Influencer marketing is by no means a new concept. Although the term ‘influencer’ was officially introduced into the English language in 2019, the concept has existed for some time. It’s a critical component of brand engagement and marketing, with the influencer marketing industry expected to reach a value of $15 billion by 2022. It is a widely used strategy for increasing the reach of promoted content, such as product launches and ongoing brand awareness, which can help strengthen engagement with current customers while also reaching new target audiences.
In the past, influencer marketing was less concerned with the short term. There was a greater emphasis on tactical campaigns and paid advertising, which aimed to develop a large number of relationships with targeted customer groups. It attempted to connect audiences with brands by utilizing trusted brand ambassadors. This resulted in a higher level of emotional engagement with the brand, something that traditional marketing and advertising are incapable of accomplishing.
However, the influencer market has become extremely saturated, and anyone with a remotely decent social media following qualifies as an influencer. They take part in paid or #gifted promotions for products that have shifted away from the original concept of long-term relationship building and are now focused on getting the product in front of the largest possible audience. The issue is that the trust once associated with influencers is eroding, and this thought led me to wonder whether genuine influencer marketing could exist in today’s fast-paced, attention-span-shortening world.
The murky landscape of traditional influencer marketing
Recent concerns have been raised about influencers sharing sponsored or branded content on social media without including appropriate disclaimers or #ad messaging. As a result, consumers begin to doubt whether the individual truly endorses a product when they lack an opinion – or, worse, have a negative opinion. UK regulations require all paid endorsements to include the hashtag #ad or a similar disclosure statement to indicate that they are an advertisement and not a piece of organic content. However, requirements vary by country, making it difficult for customers in a digital world to determine when something is truly coming from a place of genuine influence or where money has been exchanged.
Around 77.8 % of respondents to SocialPubli’s survey believe it is critical for influencers to disclose paid collaborations. According to research conducted by media agency UM, many internet users lack confidence in the information they see and read online, with only 8% believing the majority of information shared on social media is true, falling to 4% when it comes from influencers.
However, there may be a compelling reason for many to disregard the regulations (or guidance in some cases) and publish sponsored content without disclosing it. 47.3 percent believe that adding statements such as #ad can have an effect on the campaign’s overall results. This means that when customers are aware that something is an advertisement for a brand, they lose interest. This goes back to the original intent of influencer marketing, which was to build relationships based on honesty and trust – and it is for this reason that I believe authentic influence has a place.
The role of genuine influence
Rather than using ambiguous ‘traditional influencers,’ an alternative could be to use ‘best customers’ and ‘rising star employees’ as brand ambassadors to amplify content in the same way that influencers should, while maintaining a far more genuine brand feel. Genuine customers and employees who share the brand’s values foster a more genuine connection with consumers, which, in my opinion, is reflected in the way content is presented – with genuine passion, enthusiasm, and engagement with questions and feedback.
Customers can identify with brand ambassadors based on common experiences or demographic characteristics. Seeing employees genuinely support the brand can help build genuine trust. Although the reach will likely be less than that of traditional influencers, the objective here is not to get products in front of as many customers as possible, but to build strong, meaningful relationships with other best customers.
Andie, a DTC swimwear brand, has relied heavily on user-generated content (UGC) of customers wearing its products, as this content has consistently outperformed more professionally produced campaign images. Customers shared these images because they genuinely enjoy the products, rather than because they were compensated to do so.
For brands, this means obtaining the benefits of influencer marketing without incurring the exorbitant costs associated with it. Kim Kardashian has previously been reported to charge between $300,000 and $500,000 for a sponsored Instagram post – an amount that few brands can afford. However, by generating word-of-mouth engagement organically and simultaneously engaging employees, the organization can still build significant brand value.
To build a strong brand ambassador program, a number of factors must be considered and, ideally, organically developed within your business. The first is a sense of company culture – what motivates people to join and invest in the program. Apart from that, there will almost certainly need to be some special perks or incentives for ambassadors – these do not have to be monetary, but there must be something to sweeten the deal beyond exposure.
The organization must provide support, or at the very least some guidance and principles by which the ambassadors can operate, in order to ensure some level of consistency and alignment with the company’s values. While organic, authentic ambassadorship is built on trust, it’s prudent to establish some expectations and obligations – on both sides – regarding how the program will operate in order to avoid problems down the road, as well as clear descriptions of measurement, if any exist (although this is not a requirement in some cases).
A transparent selection process benefits the business by ensuring that the right people are involved and that there are clear reasons why individuals are chosen or not chosen.
Finally, and perhaps most organically, is the concept of community. Ideally, brand ambassadors work collaboratively rather than independently, as a group of individuals with common interests who can elevate the brand positioning through this process.
Consumers are growing increasingly resistant to advertising, particularly when it is forced into their feeds by influencers who have no genuine connection to the brand. With influencer fraud continuing to be a problem for marketers, even the incredible results generated by traditional influencer marketing do not make it a safe bet for long-term success, and one that creates a confusing environment for consumers. As a result, when it comes to product selection and value, we rely more on the authentic opinions of our friends, families, peers, brand ambassadors, and everyday people.
Genuine influencer marketing can be used by brands to build trustworthy, long-lasting, and engaging relationships with their customers – but only on the basis of advocacy, not endorsement.