You may think the only people who get invited on automakers’ press drivers are highly skilled, highly trained auto writers with an abiding passion for automobiles and a deep knowledge of products. This is not the case! Especially not in the social media era, where automakers will throw insane sums of money at “influencers” to blog a little bit or maybe just post to Instagram in hopes of good exposure.
Influencers—and man, if there’s a more grating term, I don’t know what it is—are the subject of this Digiday article, where an anonymous social media exec details the “ecosystem... around these social media stars” with the goal of generating positive buzz around a brand or product.
Here’s how it might work. Let’s say you’re a burgeoning social media maven with tons of followers on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and all the other new ones I’m not cool enough to know about.
Whether you know shit about cars or not, a brand like Chevrolet or Ford or Toyota or whoever might have you out on a press drive to test a new car—sometimes with auto journalists, sometimes in their own group—so that ideally you’ll say nice things about whatever they’re shilling to a wider, non-car audience of hip, rad millennials and teens.
I’m not making this up. I’ve been on press launches with influencers who not only know nothing about the car, or cars in general, but don’t drive much or can’t drive stick. I recall another writer telling me about one influencer who didn’t even have a driver’s license. But they had a smartphone!
And in addition to fronting the travel and lodging and booze costs like they do for auto journalists (which is definitely problematic in and of itself), these influencers might even be paid by the brand directly, as this Digiday story notes:
Social team is a bunch of millennials, so we’ll often find someone we like and we’ll throw it into a database with keywords. But usually it’s a CEO or CMO or whoever saying, “Oh, my kid likes this guy.” At this major car brand I worked for, we paid $300,000 for a few photographs because the CEO’s kid liked someone.
Wouldn’t you like $300,000 just to take some Instagram photos of a car? I suppose if you don’t consider yourself a journalist, or a fair and informed evaluator of a product people are going to spend a lot of money on, it’s a sweet gig.
But even as far as influencing goes, this particular story—$300,000 for some social media posts!—strikes me as egregious. I demand to know more. Which automaker really ponied up that much money for some influence, and did it work? (It almost certainly did not.)
If you know, you should email firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t worry, we’ll keep your name a secret.
Even so, if any influencers are reading this, know that your sweet gig might be up:
Influencers are going to start disappearing. Brands are going to start realizing the amount of followers you have doesn’t mean shit. Just because photos look good and have 200,000 followers means nothing. You can’t rely on content creators all day long. For the influencers, their entire business is about relationships and friendships. Someone was at Vice, so uses their friend to do photography. Someone knows someone else at Instagram so gets featured on the trending page. We live and die by these platforms today.
The brands are getting wise to you, influencers!