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Why brands need to use real customers as “influencers”

The Wall Street Journal recently published a story about the multibillion-dollar social media influencer industry (“Online Influencers Tell You What to Buy, Advertisers Wonder Who’s Listening”), reporting that despite evidence that influencers hold less “sway,” brands are paying them more money.

The article cited one company, Ipsy, that was aboard the influencer marketing train pretty early, but in recent months has pulled back its spending, questioning the legitimacy of the practice. (Do people believe influencers really use the products they promote or are they just in it for the money? How many of their followers did they buy?)  Instead, Ipsy is recruiting existing customers to post about its products — for free.

Where’s the slow clap emoji? I love this.

I’ve never once seen an influencer promote a product and thought, “I’m going to buy that.” It’s likely because I know how influencer marketing works and most of the time I assume the influencer is simply promoting the product in exchange for a few hundred — or sometimes thousand — bucks. (I mean, wouldn’t you? What a dream … you post a pretty picture on your Instagram and rake in the cash. Where did I go wrong?)

Of course, bravo to the influencers that decline promotional opportunities because they wouldn’t personally use that product, or they know it’s not relevant to their audience. And bravo to the influencers that have real followers and real engagement. Unfortunately, some bad apples have tarnished an entire industry and are, quite possibly, on the verge of bringing it down.

I wish more brands would use real customers. I’m much more likely to purchase something at the recommendation of a friend or coworker than of an influencer. (I never google the best makeup… I just ask the Fishie group Skype.) And despite my measly Instagram follower base, I can tell you most of my followers are lovers of running and dogs —why else would they follow me … that’s all I post — so if, say, New Balance (the brand of running show I wear) or Oiselle (favorite running short) sent me some free product, I would most definitely post about it for free, most definitely wear it at my next race (and post about it again), and most definitely get a handful of followers to consider buying from these brands. Why? Because they know I wouldn’t post about something I don’t love and I’m a friend or acquaintance they trust for running-related recommendations.

It’s a win-win. Customers get free product from their favorite brands and brands have a tiny army of genuine people posting about their products. Products they actually use and love.

So, just in case these brands are listening, I’d love to get some 880s from New Balance (I’ve run a few hundred miles in my current pair), Oiselle’s Roga Shorts, Injinji toe socks, these fun teal tights from Athleta, and every color of sunglasses from Goodr. My Instagram is @missashmarie86. I’m ready for ya.