Marketers across all major categories are investing more heavily in social media and influence marketing this year. Some 70% will increase spend on social advertising across platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and another 70% plan to increase their spend on "organic social," according to a new report from Salesforce.

Brands also know their customers are spending more time on social networks than on email and search engines combined. Social is where they are discovering new products and services. Moreover, social is where customers are getting recommendations from the people they trust most.

The challenge for many brands, however, is tapping into these social influencers in a meaningful way—one that doesn't just generate the awareness of a display ad within a newsfeed but that leads to actual sales.

The key is identifying and empowering a brand's most influential fans and followers to recommend the brand to their network. This strategy draws from each brand's core customer base—versus a broader approach of targeting all Internet or Facebook users within a certain demographic—and taps into their network of friends and family.

By not promoting their brand champions, companies are missing a huge opportunity to reach new customers. Incorporating tried and true word of mouth marketing concepts into digital marketing (particularly within social) is far more effective than display ads for different reasons.

Here are five reasons.

1. Consumers trust people they know more than ones they don't

Some 69% of people trust branded websites such as a company's Facebook page, but that percentage pales in comparison to the 84% of people who trust and rely on recommendations from people they know, according to Nielsen.

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image of Lyle Stevens

Lyle Stevens is a co-founder and the CEO of Mavrck, an influencer activation platform. He is responsible for product operations and delivering value to Fortune 500 consumer brands.

LinkedIn: Lyle Stevens