Influencer marketing: to trust or not to trust?

All articles | Strategy
Published Jan 22, 2020 | Written by Katie Hughes

New research by Gartner predicts that by 2023, companies will reduce their budget allocation for influencer marketing by a third.

In their latest report, Gartner reveal that consumers are losing trust in brands and entities they don’t personally know and are instead turning to family, friends and local businesses to provide advice and information.

What’s driving this erosion of trust?

Are celebrities giving influencer marketing a bad name?

Celebrity endorsements have been around for decades, but in the age of social media, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the number of products being pushed at us on a daily basis. And unfortunately, it's not uncommon for these celebrity influencers to be called out for advertising poor quality products or for misrepresenting them.

In the worst cases, influencers can make people believe something is authentic and truthful when it is in fact solely the result of a brand deal.

Familiar with the Fyre Festival disaster? The ill-fated "festival" was promoted by multiple celebrities and influencers (including Kendall Jenner, who was paid a whopping $250k fee) with no proof of concept. As it  is now apparent, the $1,500 to £12,000 tickets didn't buy audiences anything like the experience they had been promised. No one in their right mind would pay that much money to eat cold sandwiches and sleep on rain-soaked mattresses in disaster-relief tents.

It seems consumers are now seeing through these celebrity endorsements as the financial transactions they are. A recent YouGov survey revealed that just 4% of people say they trust influencers on social media.

The rise of influencer fraud

Research shows that 71% of consumers in the UK and US will unfollow an influencer if they find out they have bought followers. This shows just how easy it is to lose trust in the industry.

Influencer fraud can occur in many ways, including purchasing fake followers and creating fake personas. Recent estimates suggest the problem cost businesses $1.3 billion in 2019 alone.

But big brands are becoming wise to the problem and putting pressure on social networking sites to do more to stop fraudulent accounts and activity. Unilever are one company who have called for changes to the way social networks handle bots and fake followers. In 2018 they announced they will not work with influencers who buy followers and urged other brands to look at how they avoid fraud on social media too.

Do people really not trust influencers?

The good news is that people are far more likely to trust content creators who have built trust and engagement through their social media network than celebrities.

  • 92% of consumers trust an influencer more than an advertisement or traditional celebrity endorsement
  • 70% of teenagers with YouTube accounts say they relate to content creators on the platform more than traditional celebrities

Influencer marketing with ‘real’ people remains a powerful tool for brands to raise awareness of their products and services.

  • 33% of people say influencers are trusted sources when making shopping decisions, while just 17% trusted friends and family for shopping recommendations
  • 34% of consumers say they are influenced or strongly influenced to purchase products or services based on social media influencers’ content.

The value of authenticity

Consumers today are demanding more authentic relationships. Brands are therefore reaching out to content creators who have built a social following through informative or inspiring content, and who have greater engagement and a more trusting relationship with their followers.

Running campaigns with an influencer who specialises in your industry can be huge for brand awareness and engagement. These individuals have built up a community of people from their own interests. Although they have a smaller following than celebrities, campaigns can be cultivated more organically and appear more authentic as a result.

Gartner acknowledge that influencer marketing won’t go away entirely, and advise that “marketers should shift to small-scale influencers with 25,000 or fewer followers that are well aligned with the brand’s values”. Why? Because these influencers “have more engaged audiences and they post more often, creating an accessible, focused persona that mimics the experience consumers have with the providers they trust in their communities.”

Getting B2B influencer marketing right

Identifying the right influencers for your market, brand, and product or service is key to the success of your influencer marketing.

In the B2B world, the real influencers are a buyer’s peers, colleagues and recognised industry experts. Business software provider SAP uses top corporate executives and industry experts as influencers, often inviting them along to their events to increase social engagement and brand awareness.

According to a report by Takumi, provider of an Instagram campaign platform, exclusive partnerships are becoming more common, with companies looking to establish long-term partnerships with influencers they can build a closer relationship with over a longer period of time. If your buyers see their peers and industry experts posting about your products or services organically, it reinforces their affinity for the product or service and establishes them as a trusted and authentic source of information.

B2B marketing relies on authority, trust, honesty and sincerity. This means you need influencers who are already sympathetic to your products or services. And because they are a better fit, they are more likely to convey the right message than a paid influencer would. To find the right people to work with, begin by creating influencer personas in the same way you might create buyer personas.

FREE eBook: The Manufacturer's Guide to Developing and Using Buyer Personas

You can also turn your clients into influencers. Technology company Okta leveraged their customers for their B2B influencer marketing campaigns and created a series of compelling videos where their customers shared their success stories of working with them. When prospective B2B buyers see for themselves how a solution is helping other businesses, it builds trust and makes the decision making process easier.

And how about your employees? Energy company Landis+Gyr leveraged employees active on social media to spread the word about their values. One campaign yielded over 1500 engagements, 1800 content shares and earned more than $10,800.

In a world where social media is brimming with #ad and insincerity, trust is everything. The success of your influencer marketing campaign relies on establishing long-term partnerships with trusted and authoritative individuals in your industry, who can influence through authenticity.

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Published by Katie Hughes January 22, 2020
Katie Hughes