From the decline of celebrity endorsements, to longer contracts and a preference for the term "creator", these are the influencer marketing trends to note.
Considering influencer marketing? Even if you aren’t, it would be a mistake to ignore influencer marketing trends. Beyond their role as effective brand ambassadors, influencers are also just good marketers. And advertisers can stand to learn a few things from them.
There’s a reason the influencer marketing industry is booming. According to a Business Insider Intelligence report, the market is set to nearly double from $8 billion in 2019 to $15 billion by 2022. The economic impact of the coronavirus could slow things down. But some experts note that the one-stop-shop creatives are also poised to benefit from higher screen times and closed studios.
From the rise of creators to the fall of celebrities and everything in between, these are the most important influencer trends to watch right now.
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8 of the most important influencer marketing trends in 2020
Stay on top of these top influencer trends to make sure you’re getting the most out of your partnerships.
1. We don’t use the “I” word anymore
Influencer has become a bad word. “I don’t like to be called an influencer,” says Zaneb Rachid, the Moroccan travel and fashion blogger behind The Cherry Blossom, in a Facebook post. “It makes me feel uncomfortable when I hear it, as it seems like a BIG thing and it usually has a negative connotation, especially with social media.”
Dislike of the term isn’t new. Internet culture journalist Taylor Lorenz reported on a distancing from the label last year. Instead, “Creator” is emerging as a preferred term. Or re-emerging. Lorenz traces its social media etymology way back to 2011 on YouTube. Facebook has been running its Creator Studio since 2017. But 2020 may be the year it sticks across all platforms and properly overthrows the “I” word in places it’s reigned supreme—namely, Instagram.
Last year Instagram introduced Creator Accounts as an alternative to business profiles. The capital-C treatment gives creators the option to choose the term for their profile badge. Initially analog, “Creator” has now been replaced with “Digital Creator.” Video Creator and Gaming Video Creator are also options. “Influencer” is not.
TikTok and Byte call their stars as creators, too. Marketers may want to follow suit. One reason creatives shun the term “influencer” is because they want to be respected for their work, not its byproduct.
Here’s how to work with an Instagram influencer (or creator).
2. Competition for creators will heat up
There’s another reason the “influencer” mantle is being dropped. Creators are finding more ways to be paid directly for their content, rather than monetizing their influence via paid sponsorships.
TikTok stars receive Virtual Gifts from fans that can be cashed in for real money. Byte plans to pay creators up to $250,000 for quality content. YouTube pays its Partner Program creators for anywhere from $2 to $34 for every 1,000 video views.
In addition to sponsorship and affiliate marketing, Instagrammers and YouTubers use the platforms to sell their own merchandise. And increasingly, they are translating their popularity to revenue opportunities on—and off—multiple channels. Cheer star Gabi Butler flipped her Instagram fame into TikTok, YouTube, and Cameo gigs.
Creators go where the cash flows. Same goes for brands. In response, platforms are doubling down on “creator hubs” that make it easier for creators and brands to connect. Late last year TikTok launched Creator Marketplace, and Facebook opened its Brand Collabs Manager to select Instagrammers.
This is good news for brands, too. According to a study by CreatorIQ and Influencer Marketing Hub, 39% of brands surveyed say it’s difficult to find influencers to participate in their campaigns. Sephora, meanwhile, launched a creator hub of its own with its #SephoraSquad, a apply-to-join beauty-influencer program.
3. Celebrity influence is in decline
Imagine social media without celebrities. It’s not easy, but some tried after Gal Gadot’s celebrity-kumbaya cover of “Imagine” made the rounds. Or after catching Priyanka Chopra’s teary applause for healthcare workers, clapped from a secluded balcony.
And also: pic.twitter.com/CjFrqnvVOX
— Who? Weekly (@whoweekly) March 27, 2020
Even before the coronavirus crisis, fatigue with the celebrity-influencer-complex was showing. Kendall Jenner’s $250,000 payout for a Fyre Fest Instagram post tapped a nerve. The festival’s fallout, which involved the duping of several over-privileged mega-influencers, was mocked on social media.
As responses like these reveal, people feel scammed by celebrity influencer culture. Spon-con like Khloe Kardashian’s bedazzled campaign with Febreze is why the word “authenticity” is now a buzzword. Without addressing the wealth gap between her and her audience, the post comes across more as a joke than a genuine endorsement.
This Khole x Febreze sponsored post is….interesting. Few big mistakes in the execution. Let's look at them. pic.twitter.com/kK8DaqaJAu
— James Nord (@jamesnord) February 27, 2020
Celebrity aloofness has been exacerbated by social and financial inequality. Laziness and lack of creativity don’t help either, as reactions to Tom Brady’s Molecule Sleep partnership show. “We can’t all afford luxuries,” reads one comment.
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The stock of celebrity has gone down in favor of relatable micro-influencers. Celebrities will always draw attention. But without brand alignment, awareness, and creativity, it may not be the kind of attention brands want.
@humphreytalksThis took me hours don’t let it flop ##billion ##money ##personalfinance ##rice ##xyzbca♬ original sound – humphreytalks
4. It’s easier to become an influencer, but harder to stay one
The influencer world seems to endlessly stratify into successive tiers, with a spectrum that spreads from mega to macro, to micro, to micro-micro, and nano.
There’s a lot of talk about the rise of micro and nano-influencers. And there’s reason for it: Micro-influencer campaigns work. A survey of influencers across tiers and platforms finds that nano-influencers (less than 1,000 followers) have a seven-times higher engagement rate than mega influencers (more than 100,000 followers). Measurements like these are why the number of micro-influencer campaigns have increased by 300% since 2016.
