Considering its open-to-all design, the internet should be a levelling influence, democratizing information flow and giving a voice to people who are denied a right to speak in traditional public forums. Instead it often functions as a mirror, reflecting and amplifying the lack of balanced representation that continues to plague our society.

For example, only 19 per cent of experts quoted in the news are women, according to United for News, a global initiative led by international non-profit, Internews, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum. Edelman is partnering with these organizations on a new initiative that is committed to amplifying women’s voices in media. But what about the influencer landscape?

Of the top 100 most followed YouTube channels (supplied by TubularLabs) only 23 channels are fronted by women. This shows that the digital space is currently mirroring the trends we see offline, with the highest-prestige spots often dominated by men.

This is an issue, particularly when considered in light of Edelman’s recent Women and Trust study, which found overall lower levels of trust from women compared to men, with the largest gap (seven points) in their trust in business. So can brands use influencer marketing to grow trust with the female audience?

In fact, our clients often ask how they can feature and support more diverse voices in their industries. Our RARA influence framework allows us to identify and propose these people to clients; there are plenty of female content creators out there, despite their lower showing in the top 100.

So what’s the hitch?

It’s the ever-present question of reach.

In our work, we’ve seen that the highest-reach influencers tend to be men. With companies under pressure to deliver KPIs, this creates a vicious circle, as those at the top accrue the exclusive content and paid amplification from brands that further boost their audiences. This keeps the same names on top and creates a barrier for new talent in finding their audience.

Brands can benefit their own goals by looking beyond the top-reaching influencers in their field. Instead, to get better value for their money, brands should engage influencers with higher authenticity because diverse voices will:

1. Build more trust

  • Fifty-eight percent of people trust “a person like myself,” according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. More representative voices are needed to engage the majority of the population.

2. Deliver better engagement

  • Lower-reach influencers often deliver higher engagement, which is a better measure of ROI, as it suggests the audience actually paid attention to the content, rather than leaving it on autoplay while they made a cuppa.

3. Maximize spend

  • Influencer fees tend to correlate strongly with reach, meaning that you can engage with multiple lower-reach audiences for the same cost as one big star.
  • By selecting a diverse set of influencers, you minimize audience overlap and attain similar, or higher, levels of total reach from their content. • Alternatively, reinvest your influencer fee savings in paid support.

4. Build long-term relationships

  • The best influencer work is a true partnership between brands and talented individuals who share their values.
  • By being among the first to champion voices that other brands overlook, you will be laying the foundation for a strong, long-term partnership that builds trust and respect within your target audience. Encouragingly, given the rapid pace of change in the digital landscape, small steps in these areas can start to pay dividends quickly.

It’s the responsibility of all of us agency counsellors to make this case to brands and play an active role in building a more representative world online.

Lizzie Rabone is associate director, Strategy & Analytics, London.