Bad news for social media influencers: new research shows that staged, paid endorsements are no longer resonating with audiences, while authentic, user-generated content is. Business strategist Sarah Pearce breaks down how brands can adjust their social media strategy accordingly.
Social media has had a profound impact on the ability for companies, and individuals alike, to create and develop their own brands, build a client-base and connect with people all over the globe. But social media is a technology that never sleeps, constantly changing and evolving. If we want to stay relevant and connected to our target audience in 2019, it is vital to stay up with the trends and adjust our social media strategy accordingly.
Stackla have just released a 2019 report aimed at understanding the gap between how marketers in the US, the UK and Australia imagine their content is perceived and how it is actually perceived by the consumer.
An interesting finding is that we appear to be less influenced by celebrities. In 2018 only eight percent of consumers indicated that celebrity endorsements had a high impact on their purchasing decisions, this is down from a reported 23 percent in 2017. Interesting that this drop comes amid other reports claiming the 'huge value' of celebrity endorsements. For example, with 111 million followers, Kylie Jenner apparently earns up to $1 million per sponsored social media post. Based on the findings in the Stakla report, the future of that income may not be so secure.
Important to note that while staged, paid endorsements are no longer resonating with audiences, authentic ones care. Most respondents reported a longing for user-generated content. User-generated content is the act of users promoting a brand rather than the brand promoting itself. Content may be in the form of pictures, videos, testimonials, tweets, blog posts – and anything in between. The report revealed that over half of the respondents wanted to see user-generated content from brands they follow on social media; almost two-thirds of them indicated willingness to grant permission for a brand to use their own content; and more than half also said they would be more likely to continue patronising or start purchasing from a brand that had shared their content. Another key takeaway is that preferred content type across all demographics was strongly visual – either photographs or video.
It is widely understood and accepted by most users today that an online persona very rarely, if ever, portrays the full truth of a person’s life or a company’s impact. Consequently, staged posts have far less impact. Today, consumers long for organic, real content. They want to engage in discussions with real people, and more than ever before, they want to belong to something that inspires them. Before they follow a brand, must users will have a good idea of its purpose and values, and whether they align with their own.
So, when positioned correctly, brands become part of their audience’s identity, extensions of their personas. Often this is created through a simple sharing of mutual dialogue on social media. With consistent communication, customers develop a sense of kinship and belonging and this can trigger a fierce loyalty to the brand. Distinct communities or tribes also then develop and the more inclusive these are for members, the tighter they become and the quicker they grow.
Lets look at one of the most successful recent marketing campaigns to see all these elements at work. Fashion retailer Asos asked their customers to use the tag #asseenonme when uploading a photo in which they are wearing clothing purchased from Asos. Some photos are selected to appear on Asos’ Instagram feed, providing them with free and authentic user-generated content. But the company goes one step further by promoting the people in their featured photos and allowing others to easily find them and their social media pages.
It's a genius strategy with a dove-tailed outcome. The company is sending the message that they’d rather have the customer’s face associated with their product than, say, a Kardashian's. The company gets to use free user-generated content, rather than paying spokespeople, hiring photographers, and renting set locations, while the customer feels valued in a way that other mainstream brands can’t achieve, and the customer may even get a rise in the amount of their own social media exposure too. This brand recognition – just for being a customer- is the type of community-creation activity that creates those fiercely loyal followers.
In the years to come we will see many more changes to social media and digital communication, but one thing is clear right now – more than ever before, people want to see something real and they want to talk about things that matter. If you or your organization aren’t using social media to your advantage like this, now is the time to start. Carrying on in the old way not only risks wasting time and resources but also risks burning your client base. So, research what your audience really care about, invest in meaningful dialogue, truly listen to their responses, adjust your offering and watch your business.
Sarah Pearce is a business speaker, writer and strategist and author of Online Reputation: Your Most Valuable Asset in a Digital Age.