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While many (including me) have heralded influencer marketing as one of the Holy Grails of effective public relations, a new report from Sprout Social suggests that celebrity influencers are rapidly losing their power.

But before you hang up the towel on influencer marketing, consider this novel (and less expensive) idea: While leveraging actual people for brand awareness and engagement is still important, instead of shelling out your marketing dollars to Kendall Jenner or Arielle Charnas, why not hand the microphone to your customers and employees instead?

Real employees and customers inspire better marketing traction than celebrity shills.

Many savvy brands are heeding the plea from consumers to scrap the photoshopped, cookie-cutter models from their ads and include more authentic men and women instead. For example, Target is now publishing swimming suit ads unretouched. Designers Rebecca Minkoff and Diane von Furstenburg are eliminating professional models altogether in favor of “real” women, according to Glamour.

But for small businesses, why not follow the lead of brands like Macys, who are tapping their own employees for ads and marketing initiatives such as images on Instagram and other platforms? It’s a form of employee advocacy writ large: is publishing short videos of employees and customer ambassadors to highlight their personal interests and show their style choices in actual use in various settings such as sports, bartending and other genuine activities. Participants receive commission on the sales their segments produce.

According to Tongal, a brand that is also trying out this format, one participant produced a total of $15,000 of handbag sales in a week.

Imagine what this could mean for your own small business. Instead of paying big dollars to “rent” a celebrity’s audience, you could tap individuals who understand your brand far better than a celebrity would, with commission payment on the back end for an influencer’s success. The opportunity would further cement employee engagement and customer loyalty, and the participant base would be naturally authentic and (hopefully) ideally diverse.

The program would also protect your company’s image from celebrity influencers who fail to deliver on commitments, whose audiences may be largely fake, and who may become the targets of scandals or crisis situations that by extension could tarnish your company’s image as well.

Real-world influencers solve a major problem Sprout Social notes–while 49% of marketers believe influencer marketing is vital, only 19% have any budget at all for the program. Furthermore, current data is showing that people consume influencer content at a surprisingly low level across platforms—between 1-11% on average—which shows that current influencer programs aren’t driving the value marketers had hoped.

More data from the report:

  • The majority of marketers (56%) are looking for extended brand reach through influencers.
  • Seventy percent of social marketers are using employees as influencers or advocates today or want to do so in the future.
  • Consumers are almost twice as likely to consider a product recommended from a friend rather than an influencer or celebrity. Sixty one percent say they’d be more likely to research a product or service recommended on social by a friend versus only 36% for professional influencers.