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Why Consumers Follow, Listen to, and Trust Influencers

As social media has proliferated and become a primary channel for brands to engage with their most loyal digital audiences, the line between advocacy and advertising has continued to blur. Modern consumers, overwhelmed by media and visual content on a daily basis, are forced to identify the sources of information and inspiration that they can trust. Increasingly, alongside user-generated content and brand-owned content, consumers are turning to social influencers as a way to identify products, services, and travel destinations that resonate with their unique lifestyles.

Given that influencer marketing is still maturing, managing the relationships between consumers, influencers, and brands is quite a challenge for marketing teams. In order to better understand how consumers are utilizing influencer content within their consideration and purchase process, Olapic recently commissioned CITE Research to conduct a survey of 4,000 social media users from the United States, UK, Germany, and France. The research was conducted between November 13th and November 21st of 2017, and included users between the ages of 16 and 61 years old. While you can review comprehensive findings in the full report, there are a few key insights we would like to highlight here.

What is an influencer, anyway?

To begin, it is important to level-set on how consumers view the concept of an “influencer.” In our research there were varying definitions depending on the demographic group. Notably, Baby Boomers within the 55-61 year old range didn’t really identify with any definition for an “influencer,” and predictably were the least engaged with this group across the board. Incidentally, millennials were the most engaged while Gen-X and Gen-Z had roughly the same level of engagement. Fifty-three percent of those surveyed considered an influencer to be someone with more than 10,000 followers on social channels. In Germany, the expectation was more lofty, with 34% characterizing an influencer as someone with more than 50,000 followers.

When asked which characteristics consumers consider when identifying an influencer, understandably, the “number of followers” was most prominent (61%), but respondents also noted that influencers tend to “share more information in posts” (42%) and have “higher quality posts” (39%). In Europe, an influencer is more commonly described as someone who has a paid relationship with a brand, while in the U.S. it is associated with a user that consumers “like.”

An influencer is someone:

  • With 10,000+ followers
  • Brands engage with to help promote their products/services/messages
  • Who shares information about products they love
  • Who is an expert in their field

Brands must find ways to identify the influencers that overlap with their audience, and carve out spend to locate, collaborate, and measure the impact of the content they create together.

Where are users engaging with influencers?

With a clearer definition of influencers established, we also wanted to understand where users are going to engage with influencer content, and identify any differences by age group and gender. Interestingly, females surveyed were more likely to use Instagram to follow influencers, while males were more likely to utilize YouTube. When we look at a breakdown by age:

  • 25-34 year-olds are especially likely to follow Influencers on Facebook (43%).
  • 19-24 year-olds are especially likely to follow Influencers on Instagram (53%),
  • Older respondents are less likely to follow Influencers (45% of 35-44 year-olds, 65% of 45-54 year-olds and 79% of 55-61 year-olds responded that they don’t follow any influencers).

When asked which type of content users prefer to receive from influencers, 33% of those surveyed responded “Videos on their Feed with Sound.” Given the immense growth of ephemeral channels like Snapchat and Instagram Stories, this is validation of trends Olapic has noted in market for the past couple of years. In fact, we recently launched a short-form video platform, Content in Motion, dedicated to helping brands scale the creation of this valuable content with greater efficiency.

What makes consumers trust an influencer?

Aside from the quantitative metrics that define an influencer, and the platforms the consumer may be using to consume content, we also wanted to uncover the characteristics that help build trust in individual influencers. Across the globe, “authenticity” is the main reason those surveyed choose to trust influencers online. Additionally, personalization is critical, with 66% of respondents citing a need for an influencer’s content to be relevant to their unique interests.

For women, 44% of respondents noted that seeing the product/service in use as a reason to trust an influencer’s post, while males are more likely to cite “expertise” with 41% ranking that as most relevant. By considering these insights in aggregate, and beginning to understand how they may apply directly to individual brands, marketers can adopt these lessons across the broader plan including influencer programs as well as in the collection of user-generated content and the creation of brand-generated assets.

Do influencer relationships lead to revenue?

Certainly, engagement and loyalty that can be derived from an intelligent influencer program is exceedingly important to marketers. However, it is paramount to also determine how influencer content may or may not be contributing to the bottom line. Interestingly, of those surveyed, 31% reported having purchased a product or service after seeing a product or service that an influencer had posted on a social feed. On average, across platforms (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Pinterest), 72.2% of social media users surveyed who follow an influencer, follow “Lifestyle” influencers. In both the US and UK, roughly half of respondents said they have considered purchase after seeing an influencer post about a relevant product or service. As a result, it is critical for brands to have an influencer management tool in place to track not only engagement but the conversion and revenue attained through the deployment of influencer content.

There were also unique preferences across different verticals according to the consumers we surveyed. These include:

  • Beauty: The aesthetic of visuals is the top motivator for choosing to follow Beauty Influencers across all regions involved in the survey.
  • Fashion: Instagram (74%) and Pinterest (74%) are used most for Fashion-based Influencer content. The aesthetic of visuals is the top motivator for choosing to follow fashion influencers across all of the countries, except the U.K., which noted inspirational content as the top driver to follow a fashion influencer.
  • Travel: Globally, the aesthetic of visuals, as well as authenticity and inspirational content are the main reasons respondents choose to follow Travel Influencers.

It is clear that influencers are carving out a meaningful place in the broader marketing ecosystem. As consumers align with influencers that match their lifestyle choices and personal values, intelligent brands will need to create and manage authentic relationships with this audience in order to connect across an increasingly complex customer journey.

To review other findings from the report, check out the below infographic.

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