Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Influencers, Click Farms and Millennialitis

Now maybe about five years ago (sounds like a nice round number so I'm going with it), I was invited to participate in a group of what was then referred to as "watch experts".  The concept was (on the surface) pretty straight forward - a major watch magazine / publishing company wanted to band together a group of bloggers from different countries and share press opportunities with them, with the bloggers then benefiting from potential shared advertising revenues.  And in fairness, it seemed like a pretty good deal.  How this finally worked out I am not sure because I opted to remain a solo artist.  But that was perhaps one of the first moments that maybe digital was being taken seriously in the watch world.

Now about this same time, the idea of the "influencer" began to bleed into the watch industry. 
Let's take that word, influencer.  Like potential, is a very difficult word to define.  Because to some extent it is a fair amount of hot air.  In principle, an influencer is someone with a big social network who people follow and will want to emulate in terms of purchasing certain items.

The case of Sylvester Stallone and Panerai is a good example of how an influencer CAN put a brand on the map.  He wandered in off the street when he saw something cool in the shop window.  He bought it, put it on his wrist and wore it.  And to some extent, the rest is history.  And it bears mentioning that this was BEFORE the internet - at least as we know it today.

But things have changed quite a bit since then.  Brands of all sorts - beer, soda, fashion, automobiles and watches began to seek out those with the largest followings on Twitter and Instagram and try to finesse these people to feature their products in their posts.  This started out with freebies.  But as word began to get around, the grasping hands of opportunity began to emerge.  Because it became clear that this could be a real platform for making money!  If magazines sell ads, and if blogs sell ads and require (or infer) that monies and or products are required for what US game shows used to refer to as "Promotional Consideration"... it only stood to reason that if you had the biggest following on your blog, your Twitter feed or on Instagram, you could do the same.

Now, if you look at this strictly as a marketing exercise, it is easy to say that numbers don't lie and the more followers someone has, the more people there are seeing your product.   

It rules out the very real possibility of the involvement of click farms.  Just what is a click farm?
This is a wonderful (and dubious) system whereby the owner of the site, account, etc. pays a very, very small fee - say $15 per 1,000 clicks to the proprietor of the "click farm" who then instructs 1,000 of the very, very low-paid workers at his click farm to click on your specific link, to follow a particular Twitter feed or Instagram account, etc.  In other words (if my math is right) for a one-time investment of $500 spread out over several click farm "plantation" owners, you could have, let's see... $500 / $15 = 33.333 different click farm "purchases" promising 1,000 likes, clicks or follows for that $15.  So we take the 33 and multiply it by those promised 1,000 likes, clicks or follows and we have, let's see... 33.333 x 1,000 =  33,333.  Now, assuming that you dipped into your rapidly growing "influencer kitty", a monthly investment of $500 would represent less than half a day of your normal income to continue to exponentially grow your audience.  
In other words, it becomes harder and harder for a marketing department to really know exactly how many followers, clicks or likes are legitimate, and how many outlets seeking "promotional consideration" are providing alternative facts in terms of their analyitics. 
But consider another possibility, that in some instances the very brands themselves may be involved in this, ferreting out the stories that favorably mention their product or brand, then forward those links to the click farms to promote.  Again - think about it - $15 per 1,000 likes to push a story?  That is not an overly complicated proposal to give to your boss to promote your project.  And how do I know this is real?  Because I live in the real world and I do not suffer from an incurable strain of Millennialitis.  When I suddenly see 750 clicks on a particular blog post that I wrote, all from China, all at approximately the same time?  Or several thousand from Israel, all within a 5 minute period?  And the hundreds of solicitations from click farm owners offering me hundreds of thousands of new followers?  Believe me, this has nothing to do with the awesome nature of my content.  Nor does it suddenly demonstrate that I am reaching a new audience.  It is business, plain and simple, and it is bought and paid for.  And it is a business that I have not, do not, and will not personally engage in with Tempus Fugit.  And that is why 1,200 decent hits is what I consider a good, honest number in a given day.
So when an Instagram star or blog or other outlet claims some of the incredibly lofty numbers that they do, I am inclined to call bull shit. 5,000 - 10,000 visitors a day, 300,000 a month? - I can buy that.  1, nearly 2 million a month?  hmmm.... maybe not so much.

You're telling me that a watch blog has more viewers than The Sartorialist???
Yeah, I am calling bullshit.

And I want to be clear, there are some very good blogs out there that are run by owners who actually know about formatting, key words search terms, and who actually provide decent content.  But you will also notice when running the analytics that there numbers are nowhere near the level of a few sites out there.  When a marketing department staffer is telling me that outlet X has just a little less than 2 million visits a month for a blog about watches?  Sorry, that is a hard one to swallow.  Particularly when the next well known outlets have 1/3 of the traffic.  And if there was that level of interest out there, does it not stand to reason that there would be watch sales figures that would underscore that level of interest?

1 comment:

  1. Well expressed. Well written. Well explained. Great article James.