Who Are the Real Influencers and Why Do They Matter So Much?

Who Are the Real Influencers and Why Do They Matter So Much?

Written by: Stephanie Bariatti, SMB Media Marketing Consultant 


            We are all hyper aware of the power of social media in the marketing world.  However, with so much focus on celebrities and social influencers with mass followings, we may be losing sight of the real “influencers” on social media.  The most important key to reaching your target audience may actually be family and friends.


Many brands, both large and small, have been devoting sizeable portions of their budgets to social media influencers, thinking that it will provide a magical boost in sales.  And truth be told, it does work to a certain extent.  Many of these influencers have a flock of loyal followers that will try recommended products without batting an eye.  But, recent studies show that these types of influencers may not be the most effective.


A report by Stackla, a company that helps brands leverage authentic user-generated content, revealed that only 23% of people believe content from celebrities and influencers is influential.  Alternatively, 60% say content from friends or family influences their purchasing decisions.  In addition, The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) found that, while 75% of marketers currently employ influencer marketing activities, only 36% consider those efforts effective and 19% actually admitted they are “ineffective.”


It simply comes down to trust.  A known prevalence of social bots and fake followers have turned off many people to the appeal of influencers.  How can you trust what someone is saying if you believe that half of their following is artificial?  Consumers today are savvy and skeptical and any seed of doubt will make them look elsewhere.  The same effect comes from user reviews that are found to be fake or sponsored.


  On the other hand, what better and authentic source is there than your friends and family?  Long before the internet was even a thing, word of mouth was often a marketer’s most effective tool.  And now, with social media, it is even easier to ask your circle for suggestions.  How many times have you asked for recommendations for certain type of product/service/experience and your friends chime in with dozens of responses?  Chances are you’ve tried out one of them.  And how many times have you seen a friend post a photo or status hailing the amazing qualities of so and so, and you’ve thought to yourself, “Hey, I’ve got to get me one of those?”


It works and the more people talk about it, the more likely you are to try it also.  It definitely spurs a kind of “bandwagon effect.”


I, personally, as a mom who is friends with lots of other moms, see this all over my social media.  From pregnancy through raising teens, moms are always asking for, as well as freely giving, advice on the best baby products, the ideal destinations for family vacations, the safest cars for their new drivers.  The list goes on and on and there is never a lack of input.  It is, therefore, no surprise that 34.8% of mothers (and 18.3% of fathers) agree they are more likely to buy products they see used/recommended by friends on social media.   


But interestingly, this phenomenon occurs pretty equally among all age groups.  An eMarketer study found that Gen Z through Baby Boomers trust friends, family and colleagues more than store employees, fellow consumers and even influencers when shopping online.  



So how can we harness this powerful occurrence, which happens so organically and virtually for free?  The best idea may be for brands to encourage and capture authentic user-generated content - real posts, real photos, real videos from real customers.  Any way you can possibly leverage genuine endorsements will help your brand build the reliable and trustworthy base it needs to succeed.  And your customers will find this most refreshing.   


Stephanie Bariatti works as a Consultant and Project Manager for SMB Media Consulting.  She has had extensive experience with many facets of advertising and media, having worked for and with creative agencies, production companies and research departments.  She lives in New York with her wonderful husband, two lovable little boys, a new baby on the way and two snuggly Golden Retrievers.