While celebrities have always been viewed as influencers, savvy businesses are now making room for a more organic endorsement model. The idea is to adopt a broader definition of what makes someone influential for your brand: a defined voice in your niche, a strong online following, an engaged and ready-to-act set of followers, success working with like-minded businesses, and a proven track record of solid ROI.

Independent website publishers are open and real with their readers, which drives their credibility. Their readers value their opinion in that specific niche and look to them for new trends and ideas. Overall, customers trust them more than almost anyone else when it comes to making purchasing decisions. And while it’s hotly debated whether these new “influencers” are the real deal or just a walking #sponsored #ad, here’s what I think. Influencers have established their credibility and trust because they only endorse what and who they really believe in. Even if you know they are being compensated to “promote” a product, it’s done on their terms, in a way that resonates with them, and ONLY if they believe in the brand and are confidently able to recommend it in the first place. Oftentimes, I find myself scouring my go-to blogger sites for their take on the best leather jacket, or that perfectly cropped skinny jean, or that delicate timepiece. I know they are often being paid by the brand – or through an affiliate program – to market these products, but so what? I trust their recommendations. With style bloggers in particular, they tend to be walking billboards; so, if I like their personal style, I know I can trust their recommendations too. And when it comes to marketing bloggers, I often look to them for what products and solutions I can use to streamline my SEO and content marketing processes. I’m always looking for ways to simplify the timely tasks that need to be done but shouldn’t take up the bulk of my time. Social media scheduling and management, content curation, contact and outreach management, all that good stuff.

It’s the reason why we call these publishers ‘influencers’ and why they’re on the radar of businesses, brands, marketers, and PR representatives alike. Daniel Newman does a great job of describing the rise of brands as media companies on Social Media Today. Newman states, “As reported rates of trust in traditional advertising continue to sink to levels well below 50%, brands are going to continue to invest in channels that increase trust. This means we will see more informative content and very likely more influencer driven content where brands seek out persons that already have the trust of a certain audience type.”

A business can gain trust from potential customers in multiple ways but the fact remains true: customers will always trust the unbiased view of real people over your own shiny marketing message. So, if you want to gain trust with them, there’s never a better time than now to jump onto this new endorsement model. Here are just six simple tactics you can use NOW to gain trust from your customers through influencers.

Look for real engagement

It’s not uncommon for marketers to handpick influencers based on the size of their social followings. And while this can often be an accurate measure of influence, it can also be entirely flawed. Many influencers are buying their way to social media stardom through bought followers, which, in turn increases the perceived value of their audience. While a large following can certainly be indicative of influence in your niche, paying attention to real engagement and positive sentiment are far more accurate measures.

Go for relevance over mass reach

Whereas larger influencers don’t always find the time to engage with and support their audience, mid-size influencers often do. The Technorati Digital Influence Report states that 54% of consumers believe that the smaller the community, the bigger the influence. Customers put more trust in smaller communities, which is far more meaningful when it comes to conversions. If you’re targeting a very specific niche, go for relevance over mass reach.

Reward your advocates

An advocate is someone who loves what you’re doing and goes above and beyond to positively promote it without expecting anything in return. These may not be large influencers with tremendous social followings, but they have the ear of their friends, peers, and colleagues who just might be your next customers. The benefit of working with your advocates – as opposed to celebrities or even bloggers, for example – is that it’s not a one-off thing; they will continue to share the love as long as they believe in your business. That means the payoff can be huge.

If you want encourage your advocates, make it easy for them to share the love by rewarding them. There are endless ways you can do this: sneak peeks of product launches, exclusive offers through email or even Snapchat, asking for their opinions, acknowledging them through a monthly feature on social media or your blog, offering advocate-only events, or giving them early access to new arrivals, product features, or store openings. All of these are great examples of giving advocates the proper tools to engage with your business, spread the word, and send genuine referrals right your way.    

Run an Instagram takeover

Using Instagram influencers humanizes your brand and offers a compelling story from the customer’s perspective while still weaving it into your own brand story. Hand the reigns of your Instagram account over to a respected influencer in your industry. Not only will this expose you to a new audience, it will also help to establish more trust and clout with your current customers. This tactic can add insta-credibility to your business, as your customers will see that you’re partnering up with some pretty interesting people in your industry.

There are numerous ways to run an Instagram takeover. You can enlist an influencer to run a contest, capture an event through their own lens, show off a city district, promote a store opening, share a hotel stay, the options are endless (and super entertaining for your followers)!

Enlist thought leaders

B2B companies will find that co-creating content with thought leaders is a great way to add credibility to their business. Identify some of the major thought leaders in your industry – perhaps ones that have previously participated in co-created pieces – and enlist them to weigh in on topics that are insightful to your customers. Their perspectives will reinforce your core messaging and add credibility to your topic. By enlisting the help of thought leaders, it’s highly likely they will share this content with their own following too which, in turn, creates a lot more buzz around your business. Additionally, if the piece is really strong, you’ll likely be able to garner shares from other publishers too. Creating highly shareable, useful content that adds social proof to your influencers is always a win-win.

Let influencers do the talking

Give influencers full reign to share the experience they had with your brand. Independent website publishers have such strong connections with their readers because they’re committed to open and honest dialogue. Trying to limit their editorial freedom will only turn off the influencer or make the content feel contrived. As marketing legend Seth Godin states about trust, “I think that it’s human, it’s personal, it’s relevant, it isn’t greedy, and it doesn’t trick people. If the recipient knew what the sender knows, would she still be happy? If the answer to that question is yes, then it’s likely going to build trust.”

The best way to collaborate with influencers is to have an open conversation and nail down a partnership that can benefit both of you. Always remember that when it comes to influencer-led campaigns, trust is key and is the single most important way to ensure success; if not, the whole thing can come off as disingenuous and neither of you will benefit from that! Figure out a strategy that best meets your goal of building trust. Is it a co-created piece of content? A brand ambassadorship? An Instagram takeover? Decide together how you can best reach this goal.