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For years, word-of-mouth marketing has been the most trusted form of advertising. In a Nielsen study across 58 countries, 84 percent of recipients said they put the greatest trust in recommendations from friends and family.

Social media hasn’t changed that. But what the proliferation of blogs and social platforms has done is create a megaphone of sorts for word-of-mouth advertising. Now, when we’re looking for our next vacation, we don’t visit a travel agent or ask the neighbors — we check out our favorite blogs. If we want to get dinner out, we no longer turn to the phone book to scroll through lists of restaurants — we visit Yelp and read users’ reviews.

Word-of-mouth marketing isn’t disappearing as we become more attached to our screens. If anything, it’s escalating. Influencer marketing is the art of harnessing that online narrative to spread positive words about your brand, boosting influence and cultivating trust among your target customers.

The Rise of Influencer Marketing

The term “influencer marketing” gained search recognition in 2012 because brands were starting to see that digital content creators could impact their sales cycles. As consumers began following more blogs and using social media in ever-greater numbers during the early 2010s, brands began testing the waters, allocating small sums toward influencer marketing.

Today, the online discussion is one that no brand can afford to ignore. Facebook now has 1.59 billion monthly users, while Twitter has 320 million and Instagram has 400 million. By 2020, social media spending is expected to reach $27.4 billion, more than double its high water mark of $12.3 billion in 2015.

Social media presents not just an effective tool with which to influence consumers, but also a cost-effective one. Largely thanks to the volume and interconnectedness of social media accounts, influencer campaigns can also earn almost 10 times the earned media value that paid media does. And this isn’t just a short-term achievement. These influencers’ brand endorsements stay online, continuing to influence consumers long after they’re penned.

3 Ways Brands Can Incorporate Influencer Marketing in 2016

Plainly put, 2015 was social media’s best year ever. But 2016 promises to be even bigger, leading 60 percent of marketers to increase influencer marketing budgets through the first quarter of 2016.

If your company sees benefits in crafting an authentic, brand-boosting narrative online, there are three ways you can incorporate influencer tactics in 2016:

1. Video Marketing

Recently, brands have seen their Facebook reach diminish with one clear exception: video. But videos that go viral online aren’t created by brands themselves. The majority of viral videos are created by vloggers using platforms ranging from Vine to blogs to Snapchat.

Travel brand Marriott has established itself as a progressive authority in the publishing space by partnering with social media personalities and travel influencers. These content creators use videos to share their global travel experiences across social platforms and even through a virtual travel system, available by request to Marriott patrons at select New York and London hotels.

2. SEO

Because of the social media boom, search engine providers have tailored their algorithms to increasingly account for a site’s social reputation. By facilitating and distributing shareable content via social influencers, brands can use social engagement as another weapon in their SEO tool kits. This type of link building is safer and more organic than traditional, more aggressive strategies such as paying for sponsored links or engaging in link schemes.

A huge SEO strategy component of clothing retailer, Gap, is its styld.by hub. This isn’t Gap’s official blog; it’s a platform designed uniquely for social influencers. The styld.by site enables lifestyle bloggers to upload and describe their Gap-made styles, resulting in brand-positive content shared across the world via Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr with the #styldby hashtag. The social sharing isn’t just getting Gap’s products in front of more eyes; it’s also helping Gap generate organic search traffic to its home site.

3. Content Marketing

Content and influencer marketing are natural allies. Content marketing is already a big part of many brands’ marketing strategies, but it’s more concerned with engaging readers via traditional content platforms and brands’ own voices.

Blue Apron, the gourmet meal kit service, has received plenty of buzz on traditional media platforms like Inc. and Forbes, but it’s also branched out with a stellar influencer program. Endorsements from well-known foodie blogs like Fannetastic Food and Love Taza complement the brand’s content marketing strategy, making Blue Apron seem simultaneously professional, authentic, homegrown, and trustworthy.

As Intuit co-founder Scott Cook knew, “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is — it is what consumers tell each other it is.” This new paradigm of marketing is about two-way conversation, not one-way brand advertisement.

And considering there seems to be no stopping consumers’ thirst for brand authenticity, influencer marketing is stripping away all the paid scripted celebrity endorsements and advertisements that consumers are tired of. In its place, the industry has created something much more compelling and organic — a way to help consumers share the good news, person-to-person, about their favorite brands.

Image credit: Flickr

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