Picture: 123RF/SKDESIGN
Picture: 123RF/SKDESIGN

How will effective marketers engage audiences to grow revenues this year? The global trust crisis does not bode well for traditional advertising, but does give influencer marketing an advantage.

The big take-out: Authenticity is everything in influencer marketing. Social audiences are savvy and easily see through celebrity endorsements that are all about the money. What data and practice reveal about social word-of-mouth marketing is that influence is more about resonance, relevance and authenticity than about reach.

Trust will be a big deal for brands in 2018. In its first editorial of this year the Financial Times said the relationship between business and society needed to be repaired. This statement is supported by the Edelman Trust Barometer, a respected global benchmark, which last year reported “the largest-ever drop of trust in business, government, the media, and NGOs.”

Mind the gap

The trust gap will affect brands in 2018. What’s the root cause of this trust crisis? Edelman’s research shows people don’t believe society’s systems work for them anymore. Populations worldwide are rejecting authority more and more. Instead, they’re turning to their peers.

The global trust gap is bad news for marketers, because consumers are increasingly turning their backs on advertising. Of those polled by Ipsos Mori in mid-2017, 42% said they distrusted brands, while 69% said they distrusted advertising.

Influencer marketing rises

The good news? Research shows that while trust in traditional media and brands are on the decline, people still have faith in word of mouth. Edelman’s research reveals that “expertise and authority no longer speak to the public with the same resonance as they once did. People are turning to friends, family and social media to form their opinions.”

Millennials, in particular, don’t trust ads, and consider advertising to be inauthentic. Adweek reports that only 3% of millennials consult traditional media (television, newspapers and magazines) when making purchasing decisions. Only 1% say their trust in brands is swayed by ads. This confirms that influencer marketing will continue to be big in 2018, as savvy marketers look to new ways of making messages heard.

Influencer marketing is changing 

The SA influencer marketing industry is still at an early stage. Think of influencer marketing as word of mouth on social steroids. But brands need to appreciate the difference between celebrity endorsements and influencer marketing. When brands first adopted influencer marketing, they latched onto celebrities and famous vloggers (video bloggers), because big names have big reach, a measure familiar to marketers.

Recently there has been a shift away from these influencers towards micro-influencers and brand influencers – everyday folk who are not being paid to endorse brands. Why?

In 2016 pioneers dipped their toes in the influencer marketing sea, but in 2017 brands waded in waist deep. A lot of big mistakes were made. Remember Scott Disick’s “super embarrassing” Instagram error that had Twitter in tears of laughter? Or Kendall Jenner and the other celebrities involved in the Fyre Festival debacle? Or PewDiePie’s racial slur? The blunders continued in 2018 when infamous vlogger Logan Paul went to Japan and managed to insult an entire country.

In the wake of the damage that some brands have suffered from celebrity endorsements in the social age, expect marketers to become more cautious.


Over the past few years influencer marketing has moved from the periphery to the centre stage of branding, because it works. A survey, The State of Influencer Marketing 2018, involved close on 200 marketers and reports that 86% of them said they used influencer marketing in 2017. Of these, 92% said influencer marketing was an effective strategy and 39% said they would hike influencer marketing budgets in 2018.

The challenge for brands is to identify the most influential people in branded social media communities and to determine their overall influence. Fortunately there are now smart social platform tools that allow this. At Continuon we’ve managed to hone these tools so that instead of just looking superficially at follower numbers we’re able to determine the velocity of conversations, identify the drivers and leaders of conversation and establish relevance and resonance. It’s about filtering out the “noise” – those fans and followers who look as if they might be influencers because they engage with the content and have large networks but whose engagements have no impact.

Authenticity is everything

There’s gold in social audiences, and 2018 will teach marketers how great growth can be unlocked by nurturing and rewarding the right social audiences.

* Elliott is the founder of Continuon, a homegrown social intelligence platform.