According to a survey (PDF) by the Online Publishers Association, 90% of all online publishers said they expected to be featuring so-called native advertising this year.

We should take note of native advertising then—not only because it's a fresh vehicle for brands to propagate content but because of what it is to the consumer. It's another advertising channel to become desensitized to and requires consumers to work to differentiate between what content to trust and not trust.

Add native advertising to paid blog posts, TV spokespeople promoting brands, and celebrities being paid to tweet. So, where will consumers turn for genuine and authentic content?

The answer is simple. The social networks of friends and family are where consumers will find opinions they trust and where they'll be swayed to consider what brands to buy and what content to consume and share.

The Power of Friends and Family

A recent survey of more than 10,000 social media enthusiasts found that 86% of respondents say the opinions of family and friends have the most impact on their purchase decisions. Some 56% report that professional reviews carry weight. Bloggers (39%) and celebrities (11%) trail in influence by a significant percentage.

The implication for brands is clear: Harnessing real "consumer influencers" to spread the word about your product or service is an important tactic to cut through the clutter and drive purchase.

The challenge is how to build an effective consumer influencer strategy that is efficient and scalable.

When marketers think of influencer marketing, they often envision an arduous process that involves scanning the vast Internet and individually vying (or paying) for shout-outs. But that doesn't need to be the case. Many brands have thousands, sometimes millions, of these consumer influencers among their own customer base or within their consumer targets. Brands can achieve enormous efficiency by mobilizing that group with a central experience that helps trigger shareable content.

Scale is a common barrier for many marketers, however. They often ask, "How can I ensure that consumer influencers reach the masses like I can with my other media investments?"

Social media is the obvious tool to break through that barrier. But the challenge remains: Create an experience worth sharing and then build a frictionless process for that sharing to happen. Consumers don't want to jump through hoops to advocate your brand; they want to easily share valuable and entertaining content with their social networks.

The beauty of using consumer influencers to spread the word on their own social networks is that your investment can scale to include millions of diverse social circles, all with personalized messaging that gives context and meaning. Native advertising, celebrity endorsements, and highly paid bloggers just can't boast the same thing.

Also, consider that beyond scale is consumer action. According to Nielsen's Global Trust in Advertising Report (PDF) 84% of people say recommendations from friends and family prompt action; that is a group that cannot be ignored.

* * *

New advertising channels inevitably will continue to surface as brands compete for consumer visibility. As more channels like native advertising are introduced, consumers will become even more discerning in the content they consume and share, and the products they ultimately buy. Their decision-making processes will undoubtedly rely on the trust they have in the source and the context in which it is given.

As a marketer, the best way to align your brand with these characteristics is to get the consumer influencers to do it for you.

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Native Advertising Won't Boost Sales, Influencers Will

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image of Susan Frech

Susan Frech is a co-founder and the CEO of Vesta, provider of engagement and loyalty software that helps marketers build and manage online brand communities. She has 20+ years of experience in the advertising and marketing services industries.

LinkedIn: Susan Frech

Twitter: @SueFrech