The popularity of influencers as a marketing medium shows no signs of slowing. The right influencers give brands the opportunity to reach their target audience of consumers through more authentic, experiential marketing forms, while offering entertainment value and a personal connection beyond traditional advertising.

But where does this kind of marketing have the most potential?

In a bespoke survey, we asked 3,352 internet users across the UK and U.S. these questions. Here are our top findings.

1. Males are more likely to relate to influencers.

There’s a common misconception that most internet users who follow celebrities or well-known personalities online are female, but our research paints a different picture.

We uncovered an almost 50:50 gender split in engagement rate among the consumers who follow celebrity social media influencers online. Men were not only more likely to say they like to seek expert opinion in before making a purchase, they were also more likely than women to say they can better relate to the opinions of these influencers than product experts.

This has an important implication:

The impact of influencer marketing may actually be greater among male followers.

Men were also more likely to agree that celebrity endorsements or well-known personalities actually influence their purchase decisions as potential customers. But these influencers still need to work hard to be relatable among both genders, particularly as the influencer space gradually becomes more crowded.

2. Instagrammers are most impacted by influencers.

Facebook and YouTube take the lead when we look at where influencers are followed, but if we look at how influential they are on these marketing platforms, we see something different:

Almost 1 in 2 Instagram users with influencers in their feeds say their purchase decisions are impacted by them.

This is compared to 41% of YouTube visitors and 37% of Facebook users.

Instagram’s format naturally lends itself to this type of social media marketing, and is clearly the hottest place for it. Its swipe-up feature lets Instagram influencers direct followers straight to purchase options (sometimes with special offers, free products or discount codes), while ‘Stories’ provides a window into creators’ worlds – helping to make them more relatable.

And with the launch of IGTV for long-form video content, this social media channel continues to add to its formats that make the space an ideal ground for the type of influencer marketing consumers actually want. This means consumers with an Instagram account are the perfect target market for relevant influencers to push recommendations for new products.

3. Food influencers are most popular, but finance and travel are most influential.

When we asked consumers which categories of celebrities or personalities they follow online, food stood out as the top option at 45%, followed closely by beauty and fashion. When you think of successful influencer marketing campaigns, these are likely to be the first categories that come to mind as areas that are relevant to many consumers.

But it’s actually among the more niche, research-heavy topics like personal finance and travel where the types of influencers appear most impactful; around a half of those who follow influencers in these areas say that their purchase decisions are affected by this type of influencer content.

At the other end of the spectrum for this purchase influence is food and fitness. This is likely because influencers in these areas act more as sources of inspiration for recipes or exercise routines, for example, rather than sources of product discovery.

Influencers are then not only a useful way to sell products to consumers, but are most effective as a source of advice around important and costly topics – but authenticity and trust are key.

4. A “follow” doesn’t guarantee consumer trust.

One of the greatest barriers to the success of influencer marketing is trust. Although 40% of internet users who follow celebrities or well-known personalities on social media believe they make unbiased and trustworthy recommendations, 30% actually disagree with this statement. The best influencers have a high following and trust rating from their audience.

These followers in the U.S. (43%) are considerably more trusting than those in the UK (32%). And considering that men are more likely to relate to the influencers they follow, it makes sense that they’re also more trusting of them.

As consumers don’t always trust the influencers they follow, brands need to choose their partners and brand ambassadors carefully. It might be more valuable to invest in a micro influencer with a dedicated, but smaller following.

5. Influencers and brands need to be honest about paid partnerships.

Being transparent with consumers will help to build trust and influence with them, particularly around the nature of the partnership between the brand and creator.

1 in 2 strongly agree that followers should be informed if celebrities or well-known personalities are being paid to promote a product or brand, and only 6% disagree.

There shouldn’t be any reason to hide this, and being open will only help to bring consumers on side.

This transparency is also important to ensure the future of influencer marketing.

And this is serious business: the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK has introduced ad guidelines to regulate the process and make it clear when promotions are paid-for posts, while in the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission has enforced similar rules.

There are many reasons why everyone from bloggers to big brand marketers are being lured into influencer marketing, but there’s far more to its success than a mass following. Done right, influencers can provide great returns and a direct route to consumers that other advertising types don’t offer, but the what, where and how are crucial to maximizing its potential.

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