Nine Key Trends Shaping Influencer Marketing
By Abi Morrish, Chief Partnerships Officer, indaHash
Influencer marketing has expanded exponentially over the past few years. We’ve seen the industry go from a one-off marketing tactic to an essential part of most marketing plans. It is reported by Rythm One that influencer marketing can generate from $4.50 to $12.50 return on investment for every $1 invested and the influencer marketing industry is estimated to be worth $10 billion by 2020. What’s the reason for this exceptional growth? The simple answer is that people trust other people. More than 90% of consumers trust word-of-mouth and user-generated content more than traditional advertising, according to Nielsen. But it’s a young field, and the rules of play are still in flux. As the industry begins to mature, we will see some of the trends below shaping influencer marketing.
We have already seen a big growth in the automation of influencer marketing with the rise of influencer marketing platforms. Previously, setting up and managing influencer campaigns could be labour-intensive and time-consuming.
From finding the right influencers to managing the relationship and measuring the results, building a robust influencer strategy was a challenge and many companies didn’t have the resources or expertise in house to handle it. But as the industry matures, we are seeing the development of tools and platforms, like indaHash, that simplify the whole process and bring automation to influencer marketing.
Brands are now expanding beyond using the A-list celebrity or digital star to working with mid-tier and micro-influencers. They have enough popularity to influence people’s purchasing decisions, yet consumers trust them because they are providing honest recommendations. Micro-influencers are not “busy” people with packed schedules. They have time to communicate with their audience and respond to their queries. Based on indaHash research, we have found that influencers with over 500,000 followers have an average engagement rate of 3%, while micro-influencers with between 5,000-10,000 followers have double the engagement rate of 6%. Micro-influencers are also the new attraction for brands because they are easy to access and much more affordable than their macro counterparts.
2017 was full of doubts regarding brand-safe influencer marketing. From repeated mishaps of brand safety at YouTube to Russian propaganda at Facebook, to subsequent scandals involving top-tier creators. ISBA, an advertising trade association, is leading the call for the development of an independent standards body admonishing Google and Facebook for their failures in self-regulation. In response, YouTube and Facebook have re-evaluated a variety of their policies, including content moderation and creator monetization requirements. All eyes are on the IAB and FTC to create standards and practices for effective and brand-safe influencer marketing. Currently the focus is on consumer safety, not brand safety. In the meantime, brands need to ensure they vet their content creators thoroughly, ensuring they are culturally appropriate and scandal-free, or use a platform that does this for them. Pre-moderation of content is also essential. Content created by the influencer should always be approved by the brand before it is published.
The Fight Against Fraud
Earlier this year, The New York Times published an investigative report on the social media industry’s “black market”. The investigation focused on a company that sells Twitter followers and retweets, the majority of which were found to be fraudulent. Brands can protect themselves by working with platforms that monitor influencers’ social growth, the verbiage used in their followers’ comments and, importantly, the quality of their engagement. That way if anything out of the normal occurs, they can investigate the suspicious activity. Influencers, marketers and platform companies all own a piece of the problem and need to work together to solve it. The first step is educating yourself on influencer fraud and how to combat it.
Previously used as a tactic for one-off campaigns or events, marketers are now harnessing the power of influencer marketing for long-term campaigns. When a brand is integrated into influencer’s content over a long period of time, the advocacy feels genuine. Unlike one-off posts, ongoing support for a product and/or service strengthens audience trust and confidence in an endorsement. Always-on campaigns ensure a brands message is not only consumed by an audience but remembered. An influencer’s followers are more likely to recall a social endorsement during purchasing decisions with consistent sponsored content. Relationships with influencers will move beyond being purely transactional, to a true partnership.
More sophisticated content
When it comes to content, brands are becoming more sophisticated in the tasks they are setting their influencers. Although flat-lays and selfies are still key, brands are starting to explore more innovative content solutions. We are seeing brands take influencers on car test drives where the creators are asked to take live video footage. It’s not just the content itself that is becoming more sophisticated but also the campaign execution. Recently, a luxury cruise company ran an industry-first campaign with indaHash and Clear Channel which incorporated influencer marketing with DOOH. Influencer content was dynamically placed in DOOH screens across the UK in real-time.
Currently, 71% of UK consumers wrongly believe that influencer marketing is not regulated at all, with a further 61% saying they don't think brands are being transparent about how they use influencers to promote their products online. Earlier this year, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) launched a review, which will examine people’s ability to identify when the content they are seeing or hearing is advertising. The review will investigate whether current guidelines around both influencer deals and sponsored content printed by online publishers are fit for purpose
In 2017 the ASA, along with the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) issued fresh guidelines for brands working with influencers, urging both parties to protect consumers before they engage with content that is sponsored. The guidelines state that any work where money changes hands between brands and influencers is clearly marked, including through the use of #ad.
Last year, Instagram began slowly rolling out a number of features to let influencers to better signpost sponsored content. The platform's 'paid partnerships' tag is designed to let creators communicate to its 700 million-strong user base when they are working in collaboration with a business. Right now any valued influencer already abides by the rules around disclosure.
When it comes to influencer marketing, measurement capabilities are lagging behind other forms of marketing. In an eMarketer report (Aug 2016), 80% of marketers surveyed said they would like to see the measurement of ROI improved. Currently there are varying strategies that marketers can use to measure ROI ranging from basic to expert. This includes pixel tracking, engagement rates and coupon codes.
Rise of Virtual Influencers
Lil Miquela is the first ever virtual, or AI, influencer, a computer-generated image (CGI), designed and controlled by anonymous creators. Lil Miquela has also been featured on the cover of magazines, has had a top 10 single on Spotify and champions a variety of causes, such as transgender issues and Black Lives Matter. Despite not being a real person, Miquela has massive influence and power over her millions of followers and was even included in Time’s ‘25 Most Influential People on the Internet’.
What does this mean for influencer marketing? A major advantage identified when using virtual influencers is the power it can give to the brand. The creator has total control over the content created for the campaign and sing virtual influencers can be a lot less risky, as the content can be designed to perfectly match a given brief. However, there is a big question mark of the authenticity of virtual influencers. How can an influencer genuinely promote a product if they cannot see, touch or use it? The whole enterprise is full of potential conflicts of interest. While social media stars are required to clearly define their sponsored posts and adverts as such, with an AI influencer such as Lil Miquela it’s much harder for the average consumer to see exactly where the profit is flowing.
Despite the various trends we’re seeing, one thing is for sure: influencer marketing, on the whole, will continue to mature, with more sophisticated strategies making their debut this year.