There was a time when knowing that an A-list star used a face cream or weight-loss shake was enough to get women to implicitly trust a brand.
But things are changing quickly, according to research from SheKnows Media that will be released to the public tomorrow. These changes in women's buying behaviors matter because, the report estimates, they control 85% of all purchasing decisions in America, comprising a $14 trillion market.
Today, female consumers appear to be increasingly wary of big companies and the celebrities paid to endorse them. This shift appears to be spurred by the Internet, which has made it much easier to find authentic opinions about products in online reviews and on social media. Before buying a product for themselves or their families, women want to hear from everyday people with whom they can relate: 86% of the 1,470 women surveyed said they put the most trust in real peoples' product and service recommendations.
"In the past, women would predominantly turn to bloggers they trusted," Samantha Skey, CMO of SheKnows Media, tells Fast Company. "But today they are turning to what we refer to as 'everyday experts' on YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram."
For their part, these "everyday experts" say that followers trust them because they don't appear to have ulterior motives when producing content about products (although in reality, plenty of well-known social-media stars shill for brands as well). These influencers recognize that being authentic, honest, and responsive to their readers is very important in order to build relationships with them. This means giving bad reviews, when they are warranted—although presumably, not for products of companies they are paid by.
In terms of specific platforms, SheKnows Media found that 58% of women turn to YouTube to learn about products from everyday experts, 52% turn to Facebook, 50% turn to Pinterest, and 46% turn to Instagram. Blogs are now the least popular platform in the mix, with only 36% of women seeking out bloggers before buying a product.
Women find these these online everyday experts far more engaging than big companies. Fifty-two percent of women say these influencers do the best job of making them feel connected; only 12% of them said that brands did so and 11% said that celebrities did so.
Skey says that many bloggers have fanned out onto other social platforms and importantly, most no longer expect to make a living by blogging alone. When blogging was in its heyday five to 10 years ago, many bloggers aspired to be mini media companies where they would collaborate with companies and advertisers to bring in an income stream. There was a time when top bloggers could make $30,000 to $50,000 a month.
"Influencers have a more nuanced and complex strategy these days," Skey says. "They use different social platforms to build their brand; their blogs are just one extension of this effort to engage followers."
Today, only 20% of influencers (as determined by SheKnows based on followers and impact) are paid all the time when endorsing a product. And when it comes to getting paid, influencers must be careful about how they handle these sponsorships because appearing to be in the pocket of companies quickly diminishes their credibility with followers. Sixty-nine percent of influencers say they won't accept paid endorsements when they don't feel good about the product or the brand.
Millennial shoppers tend to feel the strongest connection with the influencers they see on social media, which makes sense, given that they have grown up in a digital world. Conversely, only 14% of baby boomers rely on experts they find on the Internet when they are gathering information about products.
Interestingly, African-Americans, Asians, and other ethnic minorities tend to feel a stronger connection to everyday experts than their white counterparts. This is perhaps because mainstream companies don't often cater to these groups in their marketing and advertising, so "everyday experts" who engage them directly have more impact.
More generally, Skey points out that social media influencers are most effective when they are targeting a very specific market segment, such as people of a particular age group or ethic background. Although their sphere of influence is more narrow, they tend to have greater impact with these groups.