By ​Kelly Ehlers, president of Ideas That Evoke

Influencers are far from losing marketing power. According to the State of Influencer Marketing 2019 report, 320 platforms and influencer marketing agencies have been created since May of 2018, and brands are still seeing a significant return on investment (ROI) from partnerships with content creators.

Influencers’ strength has always come from their perceived authenticity. However, I’ve seen that consumers' fear of “fake news” has turned into concerns regarding “fake influencers.” This anxiety over trust has changed digital content creators to be more than salespeople and has put consumers on the defense, with some brands shifting away from these partnerships.

I’ve always been a huge advocate for influencer marketing -- my company proudly identifies itself as an “influencer agency” alongside our creative roots. Therefore, I still believe content creators will keep their momentum for the foreseeable future.

However, as we deal with consumer apprehension toward brands and data retrieval practices, some of my clients are choosing to strengthen their owned and earned media outlets rather than pouring budgets into influencer strategies.

Own it.

At the origin of digital strategies, owned media has always had strong benefits for marketers. The control these channels provide, plus their cost-efficiency and access to niche audiences, allows brands to deliver a tailored message that reaches their most relevant consumers.

Instead of worrying where their information is coming from, many consumers are now going straight to the source. By intentionally pursuing owned media channels, customers avoid confusion over the intentions of brands and content. To get the most out of changes in the market, companies must redevelop owned media to operate as not just a sales tool but a relationship-building tool.

Brands can start by considering how influencer partnerships supplemented gaps in existing communications strategies. One example is reclaiming the face of your brand to be a face within your brand. There is undeniable value in personifying your company, such as with influencers or an internal team member.

Consider substituting influencers with community moderators that reinforce your brand’s relatability and willingness to listen to customers. I’d recommend introducing the moderator with an employee profile video in the first person. This retrieves the communication for your brand while developing more personable roles that let brands play with a new, more casual voice.

Another way to reinvent owned media practices is to develop content that mirrors the interactive, engaging nature of third-party collaborations. For example, rather than looking at each blog post as a standalone update, brands can frame their content as a living commentary on innovations and news.

In these ways and more, brands can label where owned media was initially lacking and, rather than outsourcing to an influencer, use this information to address internal weak points. By reinventing corporate voice, companies can deliver more interesting content that effectively tells their story and strengthens bonds with their audiences.

Earn it. 

Still, because owned media is a direct extension of a brand, consumers may feel the same apprehension toward it as they do with influencers. Although content creators were the initial solution to this obstacle, there’s still hope. To reach especially skeptical audiences, brands can utilize earned media -- from consumer reviews to strategic press -- to promote brand messages via credible sources.

According to a Northeastern study, increasing a brand’s earned social media output leads to significant increases in brand awareness and satisfaction. Although word-of-mouth promotion is the most trusted form of earned media, companies shouldn't rely solely on these exchanges.

For my clients, increasing their amount of earned media directly reflects the effort we put into pitching stories to media outlets. Just as fake news pushed consumers away from influencers, it nudged them toward trusted media outlets. Therefore, developing relationships with industry and trade publications (and more) is key to taking advantage of this avenue.

There are many ways to initiate these connections; most importantly, face-to-face relationship building. Brands can schedule editor desksides (industry-speak for one-on-one meetings between journalists and brands) to put their company on a publication’s radar.

Another approach is creating experiences for publication staff via invites to branded events or surprise-and-delights, an advertising practice offering significant rewards, coupons, etc. to potential consumers. These options foster an initial wow factor that establishes brand presence and provides a platform to showcase new products or company news. Journalists can then pick up on content opportunities, providing beneficial coverage for brands while protecting the authenticity received from a secondhand account.

For brands witnessing changes in influencer marketing, it all comes down to using tried-and-true methods: Keep branded communications updated and continue to seek press in relevant, trusted publications.

While content creators provide clicks, investing in owned and earned media creates reliable storytelling that captures and keeps audiences, even after the era of the influencer.

​Kelly Ehlers is the president of Ideas That Evoke, a social media and PR agency, the 24th Fastest Growing Agency in 2016, Inc Magazine.