Alistair Fitch, Co-Founder of Digital Natives Content


The influencer hypocrisy

Less than a year after calling out the trust crisis of influencer marketing, former Unilever CMO Keith Weed invested in the influencer network Tribe. In doing so, he demonstrated an inherent industry paradox.

Influencers have never been so popular, yet so distrusted. 

With the rise of fake followers and imitation sponsorship posts, there’s no question as to why authenticity has been recognised as the single biggest concern of influencer marketing. Yet 93% of marketers use it as part of their strategy, with Esteé Lauder famously dedicating 75% of their marketing budget on influencers.

In an attempt to foster more genuine engagement, the industry has been cleaning up its act, cracking down on fake followers and imposing clearer guidelines on declaring sponsored content. 

However, while this is an essential first step, it isn’t enough. To foster any real results, the content that is reaching genuine users needs to be perceived as authentic and trustworthy. 

With research showing that our trust lies most in people who we perceive to be most like ourselves (as opposed to popularity), influencer marketing has shifted from macro (large following, lower engagement) to micro (smaller following, higher engagement). But with transparency surrounding the declaration of sponsored posts becoming regulation, it’s clear people have wised up to the inherent authenticity of paid promoted content. In fact, only 4% of people trust what they see online.

This is also being reflected in the platforms themselves, who are de-prioritising sponsored content, instead pushing more ‘authentic’ posts to the top of people’s feeds.

But with influencer budgets set to increase by 65% in 2020, influencer marketing isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And now that it’s becoming evident even micro-influencers aren’t enough to cut through the noise of the inauthentic, we need to ask ourselves the following:

How do we create authentic influencer content that truly resonates, and how can we achieve this at scale?


Elements for success

The key is to take the changes that we’ve already been seeing to their logical conclusion.

At Digital Natives, we believe the future lies at the cross-section of three key elements: discovery of relevant talent, design of effective content and smart distribution. And for successful influencer marketing, we need to focus on exactly how we can use these to drive sustainable, long-term, authentic partnerships.

Where influencer marketing is currently going wrong is that it is lying in the grey area between advertising and organically created, authentic content by platform users. In order to draw out authentic engagement, we need to separate the two at their very conception.

Essential to this is talent. Rather than using macro, micro or even nano influencers, it’s time to harness existing communities and brand superfans, creating a network of ‘organic influencers’ who are genuine brand advocates and already creating content.

Although on paper this may appear to sacrifice reach, the impact of their collective influence cannot be underestimated. In his article 1,000 true brand fans, Duel founder Paul Archer provides interesting insight on this phenomenon, claiming brand superfans to be at once the most undervalued yet powerful engine of growth for your brand. It’s clear that when harnessed in the right way, this network can create a genuine – and irreplicable – buzz around the brand, fostering a passionate, wide-reaching community people want to be part of.

This organic community also uncovers new creative possibilities. Reaching out to your advocates not only cultivates a positive relationship with your brand’s biggest fans, but it puts a rich library of authentic content at your fingertips. 

With UGC increasingly becoming more popular than professional photos on social, there’s no doubt of the impact of sharing this content, even in an organic capacity. Plus, inviting these superfans to join your brand mission gives you the opportunity to guide this content for an even more powerful campaign. 

However, it has the potential to go much further.

Bringing this authentically created content back into the advertising sphere can be powerful. Distributing hero organic user content to a wider audience as part of a larger ad campaign can successfully amplify the positive effect of the passionate organic community on your brand.

Testament to this effect is Pip & Nut’s ‘Superfan’ campaign. Bringing real customer social posts together with the now iconic red squirrel, they demonstrated the power of harnessing the organic influencer. Even Apple’s ‘Shot on iPhone’ campaigns give a much more believable representation of the possibilities of their new cameras than a professionally taken photo ever could. 

By switching to organic influencers and taking into consideration these three elements of discovery, design and distribution, you have the foundations for uniting and building a genuine community of brand advocates with content that truly resonates.