Influencer Marketers, Just Stop Asking for Free Stuff

As we reach the end of the pandemic (we're not, we're just pretending and hoping for the best for those who refuse to get vaccinated), people are getting beginning to shop at small businesses again, hoping to boost the economy.

Small businesses have been struggling for the last 16 months, and many of them are on the verge of failing. They're doing what they can to stay in business, reducing their hours, pivoting to online sales, applying for government relief grants, and anything else that might help them survive one more day.

Which is why it's considered crass to ask them for free stuff.

Especially when you ask them for free stuff so you can post it on social media.

This is what's known as being a "social media influencer," which means "we both know I couldn't influence a hungry dog with a cheeseburger."

Thanks to various online "celebrities," people are trying to make money by having companies give them things to promote on their Instagram and TikTok channels.

Some people make hundreds of thousands of dollars per year doing product reviews and unboxings, showing how things work, and shouting about "big ups to Will & Fred's Worm Farm for sending us a box of these righteous red wigglers!"

And there are baby influencers, people with only a couple thousand followers who have the gall to ask for free stuff from businesses for "exposure."

For example, I could ask Fender to send me a Player Precision bass guitar (Buttercream), and I would promote the bass and the company to my 1,383 followers. Then, they would sell a lot of bass guitars (they wouldn't), they could make a lot of money (they already have it), and I could help make their brand more famous (I couldn't).

I would share pictures of me standing with the bass, post videos of me standing with the bass, and even write short updates about the different ways I stand with the bass.

I could also do a couple videos of me playing the bass, but I'm not very good, so they would be short videos. 

Do you see the problem? I don't have a strong following, which means I don't actually have anything to offer Fender. They shouldn't even send me an empty box to stand with.

Baby influencers need to stop asking small businesses for free stuff, especially now, as those businesses struggle to stay open.

Case in point, a children's bookstore in England, A New Chapter, was recently approached by an influencer who asked them to give them some free books to review on their social accounts.

This particular person emailed them and said, "I have a good following on Instagram and TikTok and if you were to send me some books I would review these for you for free. I think when you see the exposure, which small businesses always need, you'd be more than happy to take that as payment."

No, what small businesses always need is money. They're very happy to take that as payment. Exposure doesn't pay the bills, it doesn't pay for the books they sent you, it doesn't even cover the postage.

"Hi, I'd like to send five pounds of books to this self-entitled parasite, please."

"That will be $18."

"I don't have $18, but they promised to tell their fans about me. Can I pay you with that?"

"No, that's just dumb."

What the influencer also failed to understand is that reviewing books helps the author and publisher, not the bookstore. No one cares where you bought a book.

If you want to help the bookstore, review the bookstore. Visit the store, take pictures, shoot videos, and post them all to your network. If you're as good as you say, the bookstore will see a dramatic and long-lasting increase in sales as a result of your efforts.

But a few Instagram posts about "Hey, I love these books, these are great books. You should read these books. Oh yeah, and thanks A New Chapter. Buy books from them or whatever" won't actually accomplish much. It takes a concerted, ongoing social media campaign to make it work.

AJ, who runs the bookstore's Twitter account, shared the person's message and said, "Get about five of these a week. If you want a book, pay for it, otherwise we won't exist any more."

As someone who literally wrote the book on personal branding and social media, I understand why these baby influencers are doing this. They have to start somewhere. They have to build up an audience based on their specialty niche. If you want to be a children's book reviewer, you have to review children's books.

That doesn't mean asking a bookstore for free books, though. Go to your public library. Giving free books away is their reason for living. They've got tons of free books just lying around waiting for someone to read them.

But never ask a small business that's struggling to send you free stuff. A New Chapter said they get five moochers a week asking them for free stuff. If they sent $25 in free books every time they were asked, they would spend $6,500 per year in free, probably ineffective publicity.

In some ways, this influencer did give a lot of free exposure to the bookstore because their story went viral and even made it into one of England's trashy tabloids, The Daily Mirror.

Influencer marketing: Because sometimes self-entitled parasites DO serve a purpose.

Photo credit: Geralt (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

My new humor novel, Mackinac Island Nation, is finished and available on Amazon. You can get the Kindle version here or the paperback version here.