The return to real influence

“Authenticity is a linchpin: its absence negates any chance of genuine influence taking place”

The Return to real Influence

By Katie Palmer-Rose, managing director, Social Soup.

Over the past few years, many brands have embraced social-focused influencer channels to harness the power of individuals with massive social media followings. But in their rush to leverage the influencers, they’ve run into a critical challenge – authenticity. The content landscape has become saturated with overly polished and sanitised influencer endorsements that lack the fundamental element of trust.

Influence fails when it tries to manipulate the narrative or control the conversation, and people nowadays can far more easily pick the genuine sells from the sell-outs. What too many marketers don’t understand is that the secret to success lies in creating conditions that allow genuine word of mouth to flow naturally through audiences at scale.

Like it or not, influence is an essential force in our lives. It’s what compels us to try a new restaurant based on a friend’s glowing recommendation, to embrace a ridiculous new hobby, or to invest in a wallet-breaking facial serum. The innate human tendency to trust the opinions of people we know and respect has been the bedrock of our decision-making since, well, ever. So, holding a drink up to the sky or a beauty product flat-lay just won’t cut it anymore.

Influence isn’t just about putting a product in the hands (and social feeds) of someone with a large following; it’s about making consumers feel like they’re receiving a recommendation from a friend, from someone who parallels their values.

The new perspective on influence is one that demands a return to authenticity. Authenticity is a linchpin: its absence negates any chance of genuine influence taking place. A Stackle report from 2021 found that 88% of consumers think authenticity is important when deciding what brands they like and support. In a world where superficiality is no longer acceptable, brands must showcase their true selves behind the carefully curated facade.

Authenticity is a shortcut to trust. In turn, trust cuts through the ever-growing clutter of information. The new perspective on influence is actually harking back to recognise the strength of word of mouth.

Personal interactions and word-of-mouth recommendations have shaped everyone’s choices and decisions. In 2021, Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising study found that 88% of consumers trust word-of-mouth referrals from those they know more than any other form of marketing messaging.

When we talk about word of mouth, we often think of friends gathering, people sharing recommendations, or the early days of social media when we hoped things would “go viral”. (Let’s be honest, we still sometimes do.)

In reality, word of mouth has consistently been the primary driver of discovery and trust, transcending categories and age groups. It doesn’t have to be a random outcome; we have the ability to create conditions that enable word of mouth at scale, both online and offline.

Cue the return to real influence. It’s a collective course correction. As the influencer landscape has become inundated with overly polished content, people want something more authentic, something that resonates on a personal level.

For marketers, returning to real content involves some planning and a multifaceted approach across a few key points:

1. Audience-centric: Start by deeply understanding your audience. How do they navigate their daily lives? What constitutes genuine social proof for them?

2. Strategic channel planning: Identify the influence channels that naturally capture your audience’s attention and are integrated into their daily routines, including trials, offline engagement, reviews, social media, content, and performance-driven amplification.

3. Message relevance: Tailor your messages to resonate with your audience at each touchpoint. Avoid generic approaches that breed sameness.

4. Communication sparks: Create communication “sparks”, that is, product insights, consumer needs and educational pieces that are highly relevant to your audience. Personalisation is key, and micro-influencer and nano programs can help diversify the stories and product messages you share.

5. Measuring return on influence: Develop or find technology partners with robust measurement systems that track the return on influence, including conversion rates, sales figures, reach, sentiment shifts, behaviour changes, and more. It can also entail tracking how conversations ripple through the offline world after a large-scale launch program, or measuring the actions taken by followers of authentic influencers on social media.

In an era where we continually browse through endless options and brands fight for our attention, nothing matches the authenticity and trust of a friend personally sharing a product or experience. Keeping your brand at the forefront of influence marketing means embracing change, capturing new audiences on emerging platforms, and leveraging evolving trends. But the anchors that ensure success are relevance, trust, and relatability.