The TikTok age of authenticity: for gen Z, reach doesn't equal influence

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With the rise of TikTok, authenticity is the word of the day in influencer marketing. Creators are becoming less filtered and sharing more of their lives. Joe Stratton, client services director at What They Said, looks into the new age of authenticity, and what it demands of brands.

The pandemic has driven a positive change in the world of influence. Marketers became more and more reliant on influencers. It was the only marketing channel that increased in effectiveness throughout the pandemic, which in turn led to more scrutiny.

Influencers are moving from entertaining and plugging products to sharing advice, discussing their passions, and spreading unbiased information. It’s now about establishing a unique point of view and a tight community to meet the demand; generating cultural conversations that inform, educate and stimulate thinking.

How should brands and influencer marketers embrace the age of authenticity to ensure their campaigns deliver meaningful results and business impact?

What is authenticity?

Authenticity is 'the quality of being real or true'. It has many different meanings in influencer marketing. Is it someone who genuinely has an affinity towards a product, someone who has never bought followers, or someone who genuinely practices what they preach? In truth, it’s a combination.

Who is driving this change? 

People are placing more trust than ever into the recommendations of influencers.  A recent survey showed that 49% of consumers depend on the recommendations given to them by influencers. There is a genuine reliance on truthful information that people use to make decisions.

Following the emergence of TikTok and reels, over-produced content is becoming less desirable. Un-filtered, short-form video offers more of a real-life representation, rather than broadcast-quality content that depicts life as perfect. As of September 2021, TikTok overtook YouTube in average watch time in the US and the UK - a monumental shift in consumer behavior and evidence of a desire for unfiltered content. 

Gen Z have driven this cultural shift. There's a desire for brands and influencers to speak their truth, sharing real-life stories and advocating for what they believe in.  82% of Gen Z say they’re more trusting of brands that use real customers and stories in their advertising.

Brands should embrace this desire for unfiltered and real-life content, placing trust in those who know their audience best. 

Size no longer matters

As the industry has evolved, so too has defining success. Just having 100,000 people see your branded Instagram post provides little commercial return.

Follower numbers are misleading, and it takes time to look deeper into a creator’s metrics to identify who and what will deliver on campaign objectives.

In addition to using tools to data-match creators, marketers should use social listening tools to assess the relevance of the conversation.

Hidden likes mean sincere conversation  

Conversations across social media are becoming more sincere, encouraging people to speak freely and genuinely without feeling like they need to please the masses and gain as many likes as possible.  

This isn’t just everyday people. This is becoming more frequent across channels of influencers who appreciate their value is worth more than just numbers.

Intimate conversation equals genuine influence

Conversations are also becoming more intimate. Instagram and Facebook have provided formats where people are able to create private spaces, where they can speak freely and are more willing to give their opinion. 

Instagram Stories (shared to friends) and Facebook groups are places where people are more comfortable using their influence across a more concentrated audience who share similar interests.

The human touch

Technology has played a huge part in propelling the industry forwards. Identifying the relevant data points for which to source creators has never been more efficient; tools such as Tagger are a brilliant starting point for discovery and compiling post-campaign reports.

But automation can take away what’s great about the industry and data can be misleading. A famous example of how data can be misleading is the Boris Johnson and Ozzy Osborne comparison. Two eccentric, middle-aged British males with an interest in politics and love for their pet dogs. Both are likely to appear in the same platform search. However, they couldn’t be further apart in terms of their personality, beliefs, and values. 

Collaborative campaigns that use creators' expertise are the best example of using human connection. For example, we partnered with blind broadcaster and content creator Lucy Edwards to become the ambassador for Pantene and help shape the campaign for the visually impaired community alongside P&G’s diversity team.

The ‘hands-on approach’ is fundamental to ensure true diversity and inclusion. We need to interrogate who we’re working with and why.  Data and algorithms can often be biased and rule out different segments of society who can provide more meaningful and relevant conversations. 

No one size fits all in the Age of Authenticity. We need to take time to go beyond vanity metrics, place trust in influencers as content creators who know their audience best, and collaborate to deliver impact.