The Truth About Being an Influencer
Something really bothers me about the internet, and it’s that word: influencer.
At first I would cringe hearing the word. I'd think of someone trying to be Instagram famous posting pictures of themselves on a yacht. #blessed #hustlebro
But once I thought about the word a little more, I realized I’d actually been an influence on how some people spent their money for years now.
My videos reviewing cameras and other video and photo gear have racked up over 5 million views, and in the past year alone I’ve earned over $10,000 in affiliate income from people spending over a quarter million dollars on Amazon and B&H.
Now, I don't have millions of followers, but as my audience grows on YouTube and elsewhere I've wanted to share how I think influencers should act, myself included. And as a consumer, viewer, or follower of anyone online, what you need to know about how things really work behind the scenes.
What Bothers Me The Most
As I scroll through social media, I feel like the percentage of posts that are a sales pitch keeps rising.
There are ads with influencers in them, sponsored posts (plenty of which aren't even disclosed), and more and more posts with a "go buy this now" call to action.
Now, I completely understand someone having to do this. I've sold things online too. I have my own online courses, I'm about to launch a physical product on Kickstarter, and I know sometimes you've got to sell to put food on your table and pay your bills.
I think what bothers me the most is the tricky way people go about it. At first I think I'm watching a helpful video, but it quickly it turns into a sales pitch.
If you're making content online like YouTube videos, blog articles, podcasts, or even just posts on social media, and a company is involved in any way, you should to disclose it, up front.
I think the best way to go about it, is just to use the first couple seconds to say or show "this video is sponsored by X" or "with support from X" or "made possible by X" or however you want to say it. I just don't like watching 7 minutes of a video to find out this was a long con to get me to pay attention to some ad for yet another mattress company.
When you start to gain a following online, companies will come out of nowhere to offer to send you products for you to review. Sometimes to borrow, but a lot times to keep.
It is easy to say yes to this kind of thing because hey, who doesn't want free stuff?
But there is an underlying obligation to saying yes. The company is essentially paying you through goods (that you could eventually sell for money) to get exposure to your audience.
How to Make Money as an Influencer
So how can an influencer actually make money from content like this?
The best way is by using affiliate links in the description and then earning a percentage of what someone spends when they click through and buy on websites like Amazon.
Now, my internal debate when creating content goes like this.
First, if I don't review the item favorably the company will probably be less likely to work with me future, right?
That's why I've sometimes started to spend my own money to rent or buy gear to review it instead of having a company send it to me. For both the C200 and EVA-1 reviews, I rented the cameras from LensProToGo (spending $350 of my own money to rent each camera). This way, I don't feel any obligation or pressure from a company to say certain things or be biased.
Second, the harder I push people to click the affiliate links in the description, the more money I'll make. It's as simple as that.
The more outlandish and click-baity I make the title and thumbnail of my video, the more views it will get, and the more affiliate income I'll make.
Can you see the problem with this?
I started making videos on YouTube to review the gear I had bought myself and had learned how to use. Now I've become this person that gets products sent to him for free or to borrow in exchange for giving the product exposure to the audience I've built.
I know I'm definitely not alone. There are plenty of people making videos in the camera/photography/filmmaking space nowadays that make money in similar ways through advertising, sponsored content, affiliate income, product sales, online courses, and more. And then there are countless other niches too. Fitness, tech, beauty, food, cars, etc.
In every niche there are companies that have products they are trying to sell and there are influencers who are willing to work with them to push those products in front of their audiences.
What I am really trying to do with this is not just educate you, but also to share my opinion on how someone in my position as an "influencer" should act.
5 Rules for Promoting Stuff Online
Here are the Five Rules for Influencers (that I just made up):
Always fully disclose the involvement of any company or product at the very beginning of your video, audio, or social media post. Don't be sneaky. Your audience is smarter than you think.
If you are using affiliate links, share that you get a commission from people clicking through to buy. That's just the rules.
Do an honest review. If there are things you don't like about a product, say so. If you wouldn't recommend it, say so. Publishing negative reviews actually builds trust with your audience. The companies you really want to work with in the long run will appreciate your candor too.
If you don't want to share a product, don't. If the product has nothing to do with what your audience follows you for, don’t. Send it back or never say yes in the first place.
Own up to the fact that promoting products is part of your business model and find a way to do it in an authentic way to you.
That last one is really directed at me.
I try to be a minimalist as much as possible, continually pushing myself (and sometimes my oh so patient wife) to keep only the essential possessions I need. It has always bothered me deep down that I encourage people to buy more shit.
Are Influencers Really Needed?
But when I really think about it, I couldn't be running my own business making videos if I didn't research and invest in the right gear to film, record, edit, and produce videos. You need things to make things.
The equipment I've bought has enabled me to do my work. Everything from the more expensive gear like cameras or computers, all the way down to the less exciting pieces like memory cards and tripods.
And if someone wants to spend their money on something, I'm helping more than I am hurting them. I'm educating them on whether they should really buy something so they don't waste their money buying the wrong thing.
I'm helping people buy less stuff. Kinda. I’m helping them buy the right stuff.
By enabling them to research first, they can wait and buy only the perfect products for exactly want they want to do.
Companies have given me products I've been hesitant to review because I wanted to make this video first.
I didn't feel right just continuing to push more products in front of my followers without sharing a bit about why I do what I do and disclosing how I go about working with companies who want me to promote their stuff.
Some Final Thoughts
A few more quick thoughts.
Please don't ever feel obliged to buy anything I make a video about. Keep using what you already have and get by. Heck, I drive a car that is 14 years old.
No one will ever influence my opinion on a product, even if they are a paid sponsor or send me products to review. My opinions will always be my own honest thoughts and I'll push myself to publish videos that aren't always positive.
Please be a more conscious consumer. Are you buying things because you really need them or are you just buying them because they are new, shiny, on sale, or everyone is promoting them?
If you have an audience online that looks to you for advice on how to spend their money take it seriously.
Focus on serving your followers first and if there is a product that can help them achieve their goals, there is no harm in sharing your experience with it, if you do so in an honest and transparent way.
That’s what you can expect from me.