The Reach Delusion

Social validation, not reach, is the main advantage of an influencer marketing campaign.

Influencers can give a marketing or communications campaign an advantage that nothing else can.

What is it?

A lot of people say “It’s reach! Influencers are a great way of reaching my millennial audience.”

Yeah, maybe.

But I’d argue that an influencer campaign might not the best way of giving your message reach.

Think of any audience you might want to target. Say you want to reach men between 25 and 35 in Tampa, Florida, who are into bass fishing? No problem. A targeted Facebook campaign will get your content in front of them really effectively. Same for just about any audience. With modern paid targeting capabilities you can get your message into the newsfeed of just about anyone.

The thing about reach is this – you can buy it. Often quite cheaply.

So what is it that influencers can really give your campaign?

People talk about authenticity, advocacy, brand love, you name it. This is closer to the mark, but I don’t think it’s quite there.

Let’s be specific.

The unique advantage influencers can give your campaign is social validation.

Social validation is about tapping into something very deep in the human psyche: our intrinsic desire and affinity for belonging to a group.

We are the animals who work together. Language and communication set us apart from the other animals, and the fact that we can do things together is our only real survival advantage. Consequently, we set great store in behaving in a manner similar to the people around us.

There’s something very fundamental at work here. Back in our hunter-gatherer days, following the group was a huge survival advantage. Toothless, clawless, pink and squishy humans didn’t do too well in the wild on their own – and still don’t, even today. Those who didn’t follow the group were usually weeded out by natural selection. Without the know-how and physical support of your kin group, you’re easy pickings for hunger, exposure or predators in just about any environment. But if you can pick up from those around you, your chances of surviving and thriving are way higher.

“I’m hungry. And hey, everyone else is eating these berries. And they’re not dead. Maybe I’ll eat the berries too.”

Times have changed, but the principles are still the same. We all adjust our behaviour to the people around us, the people we’d like to emulate.

If people that we look up to are all doing something, or talking about something, or thinking or behaving in a particular way, we’re inclined to do that too.

That’s what you call social validation.

You can’t buy that.

Well, you can, in a way – through a smart influencer campaign.

A good influencer campaign targets key people connected to the audience in question – people who, through their relevance and authority, can authentically carry a particular message into that community. If those people are well-chosen, and if they can engage authentically with the community that surrounds them, then your message will seem to be everywhere.

Reach is important, sure. If all the other dimensions of influence are the same, then the person with the bigger reach is better. But reach is a tie-breaker, it’s not the essential metric.

Social validation is what influencer marketing is about. That’s the core. That’s what influencer marketing can deliver over and above banner ads, or your own YouTube content, or billboards, or any other communications channel.

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