that they stay credible, that they keep the trust of their followers. If an influencer promotes a product that his or her audience rejects, the position of the influencer is damaged.

Influencers, not clelebrities

All of this leads to a few very simple consequences or rules for effective influencer marketing. For example the simple notion that the content for such a campaign needs to come from the influencer, and not from the brand marketing folks, or an agency that acts as an intermediary. The probability that any content that is created by someone else than the influencer is being regarded by their followers as not authentic or trustworthy is just far too high. Proof can easily be seen in plenty of advertising campaigns that tried to use YouTube celebrities as testimonials – and failed.

The second consequence: If you want to create a credible and effective influencer marketing campaign, you don’t just grab an internet celebrity with a zillion followers – you put your trust in influencers that are trusted because their content shows a high level of competence, relevance, and quality. And most of them don’t have a seven digit audience.

This is usually where some people see a problem on the horizon, saying that they can’t sit down with a dozen influencers and create campaigns with them. But – as indicated above – that’s something you shouldn’t really do anyway. Ther simply is no reason to discuss with these influencers what kind of content they should be publishing.

After all, that’s why they are influencers – because they are perfectly capable to create relevant content for the target group you want to get in contact with.

Work with platforms

Plus: in times of big data and AI, talented programmers have long found ways to identify relevent influencers with clever algorithms. Which leads to the natural next step – creating an influencer marketing platform where campaigns can be planned, executed, and managed all the way to paying the influencers automatically.

One examople is Ghostlamp ( – a simple, straightforward self-serve campaign platform that offers access to relevant influencers (hyperlocals) that have earned their influence on the basis of relevance and quality of content – and not just on the basis of gigantic reach (that often is achieved with dubious methods).

The advantages of such a platform are obvious – on top of the qualitative aspects, campaigns can be created and run within the shortest time and with small effort, and thus be easily integrated in any advertising campaign. You simply extend the brief to the influencers, they decide whether they want to work on that brief or not, create content, and even get paid once they have published something that is in line with the brief.

The current debates clearly show: if you only go for the big reach of digigal celebrities, it’s not a surprise if they are treated as such – just like the German fashion blogger Caro Daur who was interviewed by Manager magazine, which turned out to be a disaster. It’s exaclty what happened to Claudia Schiffer long before influencer marketing was even a possibility.

So be smart and work with inflencers. Real influencers.


Working in advertising and communications. Founder of wrage/antwort, a business consultancy in search of creative answers to business problems. Based in Switzerland, working anywhere you need me.

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