When social media started, it was just a bunch of strangers uploading their badly taken day-to-day photos and sharing our musings in the forms of wall posts and statuses - and slowly but surely, most of us got hooked on the engagement we attracted.
Influencers were born slowly. They started as those who uploaded the better posts, with better lighting, backgrounds, and visuals, and they began attracting mass amounts of likes and comments.
Suddenly, people we knew were becoming bloggers and creators, and they started a side hustle from their social media platforms. What originated as a fun way to pass the time and release dopamine was now becoming a profitable industry.
Fast-forward to today - influencers are everywhere and making enough money to justify leaving their 9 to 5s. If you are on socials, you probably follow a few yourself.
Whether they’re cooking a new meal, buying a new product, or visiting a place you only just discovered (from them), they’re everywhere, I tell you.
But what we want from them has changed
I have unfollowed quite a few influencers myself. There were too many stories, too many sponsored posts, and what was once entertaining became jaded.
The perfectly posed pictures. Out. Another airbrushed photo of you in a bikini? Over it. (We're looking at you, Kim Kardashian)
But what was I searching for? What are we looking for on social media when we go there? As we sparked conversations about mental health and the effects of social media, we veered away from irrelevant content by focusing on positive content that resonates with us, inspires us, and doesn't make us feel unworthy.
We have become attuned to how influencers market brands, and we can smell inauthenticity a mile away. And we are tired of it.
The shift started with us
It's supply and demand, baby.
We want real. Not boring real, but relatable real. What influencers were offering was often unattainable because it was ingenuine.
And marketers with their feelers out understood the assignment - by pulling back on expensive influencer campaigns to promote user-generated content (UGC) from normal people like you and me.
The very definition of an influencer is off-putting
Influence means to change someone or something in a subtle, indirect, but usually important way.
As education marketers, we know that the content we put out there can influence people. Being aware of that responsibility, we base our strategies on the needs of our target audience and combine this with sound ethics.
We also steer clear of inauthentic content that is harmful and can damage the reputation of the brand we represent.
However, with a hefty price tag - influencers are there to sell by any means necessary. That means that regardless of the target audience, they want you to buy the product or service they are advertising to justify their power and fee.
Hail UGC, authenticity, and the nano-influencer
Gen Z is a growing target audience demographic, and we have them, the digital natives, to thank for the substantial shift from influencer to authentic.
This generation is progressive, inclusive, and prioritizes mental health. Gen Z is well aware of viral and fake marketing tactics, and it does not bode well with them. They resonate with empathetic and authentic content - much more than the generations before them.
For UGC to appeal to them, it needs to come from someone reliable - someone who has tested and used the product or service, and you will struggle to dupe them.
We need relatable
We want people who don’t always put on an act and show us snippets of their lives that are less than glamorous. We don’t want someone with perfect skin selling us products - we want to know their journey to skin health and how those products helped them.
We want compelling, true stories from someone who actually uses the services or products they advocate, not someone who chops and changes products, selling their content to the highest bidder.
And brands are learning to stick with authenticity - building a partnership with creators that nurture relationships with their followers. They are the key to advocating products long-term, ensuring they build brand trust with their target audience.
It’s the sustainably steady way to brand success.
What we think
As marketers, we must foster an inclusive and diverse environment, allowing people to be themselves - authentically.
Not only will this enable us to reach the right audience, but it’s also ethical - with about half of influencers saying that social media impacted their mental health, too.
By using both branded content and UGC and appointing different creators to help build brand awareness, we are spreading our content widely and reaching our targets in various but authentic ways.
We are building bigger, better audiences that foster brand trust, making content that resonates with a creator’s followers.
We all know that misplaced content doesn’t sell - and to be fair, I have never purchased anything from a mega-influencer. I have, however, purchased items endorsed by micro and nano-influencers, local and international, with little to no regret.
UGC and authenticity are the new “word of mouth” advertising. We may think traditional marketing methods are gone, but they’re not - they’re just digitized.