Typically, influencer tiers are defined by their follower counts. But what labels like these miss about the micro-influencer community is the type of content its creators deliver. From financial gurus to medical experts and bonafide entertainers, this cadre of creators builds their audience around expertise and talent, exchanging aesthetics for substance and motivational quotes for practical wisdom. In other words, they’re actually influential.
Social media is also a lot more accessible for novice creators. The popularity of “now you see it, now you don’t” formats like TikTok and stories remove the class barriers that underpin feed aesthetics. Creators no longer need an expensive camera, photoshop skills, and a passport to produce quality content. There’s just as much appetite—if not more—for real and raw stuff that anyone with a smartphone can make.
More advertiser dollars and direct revenue streams have made influencer careers for low-income creators not only viable, but lucrative. At the same time, brands are keen to promote diversity and authenticity through their partnerships. Sephora describes its influencer squad as “unique, unfiltered, sorry-not-sorry storytellers.” And there’s increased pressure for brands to celebrate original creators over imitators.
Jalaiah, creator of Renegade, performs at the NBA All-Star Game! pic.twitter.com/w5qtYTrjeh
— NBA (@NBA) February 17, 2020
Fewer barriers to attaining social stardom also means more competition. Influencers have to work incredibly hard to keep their audience constantly engaged—making burnout a real problem.
5. Values will be central to influencer briefs
Of all the recent influencer marketing trends, this one seems to be positive for both influencers and consumers.
Consumers are increasingly making purchase decisions informed by their values. From environmental impact to inclusive workplaces practices, people are willing to pay a premium to buy from brands with practices that align with their principles.
As a result, values have moved to the foreground of brand campaigns, especially when it comes to influencer marketing. Brand trust is crucial when it comes promoting values, and the right influencer can be a good vector for both. If they have the trust of their audience and already walk the walk, they can have more impact when they talk the talk.
But when the opposite is true, influencer marketing can become a risk for brands. Companies can face backlash for partnering with people who have problematic values, and questionable influencer decisions can jeopardize brand reputations.
For instance, Nordstrom was forced to address criticism after its former partner/influencer Arielle Charnas relocated from New York to the Hamptons during the coronavirus crisis, despite federal guidelines restricting non-essential travel.
Thanks for bringing this to our attention. Please know that our partnership with Arielle Charnas ended in 2019.
— Nordstrom (@Nordstrom) April 2, 2020
In one study, 49% of influencers believe brand safety is occasionally a concern when it comes to influencer marketing. And in an increase from last year, 34% believe it is always a concern. Influencers come under scrutiny and care about credibility, too. So, expect stronger vetting to take place on both sides of the bargaining table.
6. Partnerships will be longer-term and less transactional
Just as like counts have disappeared on Instagram, the role of vanity metrics has diminished in influencer partnerships. Brand goals for influencer campaigns have shifted from awareness to sales. According to CreatorIQ and Influencer Marketing Hub’s report, the most common measurement for influencer campaign performance is now conversions.
Marketers may measure return on investment, but ways of measuring it have become more flexible. “I don’t think ROI is ever going to be attainable if brands continue to try and use traditional digital metrics from platforms outside of social as measurement,” says James Nord, founder of influencer marketing platform Fohr, on its blog. He recommends brands treat Instagram profile visits as website traffic, follows as newsletter signups, story highlights as a company blog, and make the whole experience shoppable.
One-off campaigns will likely decrease in favour of long-term partnerships. “It’s become way too transactional and we are moving away from that,” Nord said in an Instagram Live interview with Matthew Kobach, manager of digital and social media for the New York Stock Exchange. “We’re not going to do campaigns under three months long.”
For Nord, the long-term strategy goes back to The Rule of Seven marketing adage. According to the rule, it takes about seven ads to inspire a sale. When the average Instagram Story is only viewed by 5% of an audience, and the average swipe-up rate is 1%, multiple posts simply stand a better chance of reaching the right audience when they’re ready to buy.
Longer partnerships can also be more persuasive. Where one-offs come across more blatantly as ads, regular collabs make it easier to believe an influencer endorsement.
7. Short video continues to be a top influencer format
If the success of TikTok isn’t enough of an indication of the popularity of short video, the fact that Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, WeChat, Byte and Quibi are betting on the format should be.
Influencers have found a way to use social video to great effect. Whether starting hashtag challenges on TikTok or offering makeup tutorials on IGTV, the format gives creators a more dynamic way to engage with followers.
In many ways, video is a better format for step-by-steps, Q&As, and tips—and this type of content is particularly popular with beauty influencers, career coaches, wellness experts, and other popular influencer categories. Video is also a good way to get discovered. On Instagram, IGTV videos appear four times larger than photos in the explore tab.
Live streams have blown up in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, and they may have staying power—especially since they’re known for driving engagement. According to Facebook, live video averages six times more engagement than regular video.
8. Stricter guidelines for advertisers are coming
The line between sponsored and organic influencer content has always been murky. And the goal posts are constantly moving as formats, platforms and policies change. But with influencer marketing spending higher than ever, and disinformation plaguing social media, federal regulators are making moves.
One example of this is the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s recent call for review of its endorsement guidelines. It cites a new Facebook policy that allows advertisers to pay to promote “organic” influencer posts on Instagram as an impetus for the review.
The regulator has issued warning letters to influencers, but plans to come down harder on advertisers. “When individual influencers are able to post about their interests to earn extra money on the side, this is not a cause for major concern. But when companies launder advertising by paying someone for a seemingly authentic endorsement or review, this is illegal payola,” says commissioner Rohit Chopra.
Elements of existing guidelines could soon be codified into formal rules, meaning advertisers would face civil penalties and be liable for damages for violations. The FTC also plans to develop a set of requirements for platforms along with requirements for influencer contracts. Children’s privacy and safety policies may also come under additional review.
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