Trust & The Economics of (True) Advocacy

True influence is about trust. 

Modern consumers are struggling to identify which sources they can trust, and which sources are simply a brand trying to push their message in an inauthentic way. 

On social media, for example, research conducted by Grey and YouGov found that a staggering 96% of consumers don’t trust what influencers say.

Yet the solution isn’t to move away from social media. That same study found that although trust is decreasing, usage is increasing. So what is the alternative? More and more brands are finding success - both in terms of reach, trust and revenue - through authentic social creators (those that already love their brand) rather than ‘rent-an-influencers’.

In this article, we’ll break down:

  • the most (and least) trusted channels for driving meaningful engagement and trust for your brand
  • the difference between an ‘influencer’ and an advocate with influence
  • how the above scales in a cost-effective, high-trust way on social

Web 1280 – 19

Percentage of consumers that do not trust influencer marketing according to a Grey and YouGov study

Who Should I Trust?

Who do you normally trust? Do you trust the opinions of close friends and family more than others? Or maybe it’s people that you work with, and other industry leaders, that you find trustworthy?

Where does ‘strangers on the internet’ rank in that list of trustworthy sources?

If you said at the bottom, you may actually be in the minority. 

That probably seems counterintuitive, given what was said above about influencers on social media. The issue here is not the opinion of someone you don’t know (we all appreciate honest reviews of restaurants on Google, right?) but the opinion of someone who is clearly paid to advocate for your brand. And then a different brand tomorrow, and then a different brand the day after that.

So what does this list actually look like for consumers? When it comes to trust in messaging, here’s the spread:

Consumer Trust Graphic

Sources: IPSOS, Edelman, Kantar, IPSOS

Not the greatest picture for brands. So where does the opportunity lie?

Consumer Trust Graphic – 1

Sources: Edelman, DKNewMedia, The Independent, Nielsen

It’s not a case of whether it’s a stranger vs. someone you related to - it’s whether the message is associated with a brand that pushes the narrative themselves vs. the message being shared authentically by others who love the brands. Traditional influencers fall into the former category, and consumers are catching up to it.

Lack of Trust = Lack of Effective Marketing Spend

Missing the opportunity to invest in the people who love your brand, and promoting authentic advocacy, is not just a smart brand building/reputation decision - it’s a smart financial decision too.

The main (legitimate) argument is that, by piggybacking on the following of an ‘influencer’, brands can spend money to create a spike in awareness, and hopefully sales (and that’s only if the relationship is managed in the right way).

But that’s exactly all that it is, a spike. 

In one social post, your chosen influencer is promoting your product. In the next post they’re promoting your competitors. Of course, some of their followers would have seen the first which might lead to some engagement, but the lack of consistency in what this person believes in, stands for and advocates means there is always a lack of authentic engagement.

The more effective alternative is to identify individuals who love your brand and, although they may have a small circle of ‘influence’, have a really trusted relationship with their following and therefore much higher engagement. These are true advocates - or Brand Ambassadors - who support the growth of a brand in a trustworthy and effective way.

The impact on one vs. the other in terms of marketing spend is huge. Here’s how it translates to an actual return on investment (ROI).

The Economics of (True) Advocacy

Let’s compare the two scenarios - one ‘mega influencer’ vs. 2000 ‘micro influencers’ (or true advocates).

Imagine a scenario where a brand has a $100,000 budget to spend on a campaign launch for their new product line.

The campaign (and budget) is designed to increase the number of impressions that this launch achieves amongst the brand’s target audience.

  Option 1:
Hire one ‘mega influencer’
(15 million followers)
Option 2:
Identify 2000 ‘micro influencers’
(7.5k followers on average)
Budget $100,000 $100,000
Investment per influencer $100,000 $50
Number of Influencers 1 2000
Average Followers 15 Million 7,500
Reach 15 Million 15 Million
Engagement Rate 1% 5%
Total Impressions 150,000 750,000
Cost per Impression $0.66 $0.13


This brand would end up paying 5 times the amount per impression if they used one ‘mega influencer’ compared to identifying 2000 ‘micro influencers’ who already loved their brand.

And we’ve not even begun to touch on the quality of that audience.

Small circles of influence (i.e. those with fewer followers) that have a more trusted audience who engage with them (i.e. engagement) results in much higher return on the investment made in them when made at scale (i.e. larger volume of advocates).


So what actions can you take away from the above?

  • Focus on finding your true advocates (e.g. socially active ‘creators’)
  • Invest a small sum in incentivising them (e.g. gifting them product)
  • Drive authentic engagement with their following (e.g. posting)
  • See greater ROI when investing in advocacy rather than ‘influencers’

If you’re keen to learn more about different types of influencers, and their pros and cons, check out our article here.

And if you’re looking at ways to improve your marketing spend and scale authentic advocacy for your brand, get in touch via the form below.
Brand Advocacy Social Commerce