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Trust is a valuable commodity. It is a hard thing to earn, remarkably easy to lose, and in the advertising world it is worth its weight in gold. Building close, trusting and long-lived relationships with your customers, clients or users has always been important, but in the age of social media, it is more important than ever.
Social media channels are increasingly providing the perfect opportunity to foster much more personal relationships with your target audience, with two-way engagement. This offers the chance to really connect with your customers like never before, building rapport, and eventually, hopefully, trust.
Two often heralded methods of increasing reach and driving engagement with your users are via the use of Social Media Influencers and Brand Advocates. These two terms are sometimes used (wrongly) as interchangeable labels, and while Social Media Influencers can in fact be Brand Advocates, and vice-versa, usually they are separate and have different roles.
Social Media Influencers
Social media influencers do exactly what the name suggests, influencing people through social media. These people are usually bloggers, minor celebrities or have a lot of experience in, or an affiliation to, a certain industry, topic or area. They usually have a large base of followers and fans across various social media channels, and have the potential to reach (and in theory, influence) large numbers of people quickly and easily.
The downside to Social Media Influencers, is that while they may have large numbers of fans or followers, measuring the affinity that those followers have with the Influencer is difficult and at times, impossible. Influencers are often defined or ranked by the size of their audiences, rather than their loyalty, experience or understanding with a certain product or industry. This can lead to some Influencers aiming to attract the largest number of followers, with little thought for the relevance or loyalty those fans may have.
Influencers also may not always be an actual fan of your product or service themselves, and modern consumers are remarkably adept at working out if this is the case. If they detect that an influencer has been paid to promote a certain service or product, this can then lead to disengagement and can result in a serious lack of trust.
For this reason, Influencers usually work best when they have a tangible and direct connection to your product or service, rather than a loose association. A travel blogger would be a great choice as a Social Media Influencer to tout your travel insurance promotion or new low cost airfare website, but probably wouldn’t be the best choice to promote phone cases or laptop bags, for example.
Brand Advocates, on the other hand, usually start their journey as a highly satisfied customer themselves. This means that their recommendation and endorsement of your brand, product or service is based on their own real-world experience, rather than driven by financial rewards or other incentives. This honesty and sincerity is something that people pick up on and something that they value. As a result, Brand Advocates enjoy amazing levels of trust with their audiences. Studies suggest Brand Advocates achieve trust levels as high as 92%(1), and when you compare that with Social Media Influencers, with trust levels as low as 18%(2), you begin to see the inherent value in Brand Advocates.
As well as trust levels, some other key differentiating factors are things like motivation. Influencers are typically motivated by incentives (financial rewards, free products, trials etc.) whereas Advocates’ motivation is often to help their friends or family by recommending products they believe in. The reasons and motivations driving Brand Advocates’ recommendations mean that they are then also much more likely to display long term advocacy and loyalty than Influencers might.
Reach vs. Influence
An important consideration here is to not confuse reach and influence. Advertisers often assume that because a social media influencer has a large numbers of followers, then that individual must be highly influential, when in reality what it actually means is that they have a large reach or audience. They may be able to quickly generate social media hype or buzz surrounding a product, but their actual ability to drive engagement or action from their followers could be very low.
While brand advocates may have smaller audiences, they are a much more sustainable marketing force. They are already switched on to your brand, and as an existing happy customer, they usually crave direct engagement from your brand. This in turn makes them much more likely to support, recommend and defend your brand and products in the long term. Their trusted recommendations result in much better qualified leads, and drive substantially more sales than most Influencers could achieve.
Connecting with your customers at this new, ever more personal level relies on crafting strong relationships, built on trust. At RLA we forge long-lasting relationships with clients, partners and suppliers alike, and this shines through in the work we produce and the feedback we receive on a daily basis. We are the RAR 13th most recommended agency in the UK, and we consistently achieve above average engagement levels and campaign results for our Clients. Our average Client relationship comes in at an impressive 12.1 years – a longevity almost unheard of in the advertising industry, and all of this is built on a solid foundation of trust.
(1) – source: Nielsen (2) – source: Forrester Research Inc.