"Influencers" is an overused word in the world of tourism marketing, especially in the travel blogging community.
Just because an individual has 100,000 followers on Twitter, or 100,000 fans of a Facebook page, or captures hundreds of likes every time they post a picture on Instagram, does not necessarily mean they are changing behaviour at scale but may have some impact on a handful of consumers opting for a travel product.
In short, there should be some kind of degree of influence, rather than the catch-all "influencer" tag.
But, still, the term "influencer" is likely to be spread around for some time given that it's become the metric-of-choice in the low-level marketing strategy between individuals and brands (remember, Expedia Inc and Priceline Group spent around $6 billion on marketing in 2015 - Google et al are still considered the places where influence is really made).
One such company that is trying to dispel the myth of "influence" is Hecktic Media, a digital agency that works on campaigns for brands by using so-called "influencers".
It wanted to examine the concept of "engagement" on the Instagram photo-sharing platform, primarily by looking at where the average level of interaction between a blogger and their army of fans really is.
By looking at over 200 leading travel bloggers ("influencers") in North America and what happens when they post a picture, Hecktic was able to see how often a picture was "liked" by others and who had the best engagement levels.
The first thing to note is the poor level of engagement, generally, coming it at a lowly 3.48%.
Hecktic says it actually expects this figure to drop even more when the full impact of changes to Instagram's feed of content (switching from time-line to "best" photos) are fed into similar tests.
But its attention was obviously drawn to what it calls "the outliers" in the graph - those with apparent engagement levels far higher than the average, with some even close to 30%.
The results of its additional analysis may not be surprising to those that have viewed terms such as "reach" with a fair degree of scepticism over the years - but brands without the ability to scrutinise who they might work with would do well to take note.
Hecktic found that a large number of the "engaged" followers to some accounts (it didn't name and shame, sadly) are just blank accounts.
The report says:
"Sure, all of those 'likes' on a photo may look impressive, but in this case, there are no real people behind those fake accounts allegedly 'liking' a photo.
"That is completely empty engagement and worthless to any brand or destination looking to reach an influencer’s audience. If it’s fake, it’s worthless."
In addition to the fake accounts is the use - sometimes in tandem - of bots.
To test out the theory on a potential "influencer" partner, Hecktic says brands should set a notification on an individual's Instagram account so that they are alerted every time a new image is posted.
"Watch immediately to see who the first few people are who like the photo.
"If it is the same people every time, then they are likely a part of a bot service that automatically likes and/or comments on other accounts so that they can get the same automated engagement in return."
Hecktic warns that despite the apparent engagement coming from a legitimate account, using it as a metric is invalid, not least because is probably "liked" unseen.
So, not influential at all, in fact - just reasonably smart at gaming the system to portray immense popularity (aka influence) at a superficial level.
NB:Instagram image via Pixabay.