We’ve all seen them: retired football players hawking dieting meal plans, retired politicians pushing pharmaceuticals, and actors swearing by the latest sunscreen in television commercials. Celebrity spokespeople are as old as celebrities themselves. Even back in the 1700’s, the royal family was hyping Wedgwood china.

As marketing and advertising evolved, many companies started making up or even co-opting characters to sell their products. How many packs of soda bearing Santa Claus’ image does your grandma have stockpiled in her basement?

No matter what company it was or what celebrity or character they used to advertise their products, they all had one thing in common until very recently: fame.

Recently in marketing history, though, marketers have realized they can get more bang for their buck getting a regular person to be their spokesperson. Sounds crazy, right? When you think about it, though, it makes perfect sense. Almost 90% of consumers trust online recommendations almost as much as they trust recommendations made to them face to face, while 80% of teens think that YouTubers are more relatable than celebrities are.

That’s right: Regular folks are more relatable and trustworthy, and brands are starting to take notice.

Online advertising is having a tough time.

You know all those annoying popup ads you work so hard to get rid of? Those are the things that pay for your favorite website’s day-to-day operations. When you install an ad blocker, those ad revenues go down, causing problems for sites and advertisers. Thanks to ad blocking software, $12 billion in online ad revenue are projected to be lost by 2020. Here is where regular folks come in.

Most companies probably can’t afford to spend as much on paid celebrity endorsements, but they can spend small amounts on social media influencers and end up with a more authentic message.

Each social media platform has its niche.

Facebook supports sponsored posts, video ads, and banner ads, while YouTube supports the latter two as well as paid celebrity videos. Instagram and Snapchat add stories to the mix, while Twitter is a great place for celebrity and sponsored tweets. Micro influencers on these platforms are four times more likely to get a comment or other interaction than celebrities.

There are endless opportunities for paid endorsements on social media, whether you hire a celebrity or not. There are, however, a few guidelines you will need to adhere to for legal reasons.

Influencers, whether they are celebrities or regular people, must state clearly that they are in a contract with a company

You can use hashtags like #ad #promoted #sponsored or something similar in a post to indicate to viewers they are watching an advertisement

Authenticity matters most.

For social media influencers, authenticity is their strongest weapon. According to YouthLogic Founder Connor Blakley, “Following all the legal requirements is only half of what matters. As an influencer, making sure you believe in and can stand behind not only the product but the brand you promote is crucial to trust and credibility with an already skeptical audience.”

In other words, people can tell if you’re just making a post for a paycheck. Authenticity is crucial to making social media influencer marketing work. Both influencers and companies should enter into arrangements where there is mutual trust and belief in the same mission if it’s going to work and work well.

Or, as Facebook Marketing Expert Mari Smith puts it, “To quote Seth Godin, people can ‘smell the agenda of a leader.’ This has never been more true when it comes to influencer marketing. To maintain fiercely loyal fans, you must love and believe in what you’re endorsing.”

Still, marketers expect results.

The space of influencer marketing is still evolving, and these days marketers expect measurable results. Just making posts and cashing the check isn’t going to work anymore — you have to have engagement, which all goes back to your level of authenticity online. Some marketers may even expect a measurable jump in sales directly related to influencer marketing, so be prepared to prove it.

“Gone are the days of blindly throwing money at top-funnel metrics like views, reach, and impressions,” says Viral Nation VP of Business Development Travis Hawley. “Influencer marketing may be buzzwords, but here’s the two that matter the most: bottom line.”

Thanks to social media, anyone can be an influencer.

Social media has leveled the playing field in advertising like we’ve never seen before. People who are subject matter experts who can produce shareable content, have a lot of hustle, and know how to leverage tech can become influential and potentially attract paid advertising gigs with brands. Advertisers no longer have to rely on celebrities to peddle their goods. They can take their message right to the people and engage in human-to-human conversations with customers.

Learn more about the rise of the social media influencer from this infographic from NoGREand Mashable columnist Aaron Orendorff.

evolution-of-influencers

Originally published on Inc.

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