Influencers must work hard to earn trust in 2018

Chris Lee
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Within the space of a week, two events hit the news that point to a pivotal 12 months between influencers and their publics, and represents good news for PR consultants. Firstly, a very public spat between a social media influencer and a Dublin hotel, and secondly, a leading global survey into public trust in the media.

One of the turns of phrase digital marketing and PR consultants like me roll out when encouraging clients to work with online influencers is that people are informed and persuaded most effectively by people like them. The Edelman Trust Barometer 2018, an annual global survey into levels of trust in institutions such as the media, business and government, throws doubt on that advice. When asked to rate who they trust as a credible spokesperson, “a person like yourself” was an all-time low of 54%, down 8% since last year alone across the world, although the UK figure remained unchanged.

Trust in social media platforms dropped 2% while confidence in UK ‘traditional’ media rocketed in the meantime – from 48% last year to 61% this year, back up to 2012 levels.

Online-only media, which includes bloggers, rose by 5%, so the forecast is mixed. This is great news for PR consultants, who should expect to see an increased call from organisations for their core competency: building relationships with media and influencers, regardless of their channel.

Bloggers or blaggers?

Video blogger (vlogger) Elle Darby also hit the headlines this month. She had approached a number of Dublin hotels to request a free stay in exchange for a shout-out on her social media channels.

The hotel posted its frank response online, and the story went around the world, raising the whole question of what influencers can reasonably request in exchange for ‘exposure’.

As someone who’s worked with influencers for nearly a decade, I’ve received a few ‘cheeky’ requests in my time, and the onus really is on brands and their PR teams to check each influencer individually to gauge their genuine following and brand fit. As we see from the Edelman Trust Barometer, the scope is there for influencers to work with brands and their PR teams, but influencers must help themselves.

Influencers are asking for bigger fees as marketing budgets are poured into ‘influencer marketing’, so I had a chat with fellow digital marketer, Scott Guthrie, for his view on what influencers need to do in 2018 to earn trust and justify their fees.

“As influencer marketing tariffs increase brands will demand more rigorous return on investment,” he told me. “The wheat will be sorted from the chaff, leaving only credible influencers.”

“As influencer marketing tariffs increase brands will demand more rigorous return on investment,” he told me. “The wheat will be sorted from the chaff, leaving only credible influencers.”

A person with a social media following does not automatically qualify as an influencer, Guthrie affirms. “Influencers are change agents. They help form or change behaviours or opinions. Real Influencers know their audience. They know what their audience likes – and what it doesn’t care for. They’ve built a following through hard work. Consistently posting quality content which resonates with their following and they engage with that following.”

Influencers wanting to work with brands more effectively need to do the following, in Guthrie’s view:

1. Listen to your audience – Scrutinise your analytics each time you publish. Did you get lots of comments, likes and shares? What was the sentiment of those comments? Did they provide any signposts for future creative work? More of the same or were you off-topic this time?

2. Do your digital due diligence on prospect companies wanting to work with you/ or that you want to work with – Is the brand the right fit for you and your audience? Do its brand and corporate values mesh with yours? Is the brand voice complementary to yours? Is it the right demographic for your audience? Get it wrong and you’ll alienate your audience. They’ll vote with their virtual feet and unsubscribe or unfollow you.

3. If you’re making a pitch to a client be confident about what you bring to the potential relationship. Think beyond your audience size. Share your engagement rates, the geographical demographics and the ratio of organic vs sponsored content you publish.

4. Be specific about the amount of creative content you would provide. Is it one vlog? Three Instagram Stories? A blog post? How much promotion will you put behind your creative? Be specific about past successes, too. Who have you worked for in the past? What were the tangible results of that work?

5. Pick only a small handful of brands to work with – Your audience will understand there’s a commercial imperative to you undertaking sponsored content work. But get the ratio of organic and paid content right. Don’t flood your stream with sponsored content.

6. Aim to build a long-term, mutually-beneficial relationship with a small cadre of brands - Shift the time horizon from tactical and temporary to longer-term business growth partners. Both parties will benefit from better results as you get to know how each other works and you better understand your client’s brand and corporate objectives.

I am not going to be as dramatic to say 2018 is a make or break year for influencers, but I agree with Guthrie that this year influencers will come under increasing scrutiny from their own audiences, media, and brands and their PR teams. Those who establish/maintain a professional outlook and create high value, high-quality content will flourish. Those who don’t can expect to see the offers dry up.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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