To understand how influencer marketing is changing and how it needs to change further, consider the case of an actor from a popular U.S. sitcom.
A marketing and advertising agency was using a social media scraping tool to index “influencers” into categories. This actor was tagged as being a good fit for marketing campaigns in the sailing industry. Why? Because he was on Fresh Off the Boat – a show that despite its title, has nothing to do with sailing. (I know this story because one of my employees worked at the agency at the time.)
This kind of problem has plagued influencer marketing for years. Marketing teams all too often haven’t taken the time to consider what each potential influencer is really all about, and what kind of content each influencer’s followers are likely to respond to.
Much of this is because of the rapid pace at which brands have jumped on the bandwagon. “National advertisers are so enamored with influencer marketing that a full 75 percent of their companies currently employ the discipline and almost half (43 percent) are planning to increase their spending on it in the next 12 months,” the Association of National Advertiserslast year. One analyst predicts the influencer marketing industry will reach in 2020.
Working with companies in this space, I find that steadily more and more marketers are taking the time to analyze their efforts – and looking to do influencer marketing in a way much more likely to bring ROI (return on investment).
Valuing fit over followers
For some marketing campaigns, your mother, father, sister, or brother may be a better influencer than an “Instagram celebrity” with a million followers. The beauty of influencer marketing right now and going forward is that anyone who has built an online community of people who care about certain things can be the right fit.
Savvy companies are starting to understand this. Rather than getting excited over big numbers of followers, they’re looking for people whose perspectives, tone of voice, and interests mesh with the messaging of the campaign – and whose followers, in turn, have shown a desire to engage around these topics.
Rather than tossing a giant amount of money at a single celebrity, distributing that spending to a series of people with smaller but active and engaged followings can be a much better use of a budget. This helps explain why 59% of brands areinfluencers with 50 to 25,000 followers and 66% are using influencers with 25,001 to 100,000 followers. Fewer brands (44%) are using “macro-influencers” with larger followings.
Another shift I see is that companies are starting to understand the importance of partnering with influencers who are legitimately excited about a product and a campaign.
I learned the importance of this from my 19-year-old daughter who spends lots of time on Instagram and Snapchat. I asked her whether she minds when people she follows post sponsored content. “No,” she answered, “they have a right to make money.” I asked when a sponsored post does bother her. “As soon as I feel that they’re being dishonest or disingenuous,” she said.
The authenticity and intimacy that influencers have in their communities can be meaningful and impactful, but only when followers sense that influencers mean what they’re saying. As a USC professor, using “influencers as a marketing tactic can sometimes backfire, particularly with media-savvy millennials. As with any other approach, it’s really important to convey the authenticity of the story you’re telling.”
That brings us to a third important development.
Focus on storytelling
Storytelling is, as HubSpot puts it, “.” It may even be “ ” in the coming years. And it’s here that influencer marketing can be most powerful.
Brands are coming to understand that a successful influencer marketing strategy isn’t about simply having someone say “I like this product,” or gush about it. Instead, the key is to empower influencers to tell stories in the style their followers have come to expect. As one academicof social influencers put it: “These self-made social media celebrities are vital to brand storytelling, and their thoughts and opinions may actually be more persuasive than messaging straight from the cosmetic brands themselves.”
As businesses discover this, they’re giving influencers more freedom to develop creative stories that work for a campaign. Some are even supporting, so if you like something you see in a video you can easily .
Of course, there are problems the influencer marketing industry is still solving, including, posts, and execution failures like the . The changes underway now are about learning to do it right.