Influencer Marketing and Authenticity: Finding the Best Fit for your Brand
By Sarah Burton, communications intern
The term “influencer” is becoming more and more common in our lexicons, and the field of influencer marketing is only going to continue to grow and evolve overtime. But amongst a sea of hundreds of thousands of influencers, it can be difficult to narrow down who exactly is a good investment for your brand. As part of my masters dissertation I carried out research on how influencers build trust with their audience. If you want to maximise the effectiveness of the influencers you select for a campaign, here’s what my research suggests to look out for when you’re doing background research on possible candidates:
Online behaviour, which can be seen through posts and interactions the influencer has with their audience, must be consistent with what the audience expects from the influencer’s personality, as the audience’s trust will waver if they perceive the language used as being a script from a brand. What this means for brands is that the personality of the influencer must align with your brand’s chosen tone of voice and image. Being an influencer who discusses the topic of your brand’s product isn’t quite enough, and you need to be willing to trust the influencer to construct messages in a way they see fit, as they know their followers best.
In the age of “call-out culture” where social media users viciously vilify others for wrongdoings in an attempt to “cancel” them, you’re bound to find an influencer who has been involved in some kind of scandal (anyone remember Bloggers Unveiled?). However, that does not necessarily mean that working with them is out of the question. The study found that allowing yourself to be held accountable for wrongdoings would lead to people respecting the influencer more.
3. Consistent engagement
An influencer having a content schedule is usually a good sign of a solid investment, however this is not a requirement as engagement with followers just needs to be consistent. If that means that they make Instagram grid posts with gaps of days but post stories every single day, or never post stories and only post on Tuesdays and Thursdays, that could still be considered consistent engagement with their audience. It’s more important to pinpoint instances of influencers interacting with their audience or communicating with them frequently rather than focusing on follower counts, especially as those with smaller followings tend to have a higher followers-to-likes ratio.
Being transparent with one’s audience is something that influencers should strive to do in order to maintain trust amongst all research participants. Any instances of not being transparent with followers about interactions with brands is often attributed to the grey areas in Irish laws surrounding sponsored digital content, so as a brand it is crucial to help influencers in regards to this by specifying exactly how you want them to disclose the sponsorship. If an influencer generally states very clearly that they are working with a brand, whether that be via receiving free gifts or having an affiliate link with a brand, they are likely to be a good investment.
5. Commitment to Topic
While only posting about one thing is perceived as essential for macro-influencers, it is less important to micro-influencers. Therefore, who the influencer is as a person is less important to a macro-influencer’s personal brand than the influencers with smaller followings. If followers know what to expect from an influencer, that level of consistency will make them more inclined to place trust in them. Keep in mind when reaching out to influencers that, depending on their level, your product must be relevant to either the influencer’s personality and interests, or the topic they most frequently post about.
The majority of the influencers surveyed stated that they would mention to their followers in passing if they were not feeling happy. This is in order to not come across as if they are putting on a persona, as that ingenuity can damage trust. While showing vulnerability can lead to the audience placing trust in the influencer, it is usually not advised by other influencers to be something that is overdone. In terms of what this means for brands, if an influencer is perceived to be “using” mental health problems as an excuse or to gain followers out of pity, they are not the kind of influencer that would evoke a positive association with your brand. However, discussing mental health and personal issues can be a powerful tool for creating trust with followers, and therefore should not be overlooked.
Having official qualifications in one’s field was found to be somewhat unimportant; instead the perception of being an expert in one’s field is more crucial. However, while this can aid in building trust with an audience, it is not as essential to maintaining that relationship with one’s followers as other factors discussed. Still, depending on the campaign you are running it would be no harm to seek out experts on the subject!
In regards to discussing ethical issues, this can be used by influencers to gain trust with followers, so long as not relied on too heavily. While this can help to enforce the authenticity of the influencer’s personality, in this sense it can also have its drawbacks. The general perception is that social media is for “easy reading” and that audiences typically do not care about those kinds of opinions from social media influencers anyway. While speaking on topics like this is perceived as not being “brand-friendly”, depending on the severity of the topic it should not affect your brand’s reputation, and therefore these influencers do not necessarily have to be ruled out completely.