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The vital role of authenticity in influence

Digital Marketing + Social Media
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The vital role of authenticity in influence

I hate to kick a year while it’s down but last year, we know ad nauseam, saw many shifts and (sorry sorry sorry…) pivots. These were shifts in community health awareness, general community awareness, how we work, how we socialise and how we view the world.

The year might be over and another well hitting its stride, but the legacy of 2020 will last a while yet. We continue to shift gears and navigate forward. International politics, local affairs, a residing pandemic (globally) and a heightened reliance on digital that we’d thought already exhausted has brought us to a place of ‘what now?’. Digital marketing was and is no exception.

The changes to how we deliver, and receive, marketing on digital platforms is vast. Brands hustle to improve their digital offering to provide a frictionless user experience to maintain, at the very least, their loyal clientele. Some with successful campaignssome less so. There are plenty of shifts in strategy, so numerous they each deserve their own blog. So, for the purposes of this one, I’ll look at the changes to the marketing enigma of the last decade: The Macro Influencer; how can businesses learn from them, and how do they demonstrate the importance of authenticity? 

Quickly, what constitutes Micro, Macro and Mega influencers (typically speaking):

  • Micro: under 10k followers

  • Macro: over 10k followers (up to 999k followers)

  • Mega: plus 1M followers

Influence, or ‘Influence?’

Even before COVID became part of our daily vernacular and the tire of curated perfect lives scaled with the fatigue of isolation, the 2019 bushfires put a microscope on the already slow fracture to the macro influencer’s genuine clout. Or, at least, a certain well-paved breed of macro influencer. 

The too real and visceral national experience of the bushfires forced our attention away from these carefully curated squares, instead desperately searching for ways to help. As our towns were engulfed in flames and smoke (and as we face a similar carnage season via deluge), looking at a young styled glamour faking candidness was inconsequential at best, and anger-inducing at worst. In a space that was built on influence, there was no denying the irony of its repellence in reality.  

In an extreme act of cross promotion between helpful aid and influencer marketing, there was a standout: comedian Celeste Barber. In follower numbers, yes, she was categorised as a macro influencer. After these efforts, followers soaring, she now has mega influencer status (as of today, 7.6m followers). Rather than strengthen the argument for macro influencers, though, she magnified the power of (and need for) authenticity. Her record fundraising (a reported $51m) revealed what true influence can garner. 

Her previous follower numbers were high, undoubtedly. From an Instagram springboard, she could add Actress, Author and Internationally-renowned Comedian to her LinkedIn title. And of course, some of her ‘real people’ were, and are, very wealthy Hollywood elite. However, she stood out because she stood out. 

With follower numbers matching that of thousands of other account holders, who have no more or less celebrity clout, the divide between the outcome of their very well intentioned and, granted, reasonably effective Instagram Story links to donation sites compared with Celeste’s donation results (noting subsequent bureaucratic controversy) was filled with the palpable reality that authenticity, while sparse, is winning. 

What does this teach us? 

For tangible results, whatever your social media and marketing goal, you must respect the time you’re taking from your consumers. If that time is taken with authentic, valuable and transparent messaging, they will feel valued and engaged. Either immediately, or in the long run, this will show up in your bottom line.

Authenticity isn’t a trend, it’s a benchmark 

Macro Influencers still have wind in their sails. This isn’t an anti-influencer echo chamber. There are stats to back up the influencer power position, albeit using past success to measure future success. Which, in digital particularly, isn’t always the most accurate estimator. 

The role of the Macro has migrated into a space of entertainment, like watching anything celebrity-produced (from reality shows to films). An escape, maybe even an aspirational one. Certainly, there is marketing appeal and their #ad content remains consistent, so brands are still finding value (or assuming value, testing value). 

But, genuine ROI is harder to pinpoint. While the use of promo codes and tracked links can help, the whole story of their involvement in the consumer’s journey remains ostensibly indistinct. They are also very expensive.

How to find your authentic social media voice

There is no sure fire blue print for this particular strategy. To have one would be to reverse the intent. Your authenticity is unique to your business’s values, processes and relationship with your customers and audience. 

Some precursory questions to answer to find out what your authentic is:

  • What are the true core values of your business?

  • Who is your ideal customer? (Creating detailed personas can help you with this - their interests, their pain points...)

  • What is your measure of success? (More leads, more followers, more conversions, greater authority in your industry?)

  • Does your marketing messaging align with this success? 

  • What messaging has worked for you in the past? Did it attract the audience you hoped for? Is it the antithesis of what you want? Or could it be replicated in a fresh way?

The act of seeking these answers will give you greater understanding of your authenticity, and the answers will give you something to return to every time your business sends out a message into the market. 

If you’re looking at influencer marketing, don’t just default to a popular content creator. 

Instead, ask yourself: What do they truly represent? What can they offer my current and potential customers? Do they align with the answers I provided?

The Micro with 2000 highly engaged, local followers, presenting authentic content could offer you (and your sought audience) substantially more value than someone with 50,000 followers whose content is too curated, and whose audience is too broad, to offer you any return on investment, let alone a substantial one. 

Also, do your research into the true value they bring generally, in terms of marketing. Yes, they have a lot of followers. But, check:

  • Their true engagement rate (A quick calculation is to count their most recent 20-50 posts, average out their likes and comments to find the percentage against follower numbers). 

  • Comments. (Who is engaging with them? The demographic they say they appeal to? Or a demographic that does not align with your ideal audience?).

  • Their other endorsements (do they align with your business’s values?). 

  • How they present their content (are they themselves authentic? Is it contradictory?)

If they can’t affirmatively fulfil the requirements of your authentic checklist, it’s not a space to focus your attention nor money.

Not into influencer marketing? You can still learn from the insights

With a social media audience fatiguing from forced and inauthentic content, becoming more savvy to content they can trust (on their own, and thanks to the work of ‘Fake Famous’ and SBS journalist, Calliste Weitenberg), authenticity as a strategy is not going anywhere. In fact, the bar of authenticity will only grow. This will encourage, nay force, all content creators/brands to strip themselves back. (Cases in point Rianne Meijer and Danae Mercer). 

If you’re an SMB venturing into influencer marketing, conducting your own social media marketing or engaging an agency to do so on your behalf, the call to arms for authenticity remains applicable across the board.  

Rolling the pricey dice on the hope for a decent ROI with the Macro crowd, or even just stringently clinging to sales-centric and/or hyperbole messaging, is unlikely worth your while. And, could ostracise your audience/consumers in waiting. 

To ignore the turn to authenticity is to ignore the profit potential of your business. 

The takeaway…

Creating content or engaging with content creators must be born from a place of authenticity if you want to retain a savvy, loyal and sharing audience. With authenticity comes transparency (never mislead your customer base), honesty (even if it’s not all roses; keep them updated and adequately informed where required) and, even as a business, be as human as possible.  

At the end of the day, while we call them audiences, customers, clients and conversions, they are instead humans, sitting down at the end of the day on their device, TV humming in the background, kids making noise in the next room, looking to be engaged by other humans... who just happen to have a business they need and want. 

2021 (and beyond) will accept nothing less. 

Photo by Marcus Lenk on Unsplash