It's a chilly fall night at Hollywood's Roosevelt hotel as the 140 conference parties (three total!) go full swing poolside under the stars. Guests mingle and chit-chat as out of town revelers see familiar faces and catch up. Cabanas line the perimeter as wait staff deliver trays of cocktails. At a private suite to the side of the hotel's signature pool, some of the most influential people on the city's technology and business scene are gathered. A group of women, all friends, are perched on the outside chaise, laughing and talking business. The array of fashionable shoes proves it's not just about substance in this town, but style as well. They're bloggers, connectors, personalities, CEOs, founders, and execs that make business move here. As I sip from a glass of champagne, the words a friend recently said came to mind, "these are the most influential people you may not have heard of."
It got me thinking. It seems real influencers don't need to hustle themselves constantly in the media and at conferences. Their work does the work for them.
Take for example female founder and pioneering fashion media CEO Kathryn Finney of TheBudgetFashionista.com. Her reach into the market goes far past her more than 500 television and media appearances to a real, bonafide audience that respects and follows her advice. She's a soon-to-be twice author, an in demand speaker, and advisor who knows the business because she's done the work. She's had the ear of major brands for longer than any fashion blog in the business. A current campaign with TJ Maxx has been underway with enormous success. New Power Girls co-creator Meghan Cleary is another - ShopNBC tapped her for a shoe line because of her solid, real position and reach among shoppers and consumers, and saw one of the highest shoe sales to date with her on board.
In a market where people can call themselves "experts" without even a formal job or real work history in the industry, or deem themselves "influencers" without a real audience, people like Kathy and Meghan are the people that brands should know.
In fact, companies may need to be careful more than ever before. Traffic numbers can be gamed, media coverage is as easily attained through friendships and relationships and not necessarily real demand. Brands have seen backlash for selecting who they work with, how they present their products and worse. I know of at least three cases where it cost businesses their reputation, and at least five times where conference attendees complained about a panelist speaker having little or no experience in the industry.
"It's easy for brands to be seduced by wanting to hire a celebrity (be it an actor or a well known web-brity)," said public relations guru Nicole Jordan, who has worked with some of the best brands in the market. "But the question I ask is - what does it really get you at the end of the day and does it equal credibility? Paying an 'influencer' to promote does not."
With out a doubt, companies should do the homework when bringing influencers and experts, from Google search and requesting references to carefully evaluating whether or not someone's a fit for your brand.
"If the social web has taught us anything," adds Jordan. "the people who can move mountains (aside of Oprah) are your natural evangelists who want to see you succeed, and are happy to help you."
You'll know right away who that is.
Hear what Meghan and I have to say about influencers here.