Unfiltered Friday: Golf Writing in the Influencer Era

socialmedia.jpg

Depending on your company, establishing a marketing budget usually concludes by the end of the second quarter as you plan ahead for the following year. For some golf equipment brands, a huge amount of that budget is dedicated to social media influencer marketing.

How effective is social media influencer marketing? Who determines what an influencer is, and are the answers to those two questions related? Perhaps more importantly, what message is being delivered by these influencers, and how is that message received by the consumer?

Let’s take a high level look.

The Reach of Influencer Marketing

Whether you like the term “influencer” or not, there’s no question that the technique has a wide reach.

According to a recent poll published on the Shane Barker website, 70 percent of millennials are influenced by the recommendations of their peers when making a buying decision. Over 30 percent of consumers rated themselves as more likely to make a buying decision based on the recommendation of a non-celebrity blogger. Surprisingly, 60 percent more users on YouTube are influenced by YouTube stars than celebrity endorsers.

Even more staggering? Only three percent of consumers purchase a product due to a celebrity endorser. Think about that for a second.

If these metrics were consistent with the world of golf equipment or apparel, that’s not a great return on investment for a brand. For as much money spent on sponsorship deals for top name players — which I still believe has some ROI, otherwise no brands would ever do it — statistics like those mentioned above make you wonder if it’s worth it. Especially when those costs are passed down to the consumer. We’ve discussed that topic before on our podcast.

Enter social media influencers, or those young people we see all over Instagram, Twitter, and yes, even Facebook. These are not “celebrities” we would immediately recognize, but they’ve built brands for themselves nonetheless. In fact, another study suggests upwards of 40 percent of consumers reported they made a purchase because they saw a tweet about it. Twitter users are 20 percent more likely to share a post by an influencer than any other user type.

That’s real money, and real influence.

What do Influencers in Golf Look Like?

Those who can be considered an influencer span a wide spectrum.

Some would say social media influencers are young, attractive, usually female casual golfers who take pictures of themselves posing with a golf club, snapback trucker hat or logoed beer coozie. They are the flat-brim wearing, scantily clad 20-somethings who happened to wander onto a golf course for just long enough to snap a few selfies and provide the day’s #content to their legion of followers. They are everything an upper-30-year-old blogger/podcaster (like me) despises.

While not entirely inaccurate, those are gross generalizations.

There’s another extreme. Other social media influencers — particularly on YouTube — are previously unknown teaching professionals (often hailing from the UK for some reason) who capitalize on their access to the latest equipment from the biggest brands by filming themselves hit golf balls for 15 minutes. This is usually followed by a haphazard review of the product, complete with comparison data to the other 20 clubs they tested in the month, punctuated by a friendly reminder to “punch the subscribe button” before fading to black.

Do I seem salty? I feel like I’m coming off as negative. Maybe so. Let’s keep going.

Thankfully, a huge congregation of influencers fall somewhere in between those two extremes. For example, websites and podcasts like GU — and others with much larger followings, although they will never be as fantastic as all of our fans — have some influence on those who consume the content. I’ve had people tell me as much both via email and to my face.

Paige Spiranac, for example, is the perfect social media influencer. She’s intelligent, beautiful, a highly skilled golfer, and preaches a message of acceptance and positivity. Bryan LaRoche, aka @bryangolf on Instagram, is a certified club fitter, highly skilled player, handsome, and engaging. Rick Shiels, arguably the most popular YouTube golf personality in the world, educates his subscribers while staying brand agnostic. Amanda Balionis, a rising star due to her talent on screen during tournament events and impeccable professionalism in everything she does, is the future of golf broadcasting.

Influencers need not be reserved to social media or blog keyboards, either. An argument can be made that television personalities we see every weekend on the pro tours have just as much influence on brands as your favorite Instagram starlet. Jim Nantz has his own Vineyard Vines clothing line, for crying out loud. Johnny Miller has his own podcast via Callaway Golf, which is both exciting and hilarious.

Clearly these are examples everyone knows, including the brands they represent. It’s fair to say we have a decent understanding of what influencers look like. Right?

I asked you. Here’s what you said:

Where Are Influencers Going?

There’s absolutely no question that social media influencers make an impact on consumers. Data validates it, and brands know this. My concern is how the influencer game will affect golf brands in the long term, especially when you consider the number of artisan brands and upstarts turning to the influencer model in a high-stakes gamble.

The influencers game itself may be changing as well. Forbes suggests that brands focus most on influencers with 100,000 followers or more. However, social media platforms like Instagram are already experimenting with new ways to display user engagement, starting with removing sight of “likes” on a post. How that will impact the value of influencers remains to be seen but could significantly alter the value of investing in a face for a brand.

As the power and reach of influencers continues to grow, particularly in the golf space, so too will the number of cliques and combination marketing efforts by social stars. Individual brands may lessen as these collaborative groups increase, especially if you’ve got (gasp!) skilled golfers in the mix.

The latter point is becoming somewhat of an afterthought in many circles. When I see an influencer showing off a brand, it is more attractive to me if that person looks like they’ve played golf before. Don’t show me someone chugging Natty Light and running their friends over in a golf cart. Keep the videos of women in high heels and bikini tops at Top Golf out of my feed. Neither example will make me reach for my wallet, but rather move my mouse cursor to click somewhere else.

Luckily, the examples of “good” influencers outnumber the exaggerated examples above. The continued success of those who positively promote a brand will depend entirely on how brands can adjust to the changing times, and how everyone chooses to work with those around them.

If successful, and if brands remain open to the changing dynamics of how consumers digest content by everyday people on social media, the upside to influencer marketing is boundless.