Influencer marketing is not a new concept by any stretch of the imagination. Although the term ‘influencer’ was not officially coined until 2019, the concept has existed for some time. It’s an integral part of brand engagement and marketing, with the influencer marketing industry expected to reach a $15 billion valuation by 2022. It is a widely used strategy for expanding the reach of promoted content, such as product launches and ongoing brand awareness. In which, it can help strengthen engagement with existing customers while also reaching out to new target audiences.
Influencer marketing used to be less concerned with the short term. There was a greater emphasis on tactical campaigns and paid advertising with the goal of developing a large number of relationships with specific customer groups. It attempted to establish a connection between audiences and brands through the use of trusted brand ambassadors. This resulted in a higher level of emotional engagement with the brand, which is something that traditional marketing and advertising cannot achieve.
The influencer market, on the other hand, has become extremely saturated. And anyone with a remotely decent social media following qualifies as an influencer. They participate in paid or #gifted promotions for products that have shifted away from the original concept of long-term relationship building. They are now focused on reaching the broadest possible audience. The issue is that trust in influencers is eroding. It has led many to wonder whether genuine influencer marketing could exist in today’s fast-paced, attention-span-shortening world.
The murky landscape of traditional influencer marketing
Concerns have recently been raised about influencers sharing sponsored or branded content without including appropriate disclaimers or #ad messaging on social media. As a result, when an individual lacks an opinion – or, worse, has a negative opinion – consumers begin to doubt whether the individual truly endorses the product. All paid endorsements in the United Kingdom must include the hashtag #ad or a similar disclosure statement to indicate that they are not organic content. However, requirements vary by country, making it difficult for customers in a digital world to determine whether something is truly coming from a legitimate source or has been exchanged for money.
Around 77.8% of respondents to SocialPubli’s survey believe disclosure of paid collaborations is critical for influencers. According to UM’s research, 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 compelling reasons for many to flout the regulations (or, in some cases, guidance) and publish sponsored content without disclosing it. 47.3 percent believe that including statements such as #ad can improve the overall results of the campaign. This means that when customers become aware that something is being used to promote a brand, their interest wanes. This harkens back to the original purpose of influencer marketing, which was to foster relationships founded 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,’ a more authentic brand feel could be achieved by using ‘best customers’ and ‘rising star employees’ as brand ambassadors to amplify content in the same way that influencers should. Genuine customers and employees who share the brand’s values foster a more genuine connection with consumers, which is reflected, in my opinion, in the way content is presented – with genuine passion, enthusiasm, and engagement in response to questions and feedback.
Customers may relate to brand ambassadors through shared experiences or demographic characteristics. Seeing employees who genuinely support the brand can contribute to the development of genuine trust. While the reach will almost certainly be less than that of traditional influencers, the goal here is not to get products in front of as many customers as possible, but to develop strong, meaningful relationships with other best customers.
Andie, a direct-to-consumer swimwear brand, has relied heavily on user-generated content (UGC) of customers wearing its products, which has consistently outperformed more professionally produced campaign images. Customers shared these images voluntarily, rather than in exchange for compensation.
This enables brands to reap the benefits of influencer marketing without incurring the associated exorbitant costs. Kim Kardashian previously charged between $300,000 and $500,000 for an Instagram sponsored post – an amount that few brands can afford. However, by organically generating word-of-mouth engagement and engaging employees at the same time, the organization can still build significant brand value.
A number of factors must be considered and, ideally, organically developed within your business in order to develop a strong brand ambassador program. The first is an understanding of the organization’s culture – what motivates people to join and invest in the program. Apart from that, there will almost certainly be some additional perks or incentives for ambassadors – they 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 guidelines and principles for ambassadors to follow, in order to ensure some level of consistency and alignment with the company’s values. While organic, authentic ambassadorship is built on trust, it is prudent to establish some expectations and obligations – on both sides – regarding how the program will operate to avoid future complications, 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 appropriate people are involved and that the reasons for choosing or not choosing individuals are clear.
Finally, and possibly most naturally, there is the concept of community. Brand ambassadors should ideally work collaboratively rather than independently, as a group of individuals with shared interests who can elevate the brand positioning through this process.
Consumers are becoming increasingly averse to advertising, particularly when it is pushed into their feeds by influencers with no genuine connection to the brand. With influencer fraud remaining a problem for marketers, even the incredible results generated by traditional influencer marketing do not guarantee long-term success, creating a confusing environment for consumers. As a result, we rely more on the authentic opinions of our friends, families, peers, brand ambassadors, and everyday people when it comes to product selection and value.
Genuine influencer marketing can be used by brands to develop trustworthy, long-lasting, and engaging relationships with their customers – but only as an advocacy strategy, not as an endorsement strategy.