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Are Influencers More Important Than Your Social Media in 2018?

Last Modified: January 31, 2023

Recently, we came across a press release by Baristas Coffee touting their new affiliate marketing campaign with the “top social influencers on several social media platforms.” Who are these influencers? Who knows? The PR doesn’t say, but it did get us wondering what Baristas’ social media presence was like so we visited their site to find their social links.

Oddly there weren’t any. Not as of this post’s writing.

No links to Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. So we did it the old fashioned way and did searches on the social networks themselves… and still didn’t find much a presence. Nothing on Instagram, a Facebook page with the last posts back in 2013, and a Twitter account that last posted in 2015.


But the press release came out just this week. So what gives? And that got us thinking: could finding influencers be more important than developing your own social media presence? Controversial! Let’s dive in.

The cost of developing your social media today

Social media is like planting a tree: the best time to do it was yesterday. Even just a few years ago, it was easier to compete on the various platforms. Today, if you’re an SMB with limited resources, it’s a tough uphill climb.

Not only is there a growing backlash against social media (like from former Facebook VPs), but there is more content being posted every second than anyone can process. This adds up to a real decline in social media consumption. In fact, Facebook’s organic reach was down 52% in 2016; a lot of this was by design in order to try to prevent people from feeling overwhelmed. But no matter what, getting your company’s social content in front of right potential customers is harder than ever.

And yet, according to the CMO Survey,  social media spending was up by 11.7% in 2016 compared to 2009.


So advertisers are spending more and showing up in feeds less? Well, yes. That’s what you expect to see when it’s a crowded marketplace. And social media is now very crowded. That means in order to compete and vie for more followers, you need to either invest more money or more time into your social media push. And both are tough to do for SMBs.

But what about the idea that “more followers equal more sales?” Well…

More followers may not equal more sales

It’s actually really difficult to attribute sales directly to social media. Usually, when you see big numbers of how something like Instagram affects sales or “buying decisions,” they’re actually referring to indirect influence. And that’s pretty misleading. Here’s a good example:

Recently, we came across this infographic on that had a very eye-catching statistic about Instagram and sales:


Really? 72%? That’s a crazy high number! Well, the infographic cites an article by, which in turn cited a study by and their own infographic (yes, this is how infographics beget infographics). And guess what, here’s that 72% stat:


Yessir, that 72% of shoppers that Instagram influenced is specific to fashion, style, or beauty-related purchases. Not sure why chose to strip that aspect away, but that vastly changes that stat, doesn’t it? So yes, if this survey is to be believed, Instagram works pretty well for this specific industry, but that’s hardly a blanket statement.

In fact, there’s always been evidence that social media doesn’t affect sales nearly as much as we think. Back in 2012, Forrester reported that less than 1% of online purchases come from social media. (Oh and they analyzed over 77,000 eCommerce orders so their stat may be slightly more reliable)

And more recent data from Adobe (2016) shows that conversion rates for social media sites were far behind your traditional search engines:

conversion rates

So ok, does this mean SMBs should give up on social media altogether?

Why influencers may be a better investment

Bringing this post back full circle, let’s revisit the strategy of Baristas. Remember, their social presence is almost nil, but they’re making a big push to connect with influencers. Basically, they are outsourcing their social media presence.


With a limited budget, we know that social media doesn’t mean direct sales but affiliate/referral marketing programs do. It’s proven. There are real statistics that prove its effectiveness. If your company has to choose between the two, it may be counter-intuitive, but leveraging influencers (who already have a social media presence) to bring in sales makes more financial sense than spending time & money on building your own social media channels.

We know, it’s strange! How can any company expect to do any business in this digital age without an Instagram account?? But think about it this way: social media has existed for about a decade. Maybe two decades if you really reach back to Friendster and whatnot. But word-of-mouth marketing has existed since, well, goods existed. If anything, social media’s main contribution to sales may be the mavens who curate the cool stuff that people want to buy. And that’s influencers in a nutshell.

It’s time to rethink your social media campaigns

What will social media do in 2018? Here’s a list of 32 experts and their predictions. Guess what: “sales” is only mentioned twice and one is in service of what influencers can do to drive them. It seems the tide is turning on what social media is, and what it can realistically do.

We recommend reading this in-depth post on Buffer’s blog by Alfred Lua on his thoughts on what social media is really for: branding & engagement. He cites even more evidence on how social media has been failing to drive sales, but has a new identity in driving relationships between the brand and the customer. He argues that indirect sales result from these relationships, and we agree. Given enough time and money, it’ll always be worth working on your company’s social media presence. But who has enough time and money?

But maybe, just maybe, you’ll think twice before spending your limited marketing dollars and calories in 2018. It looks more and more likely that putting that dollar toward working with an influencer in your niche can have a bigger impact on your bottom line.

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Written by

Ruthie Carey
Ruthie Carey