Brands spent an estimated $2 billion on influencer marketing in 2017*, but new research finds that nearly one-quarter of influencer marketing dollars are being wasted on inauthentic content that today’s savvy consumers don’t trust.

Marketing communications firm Carmichael Lynch unveiled the finding from its recent research at Social Media Week in New York.

According to the agency’s new study, The Truth About Influencer Marketing, more than a third of women (35 percent) think influencers are dishonest when content is sponsored.

However, many influencers surveyed are unaware of this consumer skepticism

More than four in five influencers said their audience considers brand-sponsored content “about the same” as their regular content, and only 1 percent of influencers said their audience responds negatively toward brand-sponsored content.

Even more troublesome for an industry built on trust, 23 percent of influencers surveyed don’t feel they’re able to be authentic with brand-sponsored content. When asked about challenges in working with a brand, 70 percent said a top challenge is the “lack of creative freedom,” but more alarming are the findings that 45 percent said “brands don’t understand my audience.”

Even more concerning, 15 percent said, “I don’t like the brand”—which makes one wonder why they’re partnered in the first place.

“Consumers look to influencers for honest opinions, and it’s this trusted relationship that sets influencers apart from ads—it’s word-of-mouth at scale. But trust in the industry has eroded through some high-profile missteps,” said Emily Buchanan, executive vice president at Carmichael Lynch Relate, in a news release. “Influencer marketing is in a position to thrive, but the industry must drive meaningful change and regain consumer trust.”

Key findings from the surveys, according to Carmichael Lynch Relate’s 2018 Sponsored Content Survey and 2018 Influencer Partnerships Survey:

Women are more likely to follow influencers than men AND are more skeptical of them

  • More than half of Americans (53 percent) consume influencer content—women are twice as likely as men to do so (68 percent of women versus 32 percent of men).
  • More than a third of women (35 percent) think influencers are dishonest when content is sponsored, compared to 19 percent of men who think the same thing.

Yet, influencers seem to be unaware of consumer skepticism toward sponsored content

  • Only 1 percent of influencers say their audience responds negatively toward brand-sponsored content.
  • Although 81 percent of influencers say their audience considers branded content “about the same” as their regular content, 8 percent of influencers admit their brand-sponsored content is “a little worse.”

Influencer authenticity and creativity are challenged by brand partnerships

  • When publishing brand-sponsored content, nearly 1 in 4 influencers (23 percent) don’t feel they’re able to be authentic.
  • More than two-thirds (69 percent) of influencers say one of their Top 3 challenges when working with brands is the “lack of creative freedom.” Forty-five percent of influencers say “brands don’t understand my audience” and 23 percent say “brands don’t understand my content.”
  • Fifteen percent of influencers say one of their Top 3 challenges when working with brands is “I don’t like the brand.”

Men and women see the value of sponsored content differently

  • One-third of men (35 percent) say the main bene t of sponsored content is “high-quality content from an influencer I like,” compared to 20 percent of women who say the same.
  • Women are more likely to say the main benefit of sponsored content is “learning something new” (40 percent of women compared to 25 percent of men).

Celebrities and video creators have the greatest influence

  • The most followed types of influencers are celebrities (55 percent of respondents follow them) and YouTubers/vloggers (followed by 47 percent of respondents). Bloggers and journalists are the least followed, at 29 percent and 27 percent, respectively.
  • Almost 80 percent of Americans who consume influencer content do so on Facebook. YouTube is the next hottest platform, with 69 percent of Americans consuming influencer content there, followed by Instagram (55 percent), Twitter (46 percent), Pinterest (35 percent), Snapchat (23 percent), blogs (22 percent) and LinkedIn (21 percent).

In October 2017, Carmichael Lynch Inc. via third-party service Toluna conducted an online survey of 121 influencers (bloggers, vloggers and content creators) who regularly partner with brands, in order to determine their perceptions toward sponsored content. 

* AdWeek, Influencer Marketing 2018

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