Influencer Infatuation: Are Brands Mistaking Followers for Genuine Advocacy?

You can buy followers, likes, and comments, but what you can't buy is true engagement, the kind that comes from actual human connection. It's like confusing a packed concert venue with die-hard fans and another with people brought in off of the street. One is just a crowd; the other is a movement.

We’ve all been watching this influencer craze like it’s the gold rush of the social media age—the age-old story of brands falling over themselves to partner up with anyone who’s got a hefty bunch of followers. But a big following doesn’t automatically mean real influence. Let’s call it what it is: an illusion. 

You can buy followers, likes, and comments, but what you can’t buy is true engagement, the kind that comes from actual human connection. It’s like confusing a packed concert venue with die-hard fans and another with people brought in off of the street. One is just a crowd; the other is a movement.

This is where the Hawke Method comes in, emphasizing the importance of trust and genuine connection over sheer numbers.

Think about it: When a celebrity with a massive following tweets about a new snack, it’s a blip on the radar. A ton of likes, sure, but does it move the needle? Contrast that with an influencer like Keith Lee, a TikTok food reviewer with a massive tribe of engaged, authentic followers. When he shares his morning routine with that same snack, his community runs to the store. Why? Because they trust him. He’s built that trust by being selective and genuine.

Take Glossier, a beauty brand that exploded not by chasing celebs with millions of followers but by engaging with everyday users who love their products. They turned their own customers into influencers, which feels like getting a recommendation from a friend, not a billboard.

And let’s not forget about the power of niche influencers. A tech guru like Marques Brownlee, MKBHD, commands the attention of tech enthusiasts in a way that few others can. His detailed reviews and passion for tech mean that when he talks, the tech world listens. It’s not just about his millions of subscribers; it’s about his credibility.

What these examples show us is that the real currency isn’t follower count. It’s about authenticity and connection. AI tools can help us find the Keiths and Marqueses, the voices that resonate genuinely with their audience. That’s the kind of influencer partnership that turns products into must-haves and brands into household names.

However, this approach isn’t without its pitfalls. Let’s look at the flip side: campaigns that flopped because brands mistook follower count for genuine influence. For instance, consider the case of @arii, an influencer with over 2 million followers who attempted to start and release her own T-shirt brand. Despite the influencer’s millions of followers, the campaign barely made a ripple selling less than 36 T-shirts. Why? Because the influencer’s audience and persona weren’t aligned with the brand’s ethos and products. It was a classic case of numbers over fit in an increasingly common instance of influencers misinterpreting how to engage and monetize their audience.

These examples serve as a stark reminder: success in digital marketing isn’t just about reaching people; it’s about reaching the right people in the right way. It’s about creating campaigns that resonate on a personal level, tapping into the influencers who have not just an audience, but the right audience. It’s a nuanced yet crucial distinction in the art of digital influence.

Bottom line: Follower numbers are just smoke and mirrors. What we need is to find those influencers who have a real voice, not just an echo. Brands that can tell the difference between mere popularity and genuine influence are the ones that are going to thrive. Let’s not get caught up in the numbers game.

For brands looking to build meaningful relationships with influencers, here are three straightforward things to look for:

  1. Prioritize Authentic Connections: Choose influencers who have a real and genuine connection with their followers. It’s the quality of these relationships that counts, not just the size of the following.
  2. Value Trust Over Numbers: Focus on influencers who are trusted and have a loyal following. Their endorsements are more impactful because their audience sees them as credible and relatable.
  3. Seek Relevance and Fit: Opt for influencers whose interests and values align closely with your brand. This relevance makes their advocacy more effective and believable.

So, let’s focus less on the follower count and more on the followers who count. That’s the future of digital marketing, and it’s how brands will win the hearts, minds, and wallets of consumers.

This paradigm shift calls for brands to become more discerning and to listen more closely to the subtle nuances of digital influence. It’s about finding those rare gems who don’t just broadcast to an audience, but who resonate with them on a personal and relatable level.

Let’s remember that the most powerful marketing tool isn’t a number—it’s a relationship. It’s these relationships that transform followers into advocates and products into passions. In the end, the brands that will leave a lasting legacy in the digital age are those that understand the power of genuine human connection in a world increasingly populated by digital interactions.

Don’t chase shadows, seek substance. Focus on influencers who don’t just have followers but have the power to lead. In the evolving narrative of digital marketing, the brands that will emerge as true champions are those that recognize and value the art of authentic influence.

CEO & Founder Erik Huberman launched Hawke Media in 2014. Now valued at over $150 million, Hawke Media is the fastest growing marketing consultancy agency in the United States.