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How Brands Use Influencers To Take An Honest Stand

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At a SMWLA panel hosted by Julius, experts on influencer marketing discussed how brands are using their influencer relationships to take have authentic conversations on issues they care about.

It wasn’t that long ago that a major brand would probably avoid stepping into cultural conversations about sensitive topics at all costs. But that was then.

Now, thanks to shifts in the culture, as well as the emergence of influencers—who can tell their own story while authentically integrating the message of the brand that enlists them—companies are increasingly looking for ways to take part in the larger conversations around them.

What has changed, exactly? Karin Swanson, the director of business development at influencer marketing platform Julius, sat down with three experts in the field to illuminate the new way forward for brands.

Operate honestly in the ‘culture of proximity’

Just 10 or 15 years ago, the relationship between brands and people was much different—there was a clear and obvious space between the two.

Now, according to Dana Wade, VP of Culture and Creative Insights at Viacom, there is a “culture of proximity” that that has closed the separation between brands and people.

And because the two are now so close, people’s expectations of what brands should be have changed.

“In our study, we found 68 percent of people expect brands to be honest,” said Wade. “And people expect themselves to be authentic and honest as well. In that context, it only makes sense for brands and influencers to find that mutual connection.”

Let influencers tell their own story

If brands now have the expectation of transparency and honesty, why don’t they have these conversations directly with consumers themselves?

Because influencers bring a level of trust and authenticity that brands can’t touch.

“Influencers are regular people—they can share their personal story… and that’s going to engage with an audience on a deeper level,” said Zoe Marans, VP at Mediakix.

“People are trying to avoid ads at all costs,” between ad blockers and fast-forwarding through ads, added Marans. “But people are opting in on a daily basis to hear what [influencers] have to say.”

As a result of the ability of influencers to engage on a personal, emotional, and psychological level, the audience is more likely to be excited and curious.

“We do have a story tell,” said Olya Hill, influencer and creative director and founder of LivingNotes. “Influencers are not celebrities.”

Identify your space, then let influencers take over

In our highly politically charged times, it’s not surprising that entities that typically would stay out of controversial conversations are wondering how to best approach them instead, says Wade.

“Brands have more freedom than they’ve had in the past,” Wade said. “It’s easier now for brands to step into conversations they might otherwise have been shy about.”

But brand values have to be evaluated—otherwise, it won’t come off as authentic. And if a brand doesn’t have social good as an inherent part of their strategy, it can be difficult to pick their place in the conversation.

That’s why, Marans said, “You have to find the right influencer.” If there’s a right match between brand, influencer, and cause, it will make sense to consumers. Plus, an engaged influencer will do a better job with their content.

To that point, Hill said, “Let the influencer do their job. We know our audiences and what they respond to. We can deliver the message.”

Recognize that disclosure is no longer a dirty word

In order for consumers to trust the message the brand and influencer are trying to impart—well, they need to trust the brand and influencer.

In the past, brands tried to jumpstart that trust by looking for (legal) ways to circumvent disclosure laws and avoiding “#ad” in their posts. Today, that hashtag denotes authenticity and transparency, according to Hill.

“[People] want to see when they’re being advertised to—and it doesn’t turn them off,” said Hill.
The power of disclosure is amazing, and should be used for good.”

Not only is failing to disclose an ad illegal, of course, but it can damage your brand reputation. “In Eastern Europe, they don’t have to disclose their posts—and in return, customers don’t trust anything at all,” Hill noted.

‘This crashing of everything’

“People are acting like brands in this landscape,” said Wade. People are worried about curation, position, their content strategies, their points of view online. And if we are taking the time to care about how we look and what we’re connecting to, “brands have to do that even more.”

With that in mind, it’s only right that brands and influencers have the same conversations we’re all having now.

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