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As author Frank Sonnenberg explained, “Trust is like blood pressure. It’s silent, vital to good health, and if abused it can be deadly.” In today’s social media savvy world of always on news and rapid social sharing, never before has this sentiment meant so much to brand marketers. Not least because - once they have established trust - they will have to constantly work at it for it to remain high. And of course, if this trust is broken, even as a result of a brief social post or negative twitter reaction, the result can be disasterous.

A collaborative journey

Given this somewhat precarious balancing act, brands today will need to build colloboration and conversation into their marketing strategies, and work directly alongside those who will influence their customers. Online influencers are very much aware of what’s in the hearts and minds of a potential customer, not least because they are usually one themselves. What’s more, online influencers are visible on a wide variety of platforms and can promote a message to a wide following of people – often far wider than the brand’s original reach. However it’s essential to work with the right kind of influencer who talks about issues that are important to the customer (over and above sales focused messages). This way a brand can build the right kind of following through their influencer marketing; ideally one focused on advocacy.

In the marketing industry we often hear the terms; loyalty and advocacy bandied around. Whilst the two are, on first glance, similar, they both have some subtle and important differences. Loyal customers are people who keep returning to the brand, but they might not actively be talking about the brand to other people. They are what we may say, engaged in a passive partnership with the brand. On the other hand, brand advocates are people who are both loyal to the brand and proactively share it. Advocates will tell the brand’s story for them. As such, it’s essential to turn brand loyalists into brand advocates. A good way to do this is through the use of good credible talent who will influence the brand’s customers. In working with a talented influencer (i.e. someone who is an influencer off their own merit and skills), customers will put even more trust in the individual and the brand they represent due to their authenticity and integrity.

Influence through the conversion funnel

The conversion funnel shows the stages of this journey, and how in order for an influencer to be credited by both a brand and consumer, they must follow this funnel throughout their brand experience. There is certainly a key distinction between loyalty and advocacy and it depends on the brand’s goals for which path they want to obtain throughout their campaign experience.

When it breaks

Sadly the relationship of trust has sometimes been degraded by both marketers who don’t think about the consequences of their actions and also by influencers (engaged by those marketers on behalf of the brand) who are wanting a quick pay day. Going back to the conversion funnel as mentioned above, brands will need to be either within the loyalty or advocacy stage in order for their voice to become credible and establish trust. Trust will be lost when an influencer does not have this authenticity and credibility and poorly promotes the brand’s identity as a result. This can also be seen through the consistency of their online presence and their understanding of competitive brands when promoting products.

Fake followers have also had a negative impact on the trust that brands have when approaching influencer marketing as a whole. Fortunately, through the use of technology, we can maintain control over this issue and identify abnormal behaviour quickly. This means we can fight back against bad practice and, in time, restore trust to the influencer industry.

Breakout box:
Our top five tips for marketers to engender trust through working with influencers:

1. Identify talent or influences who really love and resonate with your brand and are already loyal consumers;
2. Ensure these influencers have credibility within your industry and have aligned values to your brand;
3. Show your consumers what happens behind the scenes: tell the original story;
4. Listen to and engage with your audience. React to their feedback as a learning method;
5. Review your campaign goals to ensure that for future campaigns your ROI is successful.