Many in marketing say that businesses should use social media influencers. The problem is that too many are "influencers" only in name, renting followers to boost their count and pretend a reach they don't have. Now there's another problem for business owners: grasping would-be influencers always in search for freebies in trade for someone posting an image on Instagram and ginning up a line or two of insincere drivel--because it's a tit-for-tat payment.

Large businesses might be able to accommodate many influencers in

When you're working hard to run a business, satisfy customers, make payroll, market the business, and--when you can--take care of your own needs, this sort of thing can be irritating. You don't want to spend your time reacting to people trying to sponge off you--the Yiddish term schnorrer is a great one to use in such cases, by the way--but sometimes you may not be able to restrain from a response.

Here are some great examples of how entrepreneurs have finally had their say and let the world see how the whole business works.

The hotel that wouldn't

The owner of the White Moose Café and Charleville Lodge in Dublin apparently received one influencer request too many last year. Owner Paul Stenson decided to have at it on Facebook, posting a redacted copy of the email asking for free accommodations for the influencer and her partner in return for recommending that others stay there.

Stenson opened with "It takes a lot of balls to send an email like that, if not much self-respect and dignity" and went on:

If I let you stay here in return for a feature in your video, who is going to pay the staff who look after you? Who is going to pay the housekeepers who clean your room? The waiters who serve you breakfast? The receptionist who checks you in? Who is going to pay for the light and heat you use during your stay? The laundering of your bed sheets? The water rates? Maybe I should tell my staff they will be featured in your video in lieu of receiving payment for work carried out while you're in residence?

It didn't hurt Stenson that his business already had a lot of social media followers: " Lucky for us, we too have a significant social media following. We have 186k followers on our two Facebook pages, an estimated 80k on our Snapchat, 32k on Instagram and a paltry 12k on our Twitter, but Jesus Christ, I would never in a million years ask anyone for anything for free."

Double or nothing

You don't need to have a swank hotel to find people hitting you up for freebies. A Los Angeles ice cream truck company CVT Soft Serve apparently has been inundated. So he took to his company's Facebook page:

We've decided to make this thing official with signage. We truly don't care if you're an Influencer, or how many followers you have. We will never give you a free ice cream in exchange for a post on your social media page. It's literally a $4 item...well now it's $8 for you. #InfluencersAreGross

His honesty resonated with the press and he got so much earned media since June that I can't image the total value he picked up. But to really understand the impact, check the whole page. Since then it's been more mentions internationally and strong positive reactions from customers and well-wishers.

Trolling the influencer trove

One of the most creative and biting responses came from a bigger company, Payless Shoes (which went out of business but not because of a lack of influencer love). It set up an event with a fake luxury footwear store in LA and called it Palessi (pay-less-ee). Then it invited the influencers to come in, take their Instagram shots, and actually pay hundreds of dollars for Payless shoes.

Then it interviewed the people on video, explained the prank (and hopefully refunded the difference in price). This was a brilliant bit of trolling.

How to stay wary

Not that all people who claim to be influencers are full of it, but here are some reasons to stay wary:

  • Self-claimed influencers may know nothing about their supposed areas of expertise. Unless they have some serious background in their topic, don't offer the benefit of the doubt.
  • Followers aren't necessarily your audience. Who cares how many look when the chance of them actually spending money with your business is negligible?
  • There are influencers, but they can be different than the popular picture. As branded content strategist Lena Katz pointed out to me when she created the infamous potato that became an influencer, you may be better off working with people who have actual expertise and influence among smaller groups that are your target audience.
  • A new study suggests that Instagram influencers are near all-time lows in their engagement rates. In other words, people have become desensitized to what the influencers say. Too many of them.

A bit of opinion: If you have to bribe someone to same something nice about your business, there's no value in it. Focus on actual customers, delight them, and let them spread the word. It's more likely to be effective.