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Authentic Realism: How Does Fake News Affect Influencer Marketing?

Over the last year, we’ve heard a lot about fake news. Even before that there were questions about celebrities and social media stars connections with large brands. Who believes the photos in glossy magazines haven’t been airbrushed? Or that celebrities write their own autobiographies? Increasingly, the general public is getting wise to the reality of the people they aspire to be like. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a post and believed Clint Eastwood has died! So what does this heightened awareness of ‘the fake’, do for influencer marketing?

We all look for advice and recommendations. Influencers are the people many of us go to online for these recommendations. What’s more, this is where SEOs can go to get links. Which means they are a brilliant resource for all concerned and should be part of every business’ marketing activity.

When selecting an influencer it’s important to first look at your own target audience and make sure there is an alignment with the influencer’s audience. Once you’re happy about this then it’s time to ensure the influencer is right for your business.

We’ve now entered an era in which fake news is the resource of political parties and foreign governments who are actively seeking to influence election results. And whilst tabloids have never been beyond the line “a source close to the family said” – when they don’t have the real story – these words are now being shared and replicated, further blurring the line between sensationalism and truth.

We are moving into an era in which the public harbour a scepticism about the content they consume. Trusting an increasingly fewer number of publishers for veracity.

Influencer marketing relies on one form of currency: trust. But as more people and publications are viewed with cynicism online that currency depreciates in value. If trust in influencers starts to decrease so too will the amount they’re able to command.

So we’ve got to be asking ourselves as marketers if the power of the influencer is on the wane, what should we be looking towards to take its place? How do we reach the audience? On the other hand, as SEOs, we also need to remember that this is the best source of a highly relevant in-context link from an authoritative domain.

And there is a difference between influencer/outreach marketing and guest posting for link building, but it’s probably a more subtle difference than you’d think. In essence, one attempts to make sure the potential customers will take an action based on the recommendation of influencers, whilst the other attempts to increase the rankings of a website based on the authority of an influencer.

But there are the winds of change. Brands are increasingly using plus size models (aka normal size women), celebrities are photographing themselves without makeup, there are drives to use less photoshopping in magazines, newspapers and advertisements. Just recently there was a campaign called #GetReal. This campaign was created by Look magazine, which aimed to reduce the amount of nonsense on social media.

And whilst every man and their dog knows that marketers are creating a generation of millionaire YouTube stars by paying influencers to push their products, I don’t think this is the end of influencers. Instead, I think you’ll see the influencers with huge reach continuing to be able to command high prices.

This will happen despite the knowledge of the audience that they’re being marketed to, and despite marketers knowing these audiences are less malleable than they once had been. That’s because this is the best place to get that kind of reach with the right target audience.

I believe that it’s likely we’ll see the decline in pay for post influencers and will start to see the creation of a new kind of influencer. I believe these will be the “Authentic Realists”. These are influencers who go out of their way to create a picture of what their life is really like rather than an idealised version of themselves for their audience’s consumption. I think we’re seeing this warts-and-all trend in other walks of life, most notably in politics.

We’re still going to be looking for guidance. We’re still going to need advice. We’re still going to want to aspire to be like other people. But perhaps the Bling Era – in which we aspire to an opulent, ostentatious displays of wealth – is slowly starting to come to an end.

You may think that we will always look to people who are able to demonstrate their wealth, for example, however, this is a relatively recent cultural norm. Many people alive today will remember a time when public displays of wealth were seen as distasteful. If we are moving away from the Bling Era, could the Authentic Realist Influencers be the ones to usher in this cultural norm? And could marketers provide them with the finances to make sure they can do it?

When thinking of Authentic Realists, I think back to the Social Realism movement of the late 19th and early 20th century. In this movement, artists sought to demonstrate the actual living conditions of life in their times. Especially when thinking about the life of the working classes. In those days these were the ones that lived in a kind of deprivation and squalor that most of us today could hardly imagine whilst there was a huge disparity between the wealthiest and the poorest in society. Over the last decade, it feels as though we’ve increasingly been moving back towards a society of extreme wealth and extreme poverty and although we have safety nets against mass-abject poverty, do we really want to be constantly reminded of how relatively poor we all are?

So the Authentic Realists will be a reflection of their audience. They won’t be trying to portray their lives in too positive a light. They’ll be looking for things their audiences can relate to. Perhaps focussing on when things go wrong rather than the things that always go right. In their Instagram photos, they’ll be less inclined to apply a filter and more inclined to include the out of frame chaos that current influencers would crop.

By demonstrating they are more like their audience, these Authentic Realist influencers will be able to connect to their audience through their authenticity. And they will garner more trust because of their genuine authenticity. It will be hard fought, hard won and easily lost. Done well, these authentic influencers will really be able to recommend our products. But they will have to use them and really believe in them.

We can see how this concept has started to enter the mainstream already. Look at someone like Prince Harry. There have been countless campaigns and attempts to get men to talk about mental health issues. In one conversation – when he candidly discussed that it took him twenty years to get help to deal with his mother’s death – Prince Harry used authenticity to trigger one of the biggest surges in men asking for help with mental health.

The thing is we can’t go out there any just buy an authentic influencer otherwise they wouldn’t be authentic. This has to be about working with them in a mutually beneficial way to ensure they are able to become advocates for a brand, a product and/or a service.

There are a number of influencers out there who are starting to advocate being an influencer not by choice but indirectly by sharing about what they do. You only have to have a look at the likes of #andyMckenzie or #IronMacfitness and ZannaVanDijk for this.

Of course, this does mean finding the right kind of influencer is going to be more difficult. You can easily measure for reach, you can find context and plenty of influencers will be able to give you a feel for their actionability (their ability to make their audience take an action). But how do you measure how authentic and how ‘real’ they are? For now finding these kinds of influencers is going to be a much more manual process. But as with everything in marketing, it will soon be automated, and once it’s automated and everyone starts to find out about Authentic Realists, we’ll soon be looking for the next kind of influencer.

So whilst fake news may be making us all that bit more cynical – and whilst it may be contributing towards the reduction in the actionability of the typical influencer – it may be about to usher in a new era of influencer marketing. An era in which influencers play upon their authenticity and realism.

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