The use of “influencers” of one kind or another has become prevalent in today’s social media-dominated world. These savvy, self-styled individuals entertain large audiences on social media and have built followings that have advertisers salivating. Influencers have the ability to leverage their popularity and likability for the benefit of businesses seeking to spread awareness of their product or service. Sometimes, these influencers are famous celebrities. For instance, Kylie Jenner, best known from the reality TV show Keeping Up With the Kardashians, currently has 339 million Instagram followers (and counting) and can parlay this audience into getting paid up to $1 million per sponsored post – and an average of $400,000 per post. A simple photo or short video featuring a product can yield her massive sums.
But being an influencer isn’t limited to those who are already ultra-famous or well-known among the masses. For example, there are a lot more small-time influencers (often called nano- or micro-influencers) that have very devoted followings within very niche interests, and they are able to make a living as influencers. And then there are influencers with more followers – sometimes hundreds of thousands or millions – but are still only known within their small communities. They may be fitness influencers, fashion influencers, beauty influencers – the list is endless.
And, of course, there are business influencers, who don’t tend to make their money with sponsored posts – or at least that’s not their primary goal, implied or stated. Rather, business influencers are more in the market of motivating their followers to dream big and believe in themselves. They’ll also teach their followers a few crucial lessons to succeed in business, share tips and tricks, and give their points of view on this topic or that – and maybe sell a business program or two.
One of the biggest names in business influencers right now is Gary Vaynerchuk (known as garyvee on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube). Some recent insights Vaynerchuk has shared with his nearly 10 million Instagram followers are his thoughts on what to do after college, practicing a positive mindset, and how to work hard without burning out. Along with more inspirational posts and life advice, he’ll also mix in practical advice for growing a business, like ways your company can gain more social media followers (with, of course, the goal of turning those new followers into new customers).
But how insightful and informative are these business influencers actually? Are they providing something that can’t be found anywhere else? Or did those who are already rich just find a way to add to their wealth by capitalizing on the admiration or jealousy their followers feel toward them? After all, as far as advertising data is concerned, a view is a view, whether the person doing the viewing loves or hates what they are seeing.
The answer to whether business owners provide valuable insight and information, as is so often the case with questions like this, is both yes and no.
Are business influencers making money off of their social media activities? Absolutely.
The very first words of the latest episode of the podcast Pivot, co-hosted by influencer Scott Galloway, are “This episode was sponsored by Salesforce.” So Galloway is obviously getting paid. But is the insight that billionaires shouldn’t tweet, which was the episode’s main topic, helping to the average businessowner or entrepreneur? Probably not.
Is the underlying message – that people with public personas and who represent their businesses shouldn’t say foolish, offensive, or potentially damaging things on social media – a valuable one? Of course.
Could reading Seth Godin’s book This Is Marketing or his blog posts be helpful to a businessowner looking to increase business through better marketing techniques? Definitely.
Will watching Kevin O’Leary’s YouTube videos with titles like “How I Made My First Million Dollars Part 1” or “The Biggest Mistake I Ever Made” directly contribute to a business’ bottom line? Again, probably not.
In the end, these business influencers and the content they produce are likely targeting several very different groups of people, and thus whether they are insightful and informative really depends on who is consuming them and why.
For those who already run businesses or are actively starting them, the tips and tricks they learn may actually be helpful. After all, perhaps watching O’Leary’s video about his biggest mistake will help viewers avoid that same mistake as they trod a similar path. But these viewers likely make up a very small minority of any business influencer’s audience.
The majority of Vaynerchuk’s audience, or O’Leary’s audience, or any other business influencer’s audience, is not liable to be businessowners or active entrepreneurs. Rather, they are probably a mix of those who would, someday in the future, maybe like to start a business and are looking for inspiration; those that are planning to start a business and are looking for practical insight into the process; and those that are simply lacking in motivation and are hoping business influencers can provide it.
While it’s in the realm of possibility that business influencers could provide insights or information that ends up being a game changer for established or aspiring businessowners, it’s unlikely.
What they can provide of value, however, is twofold:
One, they can provide tips to help businessowners and entrepreneurs improve in real, specific ways, however small. Vaynerchuk’s post on how to increase your business’ social media following may well help a businessowner do so, which may in turn drive new sales.
Two, they can provide motivation, even if what they’re motivating someone to do isn’t to start or improve a business. Just because someone is considered a “business influencer” does not mean their influence has to be limited to the business world. Vaynerchuk’s posts on learning by doing, being yourself, or having your purpose in mind can be applied by anyone to whatever they’re working on.
In hindsight, the rise of business influencers over the past several years should have come as no surprise. After all, who better to capitalize on the growth of social media and the money that comes along with it than those who have already started businesses or have experience in the business world?
As with much social media content, the value of the content that business influencers produce lies in how it is consumed. If passively consumed, then it will have little to no effect and the value will be nil. But the same stands to reason for any information obtained anywhere.
If, however, viewers act on what they see and hear, and apply the insights and information to their businesses or their lives, then they may learn things from the social media accounts of business influencers – full of up-to-date information relevant to the rapidly changing business world – that they would not learn getting a traditional business degree.