Are Organic Influencers the Future of Influencer Marketing?

Jenny Force Jenny Force, VP of Marketing

Influencers have played a key role in social media marketing over recent years. However, businesses that rely on influencer marketing have experienced some challenges as consumers are growing skeptical over influencers’ endorsements. Younger customers from the millennial and Generation Z groups, in particular, are starting to view influencer marketing with suspicion. One way businesses and social media marketers can regain customers’ trust in this area is to work with organic influencers. Traditional influencer marketing is no longer as effective as it used to be, and organic influencer marketing may be the answer.

The Challenge of Influencer Marketing
When influencer marketing got started, it was a novelty. It was exciting to see popular musicians, athletes, models, and other well-known figures take over YouTube channels and other social media accounts to talk about products. As more and more companies hired influencers, though, it started to seem like just another marketing tactic. Then there were various scandals and poorly planned campaigns. For example, a pharma company that hired Kim Kardashian to promote a morning sickness drug ran into trouble when she failed to mention risks associated with the drug.

Another infamous example of a failed influencer campaign was the Pepsi commercial where Kylie Jenner is seen sharing a Pepsi with police officers to calm tensions at a protest. The scene was widely condemned as trivializing movements such as Black Lives Matter. There are many other examples as well. While most influencer campaigns don’t cause such controversy, it’s getting hard to overcome the perception that influencers are basically paid actors. Of course, companies employed celebrities in TV commercials long before the days of social media and the internet. Influencers, however, are supposed to engage consumers at a more authentic level.

Influencers were originally seen as cooler and more authentic than traditional paid actors or spokespersons. When the practice became widespread, however, the distinction quickly became fuzzy. So the basic problem is one of authenticity. No matter how popular an influencer is, if he or she has no organic connection to the product, it’s hard to convey authenticity.

A blatant example of how influencers can quickly lose the audience’s trust occurred when the fitness brand Bootea employed reality TV star Scott Disick to promote their products on Instagram. He accidentally posted the company’s instructions to him right into his Instagram post. While this type of error is rare, it showcases how easy it is for such campaigns to backfire. And each such case reduces the credibility of all influencers. Organic influencers are a refreshing antidote to this kind of scripted influencer marketing.

Who are Organic Influencers?
A pop star promoting a snack or beverage is probably going to be perceived as a paid spokesperson than someone sharing their genuine passion for the product. The exception would be cases where the influencer genuinely uses the product and, preferably, it’s related to his or her sphere of influence. For example, a model promoting a line of cosmetics or an athlete talking about athletic shoes he or she actually wears.

Organic influencers take the authenticity idea even further. Rather than looking for an influencer who can credibly promote a product, companies search for people who are already enthusiastic brand advocates. Of course, everyone can’t be an influencer. A customer who likes and praises a product is helpful but may not have the reach or level of enthusiasm to qualify as an influencer.

Organic influencers don’t have to be famous or have huge followings, but they do need to exert a certain amount of influence. They should post frequently on one or more platforms as well as being knowledgeable and passionate about the products or businesses they support. A genuine fan of a product who has 5 or 10 thousand followers can make a real impact if he or she is trusted. By contrast, someone with 100,000 followers who is dismissed as a paid actor will be less effective. Organic influencers are credible because they are honestly enthusiastic about the items they promote. They’re glad to share their thoughts and experiences even without compensation. Whereas traditional influencers are chosen primarily because of their fame, organic influencers are known first for their brand loyalty.

Micro Influencers and Organic Influencers
Micro-influencers and organic influencers overlap but are also distinct. As businesses started to notice that influencers who are merely famous didn’t necessarily inspire trust in consumers, they began to look at people who were well-known in a particular field. If you’re selling a software product, for example, it can be more helpful to recruit a trusted tech blogger with under 10,000 followers than an Instagram model with a huge following but who has no credibility in the software industry.

A micro-influencer is more organic than an influencer who’s chosen for the size of his or her following. A truly organic influencer, however, is recruited from within the existing customer base. Even micro-influencers generally need to be recruited into their roles. Because organic influencers are genuine customers who are simply sharing their actual feelings, their opinions carry a great deal of weight.

How to Find and Leverage Organic Influencers
Finding organic influencers is quite straightforward for established brands. Identify social media followers who post frequently and enthusiastically on your behalf. One of the best ways to encourage and leverage these fans is to simply acknowledge and interact with them. If they follow you, follow them back. Like, share and comment on their posts, especially when they mention your business and products.

You can turn your fans into organic influencers by giving them special treatment. Send them branded gifts such as t-shirts, water bottles or other promotional merchandise you might have. Send them samples and beta versions of your products to review. You can invite them to discuss or review your products, but don’t make demands. It’s really better if you don’t pay organic influencers as this helps maintain their independent and authentic status. Since you’re contacting people who’ve already displayed a preference, there’s a good chance they’ll be glad to review and publicly mention your latest products.

Organic influencers can help you overcome the biggest challenge of influencer marketing by providing a degree of credibility and authenticity you can’t usually find with traditional influencers. They are sure to play a major role in the future of influencer marketing.