“Influencers,” as we think of them today, are closer to reality TV stars than they are to your average consumer. While their 5,000-100,000 or more followers may provide the attention factor marketers seek, it turns out they’re not as influential as you’d think.
A recent report by my company, Stackla, revealed that only 23% of people believe content from celebrities and influencers is influential. Alternatively, 60% say content from friends or family influences their purchasing decisions.
As an industry, we’ve lost sight of the fact that social influencers are inherently inauthentic. Even if they’re true fans of your brand, the content they’re creating isn’t earned; it’s just a modern form of paid advertising and content creation.
Influencer marketing has become the social media equivalent of native advertising, and from my perspective, the impact is similar: incrementally improving soft metrics like awareness and engagement while failing to directly impact hard metrics like conversions and sales at scale.
The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) found that, while 75% of marketers currently employ influencer marketing activities, only 36% consider those efforts effective and 19% actually admitted they are “ineffective.”
Although the degree of influencer efficacy varies depending on the industry and marketing objectives, an epidemic of fake followers has undoubtedly plagued the entire influencer industry.
The prevalence of social bots and the purchase of fake followers has sowed mistrust among consumers and brands alike. On the consumer side, how can people trust someone is as credible and popular as their number of followers implies if there is a high probability those numbers are artificially inflated? And on the brand side, any reach, impressions or engagement reported by influencers leveraging fake or bot accounts are rendered fraudulent and essentially useless.
Earlier this year, Unilever made headlines by taking a vocal stance against the issue of influencer fraud when their chief marketing officer, Keith Weed, called for “urgent action” to “rebuild trust before it’s gone forever.”
Making a public commitment to stop working with influencers who buy followers, Weed stated, “The market gets undermined if people don’t trust the amount of followers someone has … I think trust is such an important part in brand and marketing. A brand without trust is just a product, the difference between the two is trust. We want to be able to work in trusted environments and that includes influencers.”
Customers: The Actual Influencers Brands Should Focus On
As cliche as it may sound, your customers are your best marketers. This has been true for centuries. It’s why word of mouth has always been one of the most effective forms of marketing. Based on my perspective, it’s truer now than ever before.
Smartphones and social media have exponentially increased individuals’ spheres of influence by democratizing and diversifying the way people reach and communicate with others. It used to be that when you shared a positive brand experience, it would only reach the people who you spoke to directly. Now, by simply posting your experience on social media, that organic endorsement can potentially reach hundreds (maybe thousands) of people.
And consumers are three times more likely to say that consumer-created content is both authentic and influential compared to that of a brand or an “influencer.” That’s right. It’s the hundreds and thousands of photos, videos and reviews that your customers are already posting online every day that people find the most trustworthy, relatable and influential.
What if, instead of spending tons of time and money on influencer campaigns, you put those efforts toward encouraging, capturing and showcasing the authentic user-generated content (UGC) consumers crave? Top brands that we work with have already adopted this approach, placing real visuals at the heart of their customer touch points.
The Solution To Marketers’ Biggest Challenges
Today’s consumers are savvy, skeptical and content-hungry. They have a world of information at their fingertips and can see right through perfectly posed influencer posts.
While social influencers can be a great way to kick-start a broader campaign or get more eyeballs on a new product, they’re often unable to build strong long-term relationships and scalably drive conversions and sales.
By strategically leveraging the abundant, free and compelling content your customers are organically creating about your brand, you’ll be able to effectively break through the noise and genuinely connect with consumers using a constant source of fresh, relevant and trusted content.
–By Mallory Walsh (Forbescommunications)