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Influencer Marketing: Are Influencers Even Influential?

Erin Ollila
September 25, 2019

3 minute read

Influencer marketing is expected to be a 6.5 million dollar industry in 2019. Many brands are putting heavy weight behind influencers as a method of advertising, but how do consumers feel about the recommendations they share?

According to the “One Size Doesn’t Fit All research study by Oracle in partnership with Jeanne Bliss, influencers aren’t being too influential. In fact, a staggering 86% of respondents admitted they didn’t trust influencers or bloggers. Why? Because consumers want trust to be earned; they’re seeing through paid advertisements and purchasing an influencer’s endorsement.

Here’s a look at how some influencer marketing programs have gone astray, and how some are getting it right.

What’s the problem with influencer marketing?

Word of mouth has always played a large role in sales. Family, friends, coworkers, and even strangers sway decisions on whether to purchase something or not, or what brand or options should be bought. You’d think that high-profile celebs-of-sorts would have a massive influence on what consumers are buying. So, what gives?

Let’s first consider the platform influencers are using to speak to their audiences: social media. According to the research, while consumers are active on social media (88% reported having accounts), less than a quarter admitted to trusting ads on social media. Not only are social media users concerned about their own privacy, but they’re also aware that they’re being, what the report calls, “spoon-fed by algorithms”.

Consumers know brands are paying influencers to share their products, but also buying targeted advertisements on social platforms. They’re exhausted from the amount of “sponsored” posts in their feed, and because sales-related content is constantly being forced on them, consumers are wary to trust anyone’s digital recommendations.

For influencers to really be influential, they need to earn the know, like, and trust factor with their audiences. However, as it suggests in the report: trust can’t be bought. And when consumers see big name celebrities endorsing products, they can’t help but wonder how trustworthy that endorsement really is, especially when consumers are aware the influencer is being paid well to share the product with their followers.

What’s age got to do with it?

Does age play a role in whether or not consumers trust influencer marketing? Not by much. While 96% of Baby Boomers responded to distrusting influencers, which is to be expected, Gen Z, the most trusting of all generations, also followed suit, with 77% indicating they didn’t trust the marketing efforts of influencers and bloggers.

The fact that consumers, regardless of their age, are wary of social recommendations means that successful influencer marketing programs are likely those that place focus and effort into building trust, instead of simply funneling more money into endorsements.

What type of influencer marketing will work?

Here’s the thing about trust: while it can’t be bought, it can be earned. Even though consumers feel wary about taking recommendations from online influencers, brands can forge partnerships that will build trust with their audiences in the future. To do so, businesses can partner with influencers who live the lifestyle of the brand. For example, an athletic line might partner with and share content from yoga instructors or personal trainers. Furniture stores may consider highlighting the work of interior designers or home builders.

Pop culture influencers still have the opportunity to sway consumers’ minds too, but only if brands embrace relationships not built on sales, but instead by sharing valuable content, such as a kitchenware line hosting a weekly show of cooking classes with popular chefs as guests.

Consumers get enough direct recommendations from the people in their lives who they already know, like, and trust. For influencers to make an impact, trust must come first. The sales will follow.

Erin Ollila
Erin Ollila believes in the power of words and how a message can inform – and even transform – its intended audience. After a 12+ year career in human resources, she's jumped headfirst into digital strategy. Erin is a geek for SEO and all things social media.
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