People Do Not Trust What They See on Social Media

And what brands can do about this

Fake news, fake information, fake followers. The rampant spreading of various untruths over social media has made its users wary. Given that influencer marketing is all the rage today, how will this affect the way brands interact with its target consumer base?

According to research by Kantar TNS, 32% of people surveyed globally think that posts made by brands on social media are irrelevant to them, while 35% of those surveyed felt that information on social media is unreliable. The level of engagement and trust reported varies based on the level of development of the consumer’s country. On the one hand, consumers in emerging markets show higher levels of trust in what they see on their social media feed, with only 8% of Indonesians and 12% of Filipinos expressing concern at what they see. On the other hand, these relatively small numbers are dwarfed by those in developed markets. One in every two North American and French consumers, for an example, distrust what they see on their social media feeds.

Why This Matters

All across the world, influencer marketing is on the rise. Brands hire influencers, using them and their social media feeds to reach the brands’ target audience. This method of advertising works in part because influencers have established a relationship of trust with their followers. In other words, followers believe in the truth of the reviews of their influencer. If, however, users of social media mistrust what they see on their feeds, it may suggest an erosion of the relationship between the influencer and their followers, which clearly also negatively affects the relationship between the brand and their target audience.

This means that brands, in particular those whose target consumer profile belongs in developed markets, need to increase their levels of trust with the consumer.

What are some of the things that brands need to take note of when hiring influencers?

Consider Hiring a Micro-Influencer

Established brands may be tempted to hire a top influencer, since top influencers have more followers, which would translate to a further reach and likely greater engagement. Why hire someone with a following of only 10000, when you could work with someone who has ten times that number?

Among other traits, micro-influencers, who are characterized as having niche appeal to a small but dedicated following, often appear to their followers as being more “real” and “authentic”. Since they have a small following and are still building their personal brand, they are more likely to put greater effort into their posts and create content that resonates with their followers. This leads to them having more organic engagement (i.e. likes, views and comments) for each of their posts. (Click here for more on micro-influencers and their power.)

All of these factors come together to present an image of genuineness that is difficult to replicate with top influencers or celebrities. Brands should leverage this image, working with micro-influencers because it creates a sense of reliability and trustworthiness about their product. (Click here for more on how to find such micro-influencers.)

Hiring Micro-Influencers with Consistency

If you have found several potential micro-influencers for your campaign and do not wish to hire all of them, what else should you look out for? If all else is constant, consider hiring influencers that have not already been hired by similar brands in the market.

While brands sometimes stipulate that influencers do not post advertisements for their competitors immediately before or after their posts, this is not enough to ensure that the influencer they are using is able to maintain a trustworthy image.

Let us use sports brands for an example. Imagine a follower who sees a campaign post for a new pair of shoes for Nike and who sees another campaign post for a similar product for Adidas a few weeks later. While less discerning followers may have forgotten the first post, those who do remember will begin to find the influencer less trustworthy. If followers no longer trust their influencer, the campaign may not lead to product sales, which is the ultimate goal for the brand.

While it is definitely also up to the influencer to decide what sorts of offers to accept, and whether accepting these offers counts as a conflict of interest, influencers do not necessarily have the same incentives that brands do when it comes to making such a decision. Some influencers, for an example, gain their following in part because they and/or their posts are visually pleasing. Hence, the number of likes or comments that they receive for a particular post does not change based on how much their followers trust them. This means that while a brand may even see an increase in the number of likes or comments received (a common way of measuring engagement as an ROI), these forms of engagement do not result in the target audience purchasing the product being advertised.

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