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Despite reports on the growth of influencer marketing last year, it appears that this marketing channel could be becoming less effective. Some research found that influencer engagement rates dropped significantly from 2019 to 2020. And some marketers reported seeing a consistent downward trend in conversion rates last year.

Pandemic budget cuts certainly aren’t helping influencer marketing either; one report noted that fewer brands are working with influencers now and that we’re seeing fewer sponsored posts by Instagram influencers.

So what’s causing these changes in the effectiveness of influencer marketing, and where do marketers go next?

Influencer marketing was a buzzword in marketing for a number of years. It fostered the invention of new terms like “nano-influencers,” “micro-influencers,” “macro-influencers” and even “mega-influencers.” Think along the lines of a popular YouTuber from a local college to a major celebrity like Kim Kardashian, and you will have a general idea of the range of influencers that sprang up to help marketers push their brands and their products and services.

While many influencers are dedicated to showcasing honest, authentic and positive online personas, the controversial actions of some, like PewDiePie and Logan Paul, have certainly damaged the credibility of influencer marketing as a whole. Besides that, the luxury lifestyles of some influencers have been exposed as facades (think pretending to be on planes or in Paris when they’re really at home). Some influencers have also been known to purchase fake followers and engagement to increase their salability to marketers.

From what we’ve seen, many consumers are beginning to realize that influencers aren’t necessarily authentic product users; they are spokespeople who are paid to pitch products on social media instead of on TV. Thus, influencers are more often being seen as insincere. And many consumers are being put off by what they see as influencers’ overly inflated lifestyles that don’t match up with consumers’ real lives and experiences.

So with influencer marketing perhaps not offering the ROI it once was, what can you turn to? User-generated content is one option. Research by Nielsen has shown that “consumers continue to trust the opinions of other consumers (either people they know or consumer opinions posted online) more than paid advertising.” Who wouldn’t trust their mom, grandma or best friend over an Instagram influencer being paid to tell them how great a product is?

User-generated content comprises photos, videos and reviews from actual customers and brand advocates who have spent their hard-earned money to purchase products and then have taken time to post content on social media about those products.

Utilizing user-generated materials not only provides fresh content for brands but also creates a level of excitement for the consumers who shared it. We’ve found that these consumers are often more likely to reshare their content and discuss their moment in the spotlight with their friends and family.

You can find user-generated content organically through social listening (be sure to ask for permission to use their content), or you can run a campaign asking consumers to submit their content. Simply ask consumers to show how they use your product or services in their everyday life, and have them post it on social media with a hashtag or on your brand’s social pages.

While influencer marketing has primarily been used for business-to-consumer verticals, business-to-business entities haven’t shied away from it. And they should not ignore user-generated content. If you manufacture or produce goods that are components of another product, facilitating strong relationships with your clients can encourage them to create and share feedback and testimonials. This not only provides your business with content, but it’s also free promotion for the companies you supply.

At our agency, we rely primarily on user-generated content rather than influencer marketing because we have seen the impact that it can have on companies’ bottom lines. If your advertising budget is decreasing, consider how employing user-generated content can give you more bang for your buck. Consumer brand advocates talk about their favorite products because of their affinity for them, not because they are getting paid to talk about them. However, even when creating a program where consumers may receive a discount or free products, the costs can be relatively modest compared to the large fees that some influencers request.

If you are a proponent of influencer marketing, think of user-generated content as its evolution, and use it as a complement to your current influencer strategy. Your influencer marketing strategy does not have to end, especially if your analytics and sales results make a strong argument for it, but as it becomes harder for influencers to effectively engage consumers, it may be time to consider at least a small pivot into user-generated content.