28: Beware false marketing idols

Following everything an influencer says is the new smoking. It’s not good for your health. You absolutely should follow smart people on the internet — it’s a great way to learn more about the industry and gain perspective on trends. However, you shouldn’t blindly follow them or trust everything they say.

In this episode, we’re going to talk about the best ways to integrate influencers into your marketing education. 

First, I want to cover the pressure on new marketers to create a brand or become an influencer. This is bullshit. It’s completely unproductive and puts undue pressure on you to post, publish, etc. Take that time and practice your craft. 

But what about networking? 

YES! Great way to build your brand 🙂

How have you used influencers in your growth as a marketer?

I’ve followed quite a few, but mostly it’s been through reading articles and doing research. Read a book! They need to be peer reviewed. I follow influencers for their smart content. 

I know you talk about graduating influencers — what do you mean by that? 

I want to be super clear: I have nothing against any influencer. They’re brave enough and bold enough to put themselves in the public, and share their wisdom. I truly respect everyone and their talents. If it sounds like I’m throwing shade, then please know I’m being genuine! 

Take Neal Patel – Digital marketer, SEO – He’s done a ton of work for the community, and is particularly valuable for folks at the start of their career. 

As an SEO, 12 years ago I started reading some of his blogs, and ended up, moving over to the Moz blog where I started to learn more from a class of advanced SEOs like Rand Fishkin, Cyrus Shepherd, Dr. Pete, etc. I don’t read about writing good SEO content anymore — I read things like The Definitive Guide to JavaScript SEO (2021 Edition).  

Obviously a massive Rand fan. I still remember reading his letter. It’s one of those saas marketing moments right? Where were you when you found out Rand was leaving Moz?

I feel like the guy embodies integrity and morality in marketing. In the early days of Klipfolio, you guys built out dashboard templates and you had one with Rand. How was that?

At Klipfolio we worked on an SEO dashboard Rand Fishkin described in one of his whiteboard videos. I’m a huge Rand Fishkin fan — he’s a genuine, smart dude, and watching & reading his content makes me happy. Anyway, we built this dashboard for him, and then reached out. He was still CEO of Mox at the time, so he was super, super busy. We ended getting him to review the dashboard and promoting it out on social.

Why should you follow influencers? 

I’d say to round out your perspective and education. Don’t just blindly follow anyone and expect results. If you find someone entertaining or witty or whatever, follow them. I’m not your mom!  

It’s funny, I don’t actually see myself following influencers so much as just following smart people. I also really check whether the people I follow already confirm existing biases – it’s super helpful to find people who have different opinions or perspectives. 

It’s really easy to swim the same direction as everyone else — look to people who do the opposite and then follow them. 

I like what you said there “smart people” not influencers. 

What’s the difference between a fluffy influencer and a legit smart influencer? 

The difference lies in the content. Dig deep. The fluffy influencer is just repeating the same things that are already shared at nauseum, that’s if they’re not talking about themselves. 

Real experts focus on their field, not themselves. They are opinionated, they drive real discussion, they share valuable practical things. They back up what they say, they work in the craft, they are super deep. They aren’t afraid of saying I don’t know.  

But it’s tricky. It’s super easy for someone to have a legit social presence and appearance, but once you hire them or work with them you quickly uncover whether they can back up all those tweets.  

How do you spot a smart influencer vs a false idol? 

Instead of saying, wow, Rand is so cool, I want to be like Rand and do what he does. 

You should be saying, wow what Rand said is fascinating, he’s really made me rethink my take on mobile vs desktop, mobile didn’t kill desktop, it just took up all our free time. 

There’s something super fascinating about a lot of influencer relationships. I know you’re trying to be nice and give everyone the benefit of the doubt. We just saw a prominent influencer/podcaster get called out for some pretty shady practices. 

Yes, and you see this all the time. Pay me a bit of money and I’ll give you 15 minutes of advice or whatever. It could totally be worth it. I question the value. I think that you’re better off forming your own opinion and working through challenges with information available. I see this a lot on platforms like Product Hunt, where getting an influencer to hunt your product is like the number one factor in being successful. I disagree – I think having a great product customers love is more important. But it doesn’t change the transactional nature of influencer life. 

We have a podcast. Are we influencers? How do you sleep at night JT?

Yes, the irony is not lost on me! I think that we have to recognize that we do influence folks — we put content on the internet, and with it our opinions. 

I will say this: my goal is to provide the kind of advice I wish I got when I was starting out. Or, if you’re more senior, to provide a unique perspective… I have young kids at home — I sleep like shit 🙂

Alright, let’s drop a list of some of the legit people you’re following and learning from right now:

Marketing celebreties

Badass marketers

Intro music by Wowa via Unminus

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