Cannes Lions' introduction of a ‘Social and Influencer Lions’ category follows a turbulent year for influencers, with ASA probes into online ads and transparency also front-page news in relation to the Cambridge Analytica debacle.
Another day, another influencer debate into transparency, disclosure and authenticity… it’s nothing new in the world of influence, right?
Well, not quite.
Leading brands such as ASOS, Sky and General Electric are now turning their attention to colleagues as the next generation of influencers, as part of a marketing strategy to harness the authentic power of the people around them.
And they are doing it at scale.
Employee advocacy makes sense as the next wave of influencers. Employees have a high degree of trust in their individual networks and are able to talk with integrity and authenticity about a brand, their products and services.
Sure, a regular employee doesn’t have the social reach of a Zoella or Tanya Burr.
Yet, when hundreds or thousands of employees are switched on at scale, you get huge authentic reach plus a high degree of trust and authenticity.
Let’s remember, real influence isn’t popularity. Real influence is the ability to cause effect or change behaviour.
People listen to people they know well and make informed choices on recommendations from friends, family and peers.
Even more so on platforms such as Facebook, since the last algorithm update prioritised friends and family posts.
Employee advocacy is the fastest growing means of building brand engagement, according to the Altimeter Group.
While the MSL Group says that on average, brand messages are shared 24x more frequently when distributed by employees, rather than the brand itself.
And let’s be frank, influencer marketing has a number of challenges, not just transparency.
There have been some high-profile gaffes (Logan Paul anyone?) and tears (White Moose Café) as the industry matures on all sides together: brands, influencers and agencies.
And it isn’t cheap either.
Employee advocacy meantime is relatively straightforward and excellent value for money.
New tech platforms mean brands can quickly scale measurable word-of-mouth and achieve sustainable results.
ROI through an employee advocacy programme can be reported on accurately and brand reputation managed by working with employees closely.
The use of social influence as a means to reach customers is more important than ever as traditional methods of reaching customers online including advertising decline with the global rise of ad blockers.
What we understand by influence is being radically redrawn and I believe a brand’s best influencers are right in front of them.
Influence 2.0 is about brands switching on their greatest attribute – their colleagues – to drive marketing and PR.
Be genuine, be real – and you can start to see the impact brands could have in this new era of social media.
Andrew Seel is CEO at Qubist