It’s simple: consumers want authentic, transparent content from brands, something that has only been amplified as people live – more than ever – on their smart devices in the age of COVID-19. 

Given this change, the influencer marketing faces a tension, between a platform for authentic consumer voices while also adhering to brand values and standards. As investment in influencer marketing continues to increase, there are two critical questions that need to be considered: what is the current state of influencer marketing and how can brands elevate to produce more engaging content for their audiences?

Influencing the market

In 2020, influencer marketing is booming with the industry worth 6.5bn USD last year globally, a 41% increase from 2018. This has raised concerns for many around the authenticity of content and vulnerability of certain audiences. And this concern has been amplified in light of COVID-19 and the resulting lockdown. Why?

With nearly half of the UK’s consumers spending so much more time at home –  ONS reported in April that 46.6% of the UK workforce was working remotely due to COVID-19 – consumers are on their devices for longer and being inundated with all types of content. 

In addition, three-plus months ago, many consumers would have hit the high-street and been sampling product in real time, but the majority are now turning online to buy the goods they need and want. This shift in consumer behaviour is forcing brands to rethink their wider marketing and customer strategies, and driving many to engage influencers to reach both their existing and new audiences. 

Consumer trust-building

In light of many brands turning more to influencers, it’s important to understand that is a level of fatigue and mistrust amongst consumers and marketers need to be mindful of what type of influencers to partner with. In recent years we have found that almost half (47%) of consumers were already feeling ‘fatigued’ by repetitive influencer posts, and another half (49%) wanted to see stricter regulations around what could be shared and how often. With further data from Influenster revealing that a whopping 82% of people have increased their social media consumption while home during the pandemic, 63% of whom use these platforms for shopping, it’s never been more important for brands to get their message and marketing right, or risk alienating their largest audiences yet. 

In fact, there is a direct link between perceived authenticity, trust, and the level of influencer status across social media. Together with Influenster, we found that the majority of consumers who regularly shop on their social channels would prefer to go through nano- or micro-influencers (38% and 37% respectively) as opposed to mega- and macro- influencers or celebrities (28%, 27%, and 17% respectively). Once seen as the epitome of authenticity and a ‘real’, personalised voice accountable to consumers rather than brands, macro-influencers have since struggled with transparency and many have been caught out in recent years for lack of authenticity in their reviews. 

Now that they’ve become a mainstream means of marketing, advertising constraints have skewed perceptions of influencer opinions and created a level of distrust among audiences. Nano- and micro-influencers have a greater level of perceived trustworthiness and genuineness. This is in part due to smaller followings and in part because they better understand what everyday people are facing right now, and can speak to that more appropriately than macro-influencers or celebrities. 

With influencer marketing showing no signs of slowing and brands now strongly opting for influencers over celebrity sponsorships, brands need to reconsider the influencers they work with and opt into more focused audiences through nano- and micro-influencers. In fact, 43% of consumers who follow influencers look to confirm claims made through other sources – whether this be through reviews, word of mouth, or news sources.

Ultimately by working with influencers that fit with brand values and resonate with focused audiences, brands will have an easier time creating authentic content that is resonating with consumers and driving more meaningful engagement. 

Adding strings to your marketing bow

However, while many consumers are using influencers as a resource, they’re also relying on validating what they see and hear through other user-generated content (UGC) such as reviews, word of mouth, news source, blogs, and images, which are seen to be the benchmark in unbiased authenticity. Our research found that the vast majority of consumers (78%) trust reviews as the main means of informing and empowering shopping choices. With that in mind, it’s critical that brands don’t put all their efforts on influencer marketing. They must consider alternative options to run alongside influencer campaigns to cement that trust with their customers.

They should look at what types of content will best resonate with audiences they’re trying to reach. Reviews, Q&As, and other curated social content is a good first port of call because it is coming right from the heart of the target audience and provides valuable insight into customer perceptions of a brand and its products. Similarly, investing in technologies like artificial intelligence can help brands to audit influencer audiences and gain valuable insight into the types of content that resonate across demographics. 

This understanding will be key to changing negative perceptions around influencer marketing and alleviate some pressure on influencers to perform, freeing them up to create their own content and voice their true opinions in the interest of true collaboration and trust building. This will be based largely on true-life experiences told through visual media, bringing to life and serving to validate written reviews for those consumers that want more interaction and engagement with the brand in question.   

The new normal for influencer marketing 

We’re all aware that COVID-19 has shaken up marketing as we know it, and influencer marketing is no different. As online demand has soared in the past months, what’s become clear is that opportunity remains strong to engage with influencers to promote products to key audiences. We just need to be smarter about how we do this – working with nano- and micro-influencers can allow brands to reach their target audiences without the stigma attached to many macro-influencers or celebrities. 

As consumers settle into this new way of life, many remain wary of returning to the high street, meaning an extended boom for ecommerce as shoppers continue to engage online and through social media. With the influencer marketing industry also continuing to grow amidst shifting consumer demand, it will be important that marketers understand how to balance alongside other means of UGC and brand outreach. The pressure is on for marketers and influencers to accept that brands need to adjust to the new relationship they now have with consumers.