In last week’s column, we started to explore the phenomenon of influencer marketing and the trust that consumers are placing in these “ordinary” people who have an extraordinary depth of expertise, interest or affinity in a particular category. We looked at two extremes – mega influencers like Xenia Adonts, who has an Instagram following of over 1 million people, and micro influencers like Anthony Bacopoulos, the 16-year-old entrepreneur who reviews tech products on YouTube and has a little over 1,300 subscribers to his YouTube channel.

Their motivations are very different, how they derive income from their efforts is very different, but what is not so different is the level of confidence their audiences have in their recommendations. 
For the last two decades, the global PR agency Edelman has conducted research that examines who and what consumers trust and how that trust influences their buying behaviors.

They just released the 2019 Trust Barometer, and the results are incredibly telling about whom consumers trust today and whom we see as a credible authority. This is a worldwide study with 33,000 consumers from 27 countries participating. 

One of the biggest takeaways from this year’s study is that consumers assign a high level of trust to people whom they believe “are like me.” When you think about the influence that ratings, reviews and influencers like Xenia and Anthony have with their audiences, you begin to see the power of that belief.

This study is documenting this emerging trend we’ve been seeing for the past few years. The rise of the everyman influencer. It’s noteworthy because it gives statistical validity to the idea of  “real people” as influencers and the impact they can have on behalf of a brand.

The research asked participants to rank what attributes made an influencer believable and trustworthy. The relatability of the influencer was nearly twice as important as the influencer’s popularity. In other words, when consumers can see themselves in an influencer, they are far more likely to follow and trust that influencer.

If you’re a B2B brand and you’ve been avoiding putting together a content strategy where you share your depth of expertise in your niche with the world, you need to rethink that decision.

Want to know what made an influencer even more compelling to the research participants than relatability? The one attribute that ranked higher than the trust we have in “people like me” is the trust we have in highly educated experts. The only two groups of people we trust more than people like ourselves are company or industry experts and academic experts.

Even if the messages were essentially the same, there is a significant delta between the trust levels of influencer messages versus official brand messages (ads, marketing materials, etc.). Sixty-three percent of consumers trust influencer messages more than brand messages. If you’ve been trying to convince the C-suite that you should invest in influencer marketing, there’s your  business case. Almost two-thirds of consumers trust influencer messages about a brand more than a company’s advertising about their own brand. 

We’ve seen this mistrust of paid advertising grow over the past decade, and in the end, people trust someone who feels like an ordinary Joe more than they trust a business to give it to them straight.
This goes beyond social media engagement. This is about real money and sales. In Edelman’s 2019 study, 58% of participants said they had actually purchased a product because of an influencer recommendation in the previous six months.

Don’t just nod and think this is an interesting piece of research. Understand how these attitudes affect your business, your sales cycle and your relationship with your consumers. Because clearly, things are changing!