By Deep Patel
Influencer marketing is a hybrid of old and new marketing tools. It takes the idea of the celebrity endorsement and re-configures it to fit with today’s social media–driven world.
Unlike celebrities, influencers can come from any background or industry, and they can have varying amounts of followers. One thing they all have in common is that they’re social media figures who have gathered a defined audience around themselves. Their ability to influence others allows them to give a human voice to brands. Influencer marketing is less direct than traditional forms of marketing, but when done well, it creates an authentic way of connecting with customers.
And it’s growing by leaps and bounds every year. Influencer marketing is poised to reach between $5 billion and $10 billion by 2022. As more businesses begin to experiment with influencer marketing, it continues to evolve and adapt to the market. So, before you set out to build your next influencer campaign, here are 10 trends you need to keep your eye on.
More brands are using influencer marketing than ever before — and this trend is sure to continue in 2019 and beyond. The reality is that old-school, traditional marketing centered on TV and radio just isn’t as effective as it used to be. So brands are focusing their efforts on the places where their audiences are spending their time — online, and often on social media.
Businesses are finding a solid return when it comes to influencer marketing. According to the Influencer Marketing Hub 2017 study, businesses are making $7.65 on an average for every $1 spent, so it’s no surprise that influencer-marketing platforms have more than doubled in the last two years.
Influencer marketing is incredibly effective because we inherently trust the people we follow on social networks. After all, we wouldn’t be following them if we didn’t like them! So when an influencer sincerely advocates for a service or product, their audience listens.
As it turns out, bigger isn’t always better when it comes to influencers. Brands are homing in on the power of micro-influencers, or influencers who generally have fewer than 10,000 followers on social media. Micro-influencers are seen as more like “normal” people.
They engage and interact with their followers more frequently, and are viewed as more relatable and authentic. Meanwhile, “mega influencers” and celebrities may have hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers, but they aren’t always as interactive with their audiences and can seem less approachable.
Micro-influencers tend to be knowledgeable about their niche, and their followers are more likely to trust their recommendations. They’re also are more affordable than enlisting a celebrity as an influencer or brand ambassador.
At its core, influencer marketing is about storytelling. The best campaigns are crafted when a brand partners with an influencer to create unique content that really engages the audience. Storytelling connects with customers and makes them more likely to make a purchase. One study from ad agency Hill Holliday found that not only are customers more likely to buy from a brand with a good story; they’re also more likely to pay a higher price per item.
For the content to really resonate with a target audience, the influencer needs to capture their followers’ attention in a compelling way. A simple photo featuring a product in the background will no longer draw audience attention to the brand or elicit consumer sales. Video content is a natural fit to help a story come alive and resonate with customers.
Related: Video Is the Holy Grail of Influencer Marketing
We are short on time and attention, but we love to be entertained. This is why video marketing is growing across all platforms and currently represents more than three-quarters of all internet traffic.
Videos feel more authentic and are fun to watch, which is why influencers will continue to experiment with video-marketing trends. Influencers are tapping into the engaging nature of video content, which can be more effective in driving sales than text-based content.
Brands are also sponsoring influencers’ live feeds on social platforms, including Instagram and Facebook. Live-streamed influencer collaborations can include real-time product unboxing, Q&As, activity and destination promotions, and behind-the-scenes footage at events — there are countless possibilities. The key is to keep it authentic and engaging, and include creative brand mentions throughout the broadcast.
There has been growing concern from government agencies and watchdog groups about the blurred lines of sponsored social media posts. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission has sent out letters to influencers and marketers asking them to “clearly and conspicuously disclose their relationships to brands when promoting or endorsing products on social media.”
Transparent advertising also levels the playing field, so influencers and brands are all playing by the same rules. So make sure you disclose every paid piece of content. Even if the content seems like an obvious ad, you need to disclose the partnership in each paid post. One option is to use hashtags such as #ad, #sponsored or #paidpost to make it clear that a post has been sponsored.
Audiences have zero tolerance for content that comes off as fake or halfhearted. Influencers should honestly connect with the brands they’re endorsing. This type of marketing only works if an influencer is authentic in how they promote a product; they must genuinely like the product or brand, or the campaign will fall flat.
In fact, many brands look for influencers who are already using their products. And when possible, brands should get their influencers to give feedback on the products they’re promoting and talk about specific things they like about it, how they use it in everyday life and share any other interesting tidbits or insights they have about the product.
As influencer marketing increases, a shady side of the business has begun to rear its ugly head: influencer fraud. This happens when influencers artificially inflate the numbers of their followers and likes. Influencers sometimes use automation and bot-backed services to increase the number of likes their posts get. Some influencers grow their followers based on the rule of reciprocity, a “follow for follow.” But it’s not always a clear-cut situation.
Some influencers who never paid for followers may still have fake followers on their account. That’s because so-called “like farms” have to follow more than just their customers to bypass filters designed to catch them. Up to 20 percent of mid-level influencers’ followers are likely fraudulent, according to a Points North Group study.
What this means is that brands need to vet their influencers thoroughly and hold influencers accountable. They need to look beyond the raw number of followers and likes and evaluate the quality of influencers’ engagement with their audience.
Related: Employers Are Looking for Influencers Within Their Own Ranks
One emerging trend to keep an eye on is the use of carefully curated avatars as influencers. This trend was kicked off by the creation of the internet’s first “fictional it girl” and virtual influencer, Miquela Sousa or Lil Miquela.
She’s a 19-year-old model living in Los Angeles and her Instagram feed is filled with posts highlighting her fashionista outfits. She has also released a number of her own songs on Spotify and has amassed more than 1.5 million followers on Instagram.
Her very virtual existence is drawing both awe and ire as marketing trend watchers try to decide if they love or hate this new development in influencer marketing. Her creators are shrouded in secrecy, but we know she’s one of the most followed influencer ambassadors for Ugg footwear, who enlisted her for its month-long 40th-anniversary campaign. Stay tuned to see how this trend develops.
Instagram continues to reign supreme as the most important social network for influencer marketing, largely because of its enormous user base and easily digestible video content. But it’s not the only platform out there. YouTube is also full of potential influencers — especially if you’re targeting a younger demographic.
Facebook, Pinterest and Snapchat influencer marketing is growing, too. Blogs still lag behind Instagram and Facebook, but they have risen in popularity in recent years. Many influencers on social media are embracing the blog form for more word-heavy content. These blogs showcase products and more informative, in-depth content.
Related: Macy’s Selects TVPage to Run Video Shopping Ambassador Program
Because most micro-influencers have a relatively small audience, brands need to find ways to multiply their influencer impact. To do this, they often look to expand the pool of influencers they use.
To put it simply, you don’t want to put all your eggs in one influencer basket. Using multiple influencers increases product mentions and audience engagement with the brand. And using different influencers will allow you to reach different audiences, as well as tap into different influencers’ unique ways of framing a product.
The more influencers a brand uses, the more complicated a campaign can become. The key is to incorporate influencers as part of the marketing team. Get them on board and excited about a project, and set clear expectations, but give them room to work their creativity and engage with their followers.