The better way to sell online

Forget celebrities: Our peers are the new influencers

You might have heard the word influencer thrown around over the last few years, but what exactly does it mean? It arose after the rise of reality television: ordinary people were thrust into the limelight, gained fans, and for no reason beyond their likeability began to influence those fans. The term influencer was coined, and it became a legitimate career: instagrammers with enough followers can earn up $1 million per post: and people like the Kardashians became famous for being famous.

Many businesses and companies jumped at the advertising opportunity, asking high profile social media stars to market their products in exchange for money or merchandise. But time passed, and many influencers began to realize just how many sales they were helping businesses make: they upped their prices, and many companies simply couldn’t afford them anymore. This prompted the rise of the micro-influencer: people with around 1-10,000 followers, who would promote products to more intimate, dedicated networks for a lower price.

The micro-influencer model worked for a while, but after a few years the glow faded. In 2017, video content creator was the highest ranked dream job amongst American teens. People worldwide began to research how they could become famous online and stumbled across a simple truth: many influencers don’t really love the products they’re selling. It’s, after all, just a job.

Predictably, this resulted in a huge loss of trust. Laws were introduced which require full transparency, and most of us now know that Kylie Jenner probably doesn’t use the diet pills she promotes online.

This shift in thinking has millennials and gen z’s desperate for authenticity: and it’s resulted in a whole new marketing paradigm. The new influencers aren’t famous: they’re the people we know.

The rise of peer-to-peer marketing.

We trust our peers more than we trust businesses. Peer to peer marketing is the process of customers engaging other customers through recommendations. We’re likely to hear those recommendations through our workplaces, families, friends, colleges, and social media accounts. And we’re likely to listen: Nielson found that 83% of us completely or somewhat trust what we hear from peers.

One of the biggest reasons why peer-to-peer marketing is so successful is because it doesn’t feel like we’re being sold to: the people giving us suggestions don’t receive monetary compensation for what they’re saying, so we’re less likely to dismiss them as being inauthentic.

There’s also something very satisfying in peer-to-peer marketing: it gives the customer the opportunity to hold all the power. Review platforms can make or break products and industries. Consumers aren’t listening to advertisements anymore, but to each other.

So how do businesses profit?

The key is recognizing that customers are individuals, and giving them ample opportunity to speak up about a business.

Influencers don’t carry the same weight that they used to, and businesses are better off spending their budgets on improving customer relationships and offering direct incentives. Cutting out unnecessary third parties, answering queries quickly, and responding to reviews given online can all help improve customer trust. Each happy customer has the potential to be somewhat of an unpaid brand ambassador: telling others about their experience. If you can offer extra experiences in exchange for social media posts, try it out.

With word-of-mouth marketing carrying more value than ever before, it’s key to make sure customers are given something to talk about.

- Lena Klein

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