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Millennials, Gen Z Want Influencers to Care About Causes, Not Trends

Millennials and Gen Z are said to care about causes—and that appears to ring true when it comes to what they expect from the influencers they follow on social media.

Gone are the days when brands could tap any old celebrity to hawk their products, according to a new report from Influencer Intelligence, a part of Econsultancy Group, which found endorsements from such personalities are “unimportant” to 64 percent of consumers. Rather, the report noted, achieving relevance as brands today is not so much about “associating themselves with a celebrity face, and more about showing allegiance with key global issues such as ethical production, carbon footprint reduction and progressive values overall.”

Stars like Kylie Jenner buck that trend; though she certainly qualifies as an A-list celeb, she’s built her billion-dollar empire largely through the intimacy and relatability that social platforms afford.

Relatability is one of the key reasons why the largest group (21 percent) of young people polled by Influencer Intelligence said they prefer mid-tier influencers over top-tier personalities (18 percent) or even niche (15 percent) or micro-influencers (13 percent). To 61 percent, the content from mid-tier influencers is more relatable than their peers. Most notably, 41 percent hit on the most important metric, saying influencers with mid-range followers tend to engage with them in comments and discussions. What’s more, the mid-range crew was said to produce content seen as more “creative” and “trustworthy” by 36 percent of consumers apiece.

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Nearly two-thirds (61 percent) of millennials and Gen Z credit influencers for swaying their purchasing decision at some time. Another 61 percent say influencer content is one of the primary ways they discover new, indie brands. More than three quarters (78) admit exposure to influencer posts has directly stimulated a shopping action; while 28 percent clicked through to purchase immediately when they otherwise had no such plans, another 50 percent squirreled away a link on their wish list for buying at a later time. The report said these findings cement influencers’ status as an important touchpoint on the purchasing journey.

Naturally, consumers want to see content that resonates with them and comes across as authentic, as 61 percent indicated. However, it’s worth noting that when asked about an influencer’s most important characteristics, a full 40 percent said the person should possess “strong ethics” and a “history of championing good causes,” confirming young consumers’ focus on the greater good. Just 25 percent care that an influencer is modeling an on-trend look.

Overwhelmingly, consumers (79 percent) say influencer-created content gives them a better sense of what a product will be like in real life, versus the highly polished content that celebrities typically share. As long an influencer’s partnership with a brand carries all the hallmarks of authenticity, posts that bear the #spon or #ad hashtags proclaiming their “paid-for” status don’t lose credibility, more than half (54 percent) of millennials and Gen Z claim.

There’s been no shortage of scandal over influencers found to have paid for fake followers and bot accounts that can pad headcounts—but without the all-important engagement. These are persistent concerns for savvy young consumers, the report found. They’re most skeptical of whether content lives up to its “authentic” billing (44 percent) and if an influencer really supports something that’s #spon (43 percent) but the question of bogus fans worry another 37 percent. Young people can tell when a collaboration doesn’t ring true and 29 percent said they’re wary of these “poor fit” tie-ups that seem to be “on the rise.”

How much do millennials and Gen Z crave authenticity from brands and influencers? Forty-six percent said more genuine influencer-led campaigns would persuade them to believe these partnerships and potentially buy.

“With the abundance of research available to demonstrate the strong links between social media and mental health, for example, the next stage of influencer marketing needs to be characterized by greater truth and substance, which truly adds value to the young consumer particularly,” the report said.

“Although there has been talk of a backlash within this demographic against influencer culture, this generation is clearly still receptive to listen to the opinions of influencers, providing content is disclosed for what it is,” the report added.

For the “What Consumers Think About Influencer Marketing” report, Influencer Intelligence tapped into insights from 500 millennials 23 through 34 and older Gen Zers ages 18 through 22.