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My line of work involves some travel. Not enough to complain about, and going to other places always gives me a sense of perspective. Usually, the perspective I gain justifies my reasons for staying in Arkansas.

After business hours, I try to find a quiet, comfortable watering hole to grab a burger and sample local brews. I am one of those people that doesn't mind eating alone. In fact, after a day of answering questions and being around crowds, I like a chance to enjoy some quiet time. A nearby hotel is better because it reduces the chances of bumping into someone from the same conference. Inevitably, though, someone comes around to strike up a conversation.

This time, a young hipster type plopped down next to me. He asked what beer I was drinking, and I replied that it was an IPA from one of the local breweries. So he orders the same. Then he decides to keep the conversation going and asks what brought me to this area. I tell him I formulate enzyme-based digestive supplements and am exhibiting at a conference. I've been down this road enough to anticipate the next few questions: "Oh, wow, what are enzymes?" "Can they help me with (fill in the blank) with whatever health issue I have?" "Do you have any with you I can try?"

Then the next step is for me to show some interest in them, so I ask him about his line of work.

"Oh, I'm an influencer!"

Now, this was a new one for me so I prompt him for more info.

"Yeah, I basically look for businesses that I can support using social media. I offer to promote them with a lot of positive reviews and posts on Instagram and FaceBook. I use my own podcast series to do interviews with them to promote their business or service. I call myself an 'influencer' because I influence the way the public perceives the business I'm promoting."

"Interesting," I reply. "But how do you get compensated?"

"That's where the fun part comes in," he said with a grin. "I basically get services for free. I can stay at some resort, then offer to influence on their behalf in exchange for the bill. If they object, I remind them that negative reviews on social media can cause a bad effect on their income stream. They argue for a while, but then we make a deal."

I was a little confused.

"So, you don't have an up-front contract with these businesses?"

"Oh, right, sometimes we do, but I got tired of being turned down so often. I found it easier to buy a product, do a video, then tell the manufacturer I could influence the public in a 'good way' or a 'bad way.' The 'good way' happens when I get a check to cover the cost of the product."

I thought for a moment. "Isn't that a little like extortion, though?"

Mr. Influencer laughed and replied, "No, it's just business. Better for them to pay a little and lose some profit then get totally wiped out by a bad review. The trick for me, though, is to avoid the Big Guys. They have the lawyers and resources to go after you. The little companies or start-ups don't, and they have a lot more to lose. They are the ones I target. Hey, you sure you don't have some of your enzymes I could try?"

"No, sorry, I'm all out. Tell you what, wait here, and I'll bring you several free bottles if you will pay my tab while I run up to my room."

"Sure, no problem, thanks!" I told the waitress on the way out that my "friend" would pay my tab. And I didn't come back. The guy was just a bad influence on me, I guess.

-- Devin Houston is the president/CEO of Houston Enzymes. Send comments or questions to Opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 04/10/2019

Print Headline: 'Oh, I'm an influencer!'

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