The end of influencer marketing is near: it’ll be dead by 2023, a headline in one of the edgy online mags read. I can’t recall which publication it was – I suppose it wasn’t that memorable, after all – but the author of the article made the point that people no longer trust social media influencers, because said influencers have gone too commercial, too ready to endorse products for compensation, and too eager to please brands instead of staying authentic.
The same sentiment has been expressed in copious amounts here on ADV Rider – from Bear’s recent article on the thankless job that is motorcycle journalism and the tricky navigation of motorcycle reviews to a general opinion that motorcycle travellers who have any sort of social media presence should not be trusted because, as the assumption goes, all the content is paid for or sponsored in some form or another anyhow; in other words, as George Carlin used to say – it’s all bulls*it, folks, and it’s bad for ya.
But is that actually true?
The Glamorous Sponsored Life
It’s certainly true that some bloggers, writers, YouTubers, or social media influencers may sometimes post content that is paid or sponsored across their platforms – after all, for a lot of people, maintaining an online presence is a business, and if brands are happy to collaborate, all the better. It’s also true that some endorsements or posts may be less genuine, and it’s entirely possible that some people may try to abuse the system for their own advantage. This isn’t unique and happens across the board regardless of what you do for a living, however; but where is that fine line between true, genuine authenticity and obscene exaggeration?
Let’s say you’re composing a blog post and run it through a SEO optimization program before publishing it. The program tells you that in order to please the almighty algorithms of the search engines – and you must please them, or else they won’t rank your content, which will doom even the best-written blogs to linger in the dark corners of the web, never to be seen by the audience it’s meant for – you should, say, add more subheadings, shorten your sentences, and, in fact, change your sentence structure altogether because it’s too complex for Google’s readability score which seems to be aimed at about 7th grade reading level.
So you comply – after all, these suggestions are benign enough, and you want your page to rank on Google so readers can actually find your content. Except that content isn’t quite yours anymore – not in the way you originally intended, anyway.
Still benign enough, on the surface. But if you keep complying and optimizing, in the long run, your content isn’t quite what you want to create or express – it’s about what makes Google happy. And a layer of authenticity is lost.
Another example: you’re riding with a group of buddies, and you tackle a particularly gnarly section. At the end of it, everyone’s high-fiving and grinning from ear to ear, and you don’t want to ruin the moment by pulling out your camera. Instead, after the ride is finished, you ask them to do something silly for the photo, say, jump in the air, and capture that; it’s completely staged. But does that make the image fake? The emotion was there, just not in that exact moment and place. So whether that’s faking it or just good ADV photography depends on how you look at it.
Now let’s say you were given a product to test. You like it – a lot – and you think your audience might appreciate it, too. The brand that has provided the product has only asked for you to use it, nothing more, nothing less; there is no contractual obligation to promote it, and no compensation to review it or even talk about it in any significant way (yes, there are plenty of brands who are happy for riders to test their stuff with no strings attached). Still, you found the thing useful, or well-designed, or whatever the case may be, so you do write or post about it – but get immediately shut down by an angry mob of keyboard warriors, because they assume it’s always paid advertisement and always fake reviews; so the next time you review some gadgety item or a piece of gear you really like, you’ll try to consciously nit-pick and find some negatives in order to stay more authentic…but just how authentic is that, then?
The Real Deal
Now let’s say you’re not a writer, blogger, or social media influencer, you’re just a rider crafting a forum post on your favourite bike, set of tires, a tool, or your favourite gear. You bought the item yourself, you’ve never spoken to any brands, you couldn’t care less who you offend if you post a negative review, and you don’t have any expectations from your fellow forum inmates or readers whatsoever. This is genuinely just your awesome, authentic self posting an unbiased opinion about a thing you love. Perfect grounds for complete, total honesty, and genuine authenticity, right? Hardly. People are fiercely protective of their own decisions, even when those decisions are proven questionable – for example, there’s research showing how people are extremely reluctant to sell shares they bought based on their own opinion, even when the economists predict the stock prices will go down significantly and they’ll likely lose a lot. We like to think we’re rational beings, but we’re not – there’s always emotion involved, and I’ve seen riders fiercely defend their bike, tire, gear, or luggage choices not because the item in question is objectively well-made or well-designed, but because they personally chose it and love it, and that’s that.
So much for perfect objectivity.
May the Force Be With You
But if nothing is black and white, and nothing is either hundred percent authentic or thoroughly fake, what’s a good way to navigate all that information, opinions, reviews, and ideas out there? Who do you trust?
That’s for you to decide. For me, what helps to figure out whether to trust someone’s review, opinion, or article, is proven track record and history. A few years back, I was in search for enduro-style protective gear as I was riding off-road more and more; I finally decided on a Certain Brand because several influencers I follow have used Certain Brand for years, and it seemed to me that the quality was consistent after constant wear and abuse. I specifically looked for people who have used this specific gear for the specific type of riding for more than two years, looked at their reviews and opinions across several months or seasons, and came to the conclusion that it was consistent with how the gear withstood the challenges over time. I do the same with any other items from laptops and cameras to motorcycle luggage options or suspension setups – if the journalist, blogger, YouTuber, or social media star has used and abused the thing over a longer period of time and hasn’t switched to another brand, that’s typically a good indicator. Equally, I’ll search for specific items used in a specific way: I’m happy to trust the opinion of Kinga “On Her Bike” Tanajewska when she’s talking about camping gear or her custom rear shock because she’s been wild camping and riding her adventure bike around the world for years. I would also trust her take on the best video editing programs as she runs a successful YouTube channel. For an opinion on the best rally bike mods, on the other hand, I’d look at Lyndon Poskitt instead.
Finally, it’s understanding that we’re all individuals with individual preferences, tastes, and views, and what works for me may not necessarily work for you. For example, I’ve heard plenty of riders praising the Very Navigational navigation units – and found one of those absolutely useless myself. So were those people shameless liars and the product was subpar, or was it simply that it didn’t quite work for me? Equally, I’ve been preaching about the excellence of Those MX Boots for years because they function extremely well for me, whereas for a friend who recently bought them, Those MX Boots were meh at best because they didn’t quite meet his specific requirements more geared towards adventure rather than pure off-road riding.
What’s your take? Share in the comments below!