You don’t have to be a massive consumer of news to see that there’s a crisis of confidence in social media right now. Anxiety over fake news factories and algorithm bubbles feeding us too much of what we want to hear is a huge issue in the public sphere, with 64% of Americans saying at the end of last year that they felt a great deal of confusion about the basic facts surrounding current events.

Rewind to the early days of social media and you see a radically different landscape – one dominated by user-generated content.

Everything in my old social media feeds would be status updates from friends, photos from a night out, messages asking if I was still at the library – in other words, genuine content from users who were part of my network. And I trusted that content. I knew if I was seeing something, it was from a source I’d chosen to share my network with.

Cut to today, and I don’t need to tell you things are a little different. Suggested links, adverts and adverts disguised as suggested links are everywhere.

Brands trying to get your attention often mimic the look and feel of real content, or use what your friends are doing as an excuse to try to get in touch. Facebook is clearly aware of this, with users starting to receive push notifications letting them know how long it’s been since they last posted something (translation: we need more real content to make this site worth users’ time).

This sort of climate poses core problems to marketers. How can brands produce inspiring yet credible content in a world that’s increasingly confused and sceptical? How do you get people thinking about how your brand fits in with their lifestyle?

The problem with influencer marketing

It’s no surprise that in response to this question, tactics like influencer marketing have sprung up.

You can see the appeal – it looks a lot like real user content, except brands have control over the message. You can make it inspiring and pick the influencer to fit the exact image you want to be associated with your brand, almost like picking your ideal customer.

How can brands produce inspiring yet credible content in a world that’s increasingly confused and sceptical?

No comments like ‘bit expensive, but worth it overall’ or ‘wish it had more storage space, but good for the price’ – just nicely composed photos with tasteful filters and wholehearted endorsements. Trends like this show a real understanding from marketers that it’s not enough to just push your product into peoples’ eye-line, you have to try and connect with potential customers on a human level. You have to get ‘someone like them’ to talk about your product.

There’s just one problem – the second you pay someone for the endorsement, it’s not 100% genuine.

I’m not saying this kind of marketing can’t be effective in the right context, and I don’t doubt that some influencers are talking about products they really love and use themselves. But rumours of large sums of money changing hands and a fake or forced vibe in influencer circles undermine the public’s trust.

Take the example of former Instagram model Essena O’Neill, who famously quit social media last year citing the effects on her mental health and the pressure of faking happiness and well-being to endorse products. She even went through some old photos she’d posted, recounting how unhappy she’d felt when they were taken, or how much money she’d been paid to endorse products.

So what’s the solution?

Luckily, the answer is close at hand. Consumers love content produced by people like them – we already know that. As simple as it may sound, you just have to ask for it. Over half of consumers report wanting more guidance on how to create and share content like reviews.

At Reevoo, we’ve sensed this for a long time – we basically built our whole business around the concept of giving consumers an easy way to share content about their purchases. Then, with more reliable content out there, it’s easier for people to weigh up options and make decisions.

Ultimately, that’s what everyone wants – more transparency and a place where people get the products and services they need.

The good news is that it’s actually pretty easy to be more real in your marketing. Our digital marketing manager, Jeno, wrote a great guide to using reviews on social media to get you started.

Being told that a washing machine is quiet, or that a holiday had breath-taking views by someone who used it or went there is a good start. In some respects, it’s no different from an endorsement in that it’s someone you don’t know saying the product is good.

But the research on this tells us that people do view it differently. A Nielsen study found that 92% of people trust earned media over advertising, and 69% of people trust images from other consumers over ones created by brands. This kind of activity is really worth your time.

But posting review content can feel like more of a defensive action, something you do to convince and educate in the latter stages of the buying journey. What do you do to build campaigns that inspire and showcase the lifestyle you want to associate your brand with – the stuff you’d use to reach out and get new people interested in you?

Well, believe it or not, the answer is still UGC.

Social-influence

We’ll start with an easier one – holidays. It’s not difficult to imagine that there could be inspiring content around travelling.

The idea of getting away from the 9-5 and topping up your tan on the beach or hitting the museum on a city break isn’t exactly a hard sell. Well, turns out getting customers to share their experiences isn’t that tough either.

Here’s an example. The content provided willingly by BA Holidays’ customers is pretty inspiring on its own. Whether checking out Rome for a birthday or lying by the pool, phones mean we always have a camera on-hand to capture the moment. All we had to do was ask returning holidaymakers to tell us about their happiest memories, and the brochure-worthy content started rolling in.

I don’t know about you, but I definitely relate to the pictures below far more than the sort of picture you’d find in the travel section of a weekend newspaper, or an Instagram post filtered and cropped within an inch of its life.

Social-influence-reevoo

So, that was the easy one. Let’s try something with a bit less natural charm than holidays – insurance. We all need it, but it’s not always the most thrilling purchase.

We started talking to LV= about how we could put their products into context – get people thinking about the reasons they buy insurance.

As it happens, making sure the family home is covered if the worst happens or getting a first-time driver out on the road for the first time is a pretty big deal to people.

Social-influence-reevoo

By tailoring the questions to explore what insuring a home, pet or car meant to people, we gathered content that put a less glamorous but important purchase in full context.

Seeing people talk about how important a new pet is to the family, or how having a car gives you the freedom to come and go as you please is actually pretty inspiring. It showcases the relationship between a brand and its customers without the need to exaggerate or twist the facts.

Social-influence-reevoo

So, there you have it. Next time you’re looking for exciting content to light up your content strategy, try asking your customers. You might be pleasantly surprised.

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Social influence is dead, long live social influence