NDA is running a series of articles looking at the future of influencer marketing, talking to experts in the market around how the discipline will evolve over the coming year.
By Oliver Lewis, Founder & Managing Director, THE FIFTH, an independent influencer marketing agency within the News UK group.
We are witnessing a social-led revolution. Creativity, storytelling and publishing have been democratised. Individuals are commanding a greater share of online loyalty from audiences and brands. Your life has become a canvass, your values a brand and for many the combination of talent and purpose is now a successful business.
A recent study found that 31% of children between the ages of 11-16 aspired to be a social media influencer or YouTube creator; second and third only to becoming a doctor. Influencer marketing has never been more alive and kicking, but it is certainly not without flaws and it will need to evolve to sustain this level of growth.
So what does the new world order online look like and what should we expect to see in the next 12 months?
Authenticity and trust
The meteoric rise and subsequent fall of certain digital first storytellers or “influencers” has shown us that authenticity, trust, inclusivity and therefore relatability are now the most valuable commodities to drive influence or sustain engagement with an audience. We are rapidly moving away from the business of reach and followers as the primary benchmark for influence.
Follower count is a vanity metric that misrepresents the value of these digital storytellers and therefore misleads brands who believe they are acquiring guaranteed scale for their campaign.
We have traded on this arbitrary measurement for too long, but to understand the real value of their channel we need access to actual platform engagement data. For example, Instagram’s Graph API access is now a closed shop, which means that any technology provider fortunate enough to have been granted it will rise and set a new standard in the industry.
One such business with the access is Q-83, an Australian based business which launched in the UK this year. Their mantra is to support talent to authenticate their audience data, to analyse their content engagement and to assess the true value of their influence and share their data with prospective partners. And brands in the future will request access to this data in order to partner with them.
So all influencers will need to take some accountability for their data and adopt a more transparent business model.
Once we adjust our thinking and move away from a reach-first approach, I believe the industry will start to move away from some of the terminology and reach-based labelling. Terms such as nano, micro and macro will start to fade into the background, as the focus shifts to their creativity, content format and the actual talent and skills that are on display e.g. their artistry or hosting capabilities.
Expect to see creativity fully overcome reach by the time Cannes Lions is upon us next year, with an influx of influencer-led shortlists and some notable awards from omnichannel campaigns featuring digital-first storytellers.
The move off social
Which leads onto the next likely evolution of the space. Influencer marketing does not need to live exclusively in social, and the storytellers themselves and their content are starting to transcend the platforms. In fact, an over reliance on the platforms comes at great risk – it is possible it will eventually lead to the same problem that publishers faced 18 months ago on Facebook.
One algorithm shift, a re-prioritisation of organic content from creators and business owners and a move to enforce paid spend to reach your audiences. Influencers and their associated marketing campaigns will evolve into a cross-platform publisher, as media owners realise the benefits to cross pollinating their audiences and content strategy.
Thus, as the business of influencer marketing becomes more accountable and professional and as the storytellers become more established media brands, the calls for improved ROI and measurement will become deafening.
The industry will become defined by its ability to benchmark success against more established marketing channels. Which has to mean a move to full funnel outcomes and an increase in brand metrics.
Influencer marketing has the power to build brands, stir emotions and shift perceptions, but these outcomes don’t happen overnight. A shift towards longer term creative campaigns and partnerships built around fewer talent favours all parties.
It allows the influencers to be more considered with their partners and resist the temptation to clutter their content feed with brands that might jeopardise their authenticity. This builds on the trust and loyalty they have established with their audiences and in return brands will benefit from sustained advocacy.
Influencer marketing is entering the age of accountability, transparency and professionalism and is set to be an exciting evolutionary step in a new world order.