I’m Not an “Influencer”

by Phil La Duke

I read an article in Entrepreneur yesterday about the battle between an Irish restaurateur/hotel owner and a British blogger.  The blogger it seems had solicited a free weekend stay at the establishment to which the restaurateur in exchange for positive comments about his establishment on her blog.  Not only did he refuse but he did so in grand fashion. At first he told the blogger in no uncertain terms that that was not the way he conducted business, but when blogger took to the blogosphere to exact her revenge the restaurateur retaliated to such a hilarious extent that the blogger started to get threats and harassment from the public who found her attempts to extort free stuff in exchange for a good review repugnant.  I should point out that this blogger had no connection with Entrepreneur, which has very strict policies on accepting remuneration for mentioning a company, person, or product, but while he hasn’t come right out and said it, I’m pretty sure my editor would box my ears before barring me from submitting to the magazine for life and telling everyone in the publishing community that I was a literati extortionist.  The story was interesting because a new breed is emerging the influencer.  If you are  famous in your field you might just be an influencer—a highly sought and even courted trend setter.

I have a strict moral code against reviewing products, paid promotions, or even accepting advertisements; it just feels…wrong. Even so, I get a lot of offers of money for EVERY mention of a company, person, or product; these offers are made to me by the dumbest of marketers because for the most part nobody reads my stuff and those who do have generally already made up their minds as to how they feel about it based on their feelings toward me. I am not an influencer, or maybe I am an anti-influencer which in its own weird way is an influencer…were down the rabbit hole here people.

So what does this have to do with Safety?  Plenty.  We are coming up on conference season and literally tens of thousands of would be influencers are putting together abstracts to speak at this conference or that all with the singular purpose in mind: to influence you.  Full disclosure: I have already been accepted at the Michigan Safety Conference (in both the Agriculture and the General Industry tracts) and at the American Society of Safety Engineers’ National Conference.  What will I be selling? Nothing really.  Writing and speaking are important to me and while my outspoken borderline boorishness is seen by some as a breath of fresh air for everyone who feels that way there are twenty who would like to see me flayed alive because I made a disparaging remark about a pyramid.  The process for being a speaker at these events is arduous and the selection committee range from altruistic professionals who care deeply about their craft to thick-headed mouthbreathers with old scores to settle who will never allow me to darken their podiums again. C’est la vie.

Bloggers, magazine contributors, professional speakers…they all want to sell something, even if it’s how smart, urban, and witty they are, and the hardscrabble trick of it is to find out what it is and whether or not it’s worth buying BEFORE you accidentally buy it only to realize it’s the worst thing you’ve ever purchased and donate to charity. For the record I am selling myself… I am building a brand so that I can run for office someday.  Probably dog catcher (if it was good enough for the BTK Killer it’s good enough for me.)

Another point I should make is that the conferences that I mentioned above specifically forbid anything that even looks like it might be promotional in nature and if you violate that sacred rule you will never speak at another one of their conferences again.  It’s a good rule.  There are still conferences out there where the speeches are basically infomercials for someone’s latest book or video which is in itself just a retread of their last four books. It’s tough to condemn the conference organizers for giving these people a venue to speak, some bring in a thousand visitors (many of whom gripe to me that it was just another informercial.) PT Barnum had a net worth of $8.5 million when he died (221,989,041.82 in today’s dollars) so even if something SEEMs wrong-headed and stupid, you won’t go broke overestimating stupidity.

Which is not to say that people who attend conferences, read promotional white papers, or self serving articles are stupid, (but I’m not saying they’re smart either) but we have to be careful of what we as consumers consume.) And most of all remember there is no “fake news” just lies and the truth and the people who can tell the two apart.