Influencers aren’t the only answer to digital marketing anymore. As the once-coveted digital boosters bleed incredibility, brands have been trading traditional influencers for virtual influencers or simply other, more trustworthy tactics. Beauty central Sephora has decided to take matters into its own hands too, having just announced the launch of #SephoraSquad, its influencer-meets-ambassador program. Here’s why the program might strike the first happy balance between real and fake in the world of influencer marketing.

Though Sephora has worked with influencers before, its new program takes on a different tone than past collaborations. First, the brand received over 16,000 applications, which included questions on diversity and inclusion in beauty, to join the squad. The company also collected testimonials delivered via Instagram each of the respective applicants’ existing social communities as ambassadors will receive peer and professional coaching, content and networking opportunities, product collaborations and early access to products at Sephora in exchange for content support on their own platforms. Some of the selected ambassadors include Bengali beauty creator Nabela Noor and Latino micro-influencer Erick Glam. In the past, Sephora has demonstrated an interest in creating communities. For example, as part of its Beauty Insider loyalty program, the company launched an on-site community hub and shopper-to-shopper live chat in 2017 according to Gartner L2’s Digital IQ Index: Specialty Retail. Incentivized with fifty Beauty Insider points, brand loyalists rapidly joined the platform: as of December 2018, the Sephora Community generated 1,500 threads per day and fifty looks per hour. Sephora also personalizes the community hub’s homepage based on individual browsing and purchase history, and decked it out with live chat, allowing shoppers to chat with each other in real time. The success has been appreciable, as more than five percent of site traffic to Sephora went to content and Community pages, compared to less than one percent on competitor Ulta’s brand site.

Given the extensive research efforts and mentoring moves that are going into the new initiative, #SephoraSquad seems to be trying on a community air as opposed to a brand-influencer one. And based on the success of the brand’s previous community efforts (which were geared towards building loyalty from shoppers), the possibility of gleaning loyalty from influencers in its new initiative looks bright.

When faced with the decision to carry on the traditional influencer path, Sephora strayed, but didn’t sever from the process. Though it didn’t put together its own set of ambassadors, there does seem to be a homegrown vibe to #SephoraSquad, hinting at a what might turn out to be the right balance of authentic, yet trained professionals in influencer marketing. It’s not too late to salvage influencers.

Daily Insights in Your Inbox