The words “murky at best, and fraudulent at worst” still hang in the air over Influencer Marketing. Two years on from Mark Pritchard’s scathing speech on the state of affairs in digital advertising and it seems little has managed to move the needle as far as social media stars are concerned.
This isn’t for want of trying. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) recently secured formal commitments from 16 celebrities, including Ellie Goulding, Rita Ora and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, to ensure they clearly state if they have been paid or received any gifts or loans of products which they endorse.
Transparency over brand affiliations is certainly a step in the right direction, however, it doesn’t address any slip in the quality of content being produced among influencers.
Despite its popularity, our research found that 62% of consumers now feel that influencer content takes advantage of impressionable audiences by being too materialistic and misrepresenting real life. With both Hulu and Netflix’s Fyre Festival documentaries, there’s good context to see why these perceptions hold.
While changing the nature of influencer content is no overnight fix, the silver lining here is that an immediate solution is already being highlighted by customer behavior.
Can Customers Bail-Out Influencers?
Put simply, consumers want authenticity. At the core, Influencer Marketing is really intended to be about word-of-mouth, a timeless tradition of sharing our latest discoveries and preferences. However, it is clear that the current use of influencers can stray from that value of authenticity, as rising investment and sales expectations bring the believability of influencers into question.
Trust comes from real people. As such, more than three-quarters of customers say they’re turning to the reviews, images, videos and blogs generated directly by their fellow customers on brand and retailer pages to verify what an influencer is saying and remove bias.
In fact, our research shows over one-third of UK respondents identify a greater use of consumer-generated content, such as customer reviews as the most effective solution for the drop in the quality of influencer content.
How Can Brands Help?
One of the greatest challenges facing influencers is expectations. Expectations from both audiences and brands have only risen in recent years and now they present influencers with something of a Catch-22.
According to our findings, 49% of UK consumers now expect new content on a daily basis from the influencers they follow. Given the most popular category of influencer being entertainers—that is comedians, gamers and sports personalities—this puts enormous pressure on production to remain authentic and high-quality.
It is clear that if influencers are to meet the production schedules they are beholden to and at the same time appease brand requirements, they need to start sharing the workload. One route to this end is through sharing some of the workload with consumers. After all, there’s little in essence that distinguishes these two groups.
Crucially it is for brands to work in support of their influencer partners to strike the right balance between promotional content and the results that can reasonably be expected and achieved. Customer-generated content is a cornerstone of an effective marketing strategy and one inextricably linked to the process of giving consumers the confidence to buy.
As the relationship between brands and influencers matures, finding ways of augmenting and curating what true, customer content brands can generate is paramount. This will be the key to changing wider perceptions of Influencer Marketing. Only when audiences feel the personalities they follow are free to create their own, authentic content, will brand partnerships earn consumer trust.