Consumers expect transparency and loyalty from brands but, at the same time, consumers are only getting better at ignoring ads and becoming skeptical and distrusting of branded content, and ultimately, brands. As such, we’ve reached an era where what consumers say online is now more powerful than what brands say to consumers. Why? It all boils down to trust, which stems from the perception of authenticity.
According to Edelman’s 2019 Trust Barometer, “a person like yourself” is the most trusted source of information for today’s consumers. This has driven mass adoption of brand co-messaging via influencers. Influencers are ordinary people living seemingly extraordinary lives, making their content relatable, yet aspirational. This is what draws people to their recommendations, engage in their conversations, and ultimately lead to the enlightenment of brand-to-consumer communication.
What Does Authenticity Mean to Influencer Marketers?
Authenticity has quickly become a buzz word in the world of influencer marketing. Influencers and marketers want to appear authentic to their audiences as authenticity is the key to having a lasting impact on consumers. Authentic influencer marketing pulls consumers in and makes them feel like they are a part of a community rather than just a fan of an influencer or brand.
Authenticity is a multifaceted term that, at its core, it involves showing up in a way that is true to one’s self, values, and point-of-view. There is an inherent rawness to authenticity which requires a certain degree of vulnerability.
In the case of influencer collaborations, authenticity often refers to an influencer’s ability to create content that flows naturally from the influencer and the brand/product is integrated into their social media presence in a way that looks and feels seamless. This is the opposite of a “product plug.” The creator is incorporating the brand and product into their lifestyle just as they would any other activity or product they include in their social media narrative.
What Does Scale Mean to Influencer Marketers?
Scale refers to the ability to expand a marketing strategy by proportional and more profitable means (typically by increasing reach and/or frequency). A brand might be able to achieve influencer economies of scale with authenticity by recruiting and activating influencers from their existing customer base, who may require less incentives investment because of higher brand affinity.
Here’s how to introduce scale to your influencer marketing campaigns and programs with authenticity in mind:
- Amplify Influencer-Generated Content (IGC) via paid media: One of the easiest ways to scale your influencer marketing program is to increase the reach and frequency of high-performing IGC to your target audience, by boosting or amplifying a post directly from the influencer’s feed, or repurposing that content via paid ads. Authenticity can be maintained best by leveraging lookalike audiences similar to the influencers’ audiences, or if the target audience has been exposed to the influencer before.
- Increase the volume of influencers activated: Whether you’re leveling up from five influencers to ten, 50 to 200, or hundreds-to-thousands, increasing the volume of influencers activated is another way to efficiently introduce scale to your influencer marketing efforts. Authenticity can be maintained by an always-on recruitment strategy that’s customer-first and works to build a community of creator talent that organically loves the brand.
- Increase IGC Syndication: Activating influencers across multiple platforms or working with a partner to syndicate IGC to multiple platforms. Authenticity can be maintained by focusing syndication to comparable platforms (ie. Ratings & Reviews content across retailers)
- Increase campaign frequency: similar to increasing the volume of influencers activated, activating influencers consistently over the course of the year (monthly vs. one- or two- campaigns). Authenticity can be maintained if not improved because the relationship with the influencer is deeper, as is the brand-influencer-audience relationship as the brand becomes more integrated with the influencer’s persona.
What Are the Biggest Challenges Marketers Face Surrounding Authenticity at Scale?
When it comes to creating authentic content at scale, many of today’s marketers find themselves falling short. From an influencer activation standpoint, many marketers struggle to identify the sheer number of influencers who can authentically weave brand collaborations into their content in a way that garners enthusiasm for both their followers and the brand’s followers.
Often times, marketers aren’t able to assess an influencer’s ability to create authentic and quality content from a quick scan of their Instagram feed. It can take multiple collaborations for marketers to strategically assess which influencers are motivated partners, who also understand the brand and can tell the story of their relationship with the brand in a way that resonates with their followers.
Aside from the obvious pitfalls that may be preventable to some extent (i.e., influencers who shout out brand A on Monday and their competitor, brand B, on Tuesday) sometimes there is the issue of an influencer’s content just falling flat and garnering lower engagement than their other posts. It may take a few runs to understand who a brand’s most authentic, top-performing influencers are.
How Can Marketers Overcome These Challenges?
While it’s up to marketers to make sure they are properly communicating their brand within the brief, even before that, proper selection, vetting, and validation is paramount. In order for marketers to truly scale this process, an influencer marketing technology with that supports an ‘always-on’ recruitment strategy is essential. Having an ‘always-on’ influencer recruitment strategy enables brands to leverage every touchpoint as an opportunity for influencer engagement through owned and paid media channels.
When evaluating and vetting influencers for authenticity, it’s important to consider if the influencers a brand is reviewing talks about the brand’s competitors. If they are, this isn’t always a bad thing – depending on the industry, this could mean the influencer is truly a fan of the industry, which could be a good thing to capitalize on. However, in other cases, it could mean they are not likely to be loyal. It’s also important to choose someone who is more than just a brand spokesperson who only posts #sponsored content because they won’t be viewed as authentic to followers.
Once influencers are selected, marketers need to make sure they are properly communicating their brand within the brief by providing details on the language and types of imagery they are hoping to see in the influencers’ content. It’s important for marketers to invest the necessary time into including as much relevant detail as possible into the campaign brief – since this is their opportunity to sell the influencer on why the product/brand is worth getting excited about.
Ideally, brands should choose influencers whose content supports their own aesthetic. For example, if a brand’s creative palette includes clean, bright hues, an influencer who favors darker photography simply won’t be as valuable to the brand if repurposing the influencer’s content is the brand’s goal. It’s much better to choose influencers who are a creative fit from the beginning than it is to ask the influencer to alter their own aesthetic to fit within your own brand guidelines.
However, brands do need to be somewhat flexible with their creative guidelines to ensure that influencers can be creative. In partnering with influencers, brands are ultimately asking them to interpret their brand with their own creative lens, not limited to fit within the brand’s predefined parameters. While it is possible to have influencers “white label” content that does follow the brand’s guidelines, in that case, the value is cost and/or time savings – not the authenticity of the influencer’s content.
For especially important partnerships (i.e., flagship holiday campaign or new product launch), using a “mood board” that is inspiring will be more likely to translate into content that hits the mark than a vague assignment that assumes the influencers’ creativity will be enough to result in effective collaboration.
Conversations around authenticity aren’t going away anytime soon. As the influencer marketing industry grows, being creative while also staying true to brand values will continue to be important. Selecting and forming the correct partnerships with influencers is key to brands maintaining authenticity in the eyes of today’s consumers.