A flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and the meteoric rise of social media influencers is no exception. Consumers, especially the younger crowd, have already begun to lose trust in paid influencers. To fill the void, they are turning to grassroots communities that share content and commentary about brands that are collectively loved.
The shift, while earlier than some may expect, is unsurprising. Social media influencers have been buying fake followers, hiring click farms and promoting unused products for years. It is little wonder, then, that consumers are growing more and more suspicious of what influencers post online.
Even so, consumers’ desire for authentic, engagement and trustworthy product recommendations haven’t changed. Instead, today’s shoppers, especially among Gen Zers, are moving in increasing numbers toward grassroots communities where users share information and content about the brands they actually love.
It may sound like bad news for brands with fine-tuned influencer marketing strategies, but the shift toward grassroots communities is actually opening new opportunities for brands keen to connect with consumers. For brands looking to engage with existing and new customers alike, building strong online brand communities is essential to successfully ride the next digital marketing wave.
The shift away from influencers is no doubt being led by Gen Z consumers, who are influenced by authentic content provided by individuals they trust. Instead of turning to influencers to fill this need, they are instead gravitating toward small and intimate online communities for information about products. Within these groups, shoppers can engage with brands, products and each other in a more meaningful and trustworthy way.
Another way in which Gen Zers are different to previous generations of shoppers is the way in which they communicate with each other. Increasingly, Gen Z communications are taking place through one-to-one social channels, like email and text messaging, and even Fortnite and Twitch.
So what can brands do to effectively engage with this new generation of savvy, and cynical, shoppers? First, brands must focus on fostering communities of people who genuinely love their products. To do this, companies must identify existing customers already sharing their brand story online, and partner with the right ones. These “superfans” can be a brilliant tool for creating and sharing user-generated content across public social networks and private one-to-one channels.
Choosing the right superfan to partner with isn’t rocket science, but it is an essential process for every brand. Geotags, hashtags, engagement rates, follower-to-following ratio and overall aesthetics are all metrics that a brand should take into consideration when assessing a superfan as a potential brand partner.
Perhaps most important, however, is the fact that brands should steer clear of offering financial rewards to individuals who promote them. Emerging brand communities are built around a common interest or pastime, and are deliberately non-transactional in nature. Brands must be creative in the types of rewards offered for content generators.
This latest shift in the world of influencer marketing is important, but not surprising. What hasn’t changed is the importance that brands understand their customers, and prioritise authenticity in their interactions with them.