‘Trust economy’ research reveals influencers are more trusted than social media ads

By Alec Harden-Henry, Influence Network.

In the course of some recent research, I came across a group of fascinating statistics.

Almost 75% of Gen Z and millennials follow influencers on social media. 50% of that audience say that they trust influencers to give good advice about the brands and products they are promoting vs. only 1 in 10 Brits who trust social media advertising.

This runs counter to many of the arguments we frequently hear about influencers.

Last month it was Charlotte Crosby in the news for misleading posts that failed to divulge they were advertisements. Crosby will now be subject to a three-month stay on the ASA website, a public show from ASA that she is potentially ‘untrustworthy’ on social media.

Yet, attention-grabbing, stories such as Crosby’s don’t seem indicative of the whole. In fact, they are the polar opposite, given 50% of Gen Z and millennials say they trust influencers to give good advice.

The key word here is trust and it’s something we’ve been hearing a lot of recently.

The research paper we were producing when we came across those figures is live now and as part of it, we spoke to 10 leading agencies and brands. We asked for their thoughts on how influencer marketing was changing, what was and wasn’t working and where things were heading.

The word ‘trust’ came up time and time again.

Trust creates purchases. When a consumer sees a product they want, from a brand they trust, the path to purchase is easier and, crucially, faster.

The consumer spends less time in the ‘messy middle’ evaluating their options, which means they have less chance to be exposed to a competitor, whom they may trust more.

In many ways then, a good deal of modern digital marketing is engaged in a sort of ‘trust economy’, attempting to acquire more trust, so that consumers make more purchases.

Where can you buy trust?

This leads to a problem. Namely that, though the trust economy exists, trust as a resource is not readily available for brands to acquire, particularly within traditional channels.

Some level of trust might be obtained by the fact that a baking brand runs an advert during The Great British Bake Off, or a premium personal bank takes out a full-page advert in The Sunday Times. But if we could measure the level of trust gained here, it feels as though it would be minor. After all, it’s not the same as The Times or GBB endorsing or using the brands in question.

Influencers and their role in the trust economy

With the above conundrum in mind, we had two notable takeaways whilst creating our research paper and speaking with leading agencies and brands.

  • Influencers are valued within agencies and brands because they are considered to have an audience who trusts them. By partnering with influencers, brands and agencies are able to engage in a rare ‘trust economy’ transaction where the trust held by the influencer transfers, at least in part, to the brand, product or service. There are few other current digital marketing channels where the transfer of trust is so visible or certain.
  • Indeed, comparing two pieces of research we found the trust level of social media advertising, by comparison, to be extremely low. Just 1 in 10 Brits trust social media advertising, compared to the 50% of Gen Z or millennials who follow influencers and say that they trust them to give good advice about the products or services that they are promoting.

With the above two points in mind, it is no wonder that influencer marketing has seen the level of growth that it has in recent years. Marketing departments, when faced with a choice between, say, social media advertising and partnering with an influencer, have a clear winner. The impact of any given influencer on the trust level of a brand or service is just too significant to ignore.

What this means for the future

In short, the growth of the sector is far from over.

Facebook’s 2021 Q3 revenue stood at $28.2 billion. Influencer marketing revenue, by contrast, was expected to reach around $13.8 billion… for the whole calendar year of 2021.

If the choice for marketing departments continues to be the high trust gains offered by influencers – when influencer marketing can be scaled, delivered at speed and with good processes in place – then social media advertisements may cease to be the de facto channel of choice for many.

The sector’s ‘boom’ is far from over, with the trust economy driving major growth in 2022 and beyond.

Alec Harden-Henry is the Managing Director at Influence Network.

Read more about Influence Network’s influencer marketing and the trust economy research findings.

Image by Ignatiev on iStock

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