Influencer marketing saw extraordinary growth in 2016 and shows no signs of slowing. With millions tuning in to their favourite YouTuber or blogger every day, that’s not surprising. However, as more brands continue to adopt influencer marketing and audiences become increasingly aware of sponsored content, what will 2017 hold for the influencer space?
Regulators will pay closer attention
2017 will see spend on digital marketing exceed that of TV for the first time. With the use of influencers increasing, authorities such as the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the UK, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the USA, are paying more attention to brand-sponsored influencer content to make audiences aware that they are being advertised to.
Brands and influencers must follow the regulations. They’ll face stiff penalties if they do not disclose sponsorship with the inclusion of hashtags such as #ad, #sponsored or #sp – not to mention a loss of credibility among their audience.
However, the power of influencers comes from their authentic social connection to their audience, and too much overt advertising may erode this.
This year brands will have to play a delicate balancing act. They’ll have to work with influencers to reach their audience transparently, while maintaining the integrity of the influencer’s social connection with their audience, and preserving all the trust that influencer has built up.
Audiences will get fed up with the sponsor-of-the-week
There’s nothing wrong with sponsored content – sports figures and celebrities have been endorsing products for nearly a century. But if an influencer is constantly switching, say, from an energy drink one week to a laptop unboxing another week, this strains their credibility. When influencers post conflicting messages, followers are often quick to call them out.
In the coming year, look for more long-term partnerships growing up in the influencer world, as the relationship between influencers and brands matures. Some of the influencers with the largest followings are maturing into established media brands in their own right – a development that only underlines the importance of building long-term relationships based on real, shared values.
The cost of working with major influencers has increased as more brands secure their services. Some influencers’ fees tripled in the last year, and there’s no sign of this trend reversing. Developing a focus on the middle-tier influencers, or micro influencers of your industry, will be key.
Smaller influencers, with a more localized or specialized audience, often see significant levels of engagement and tend to be much more accessible than their major counterparts. This accessibility allows brands to explore influencer campaigns without having to stretch budgets to reach the higher-reach influencers.
On the other hand, finding relevant mid-tier influencers or micro-influencers with access to a specific audience is more complicated. Methods will have to get more sophisticated. Top-ten lists and media reports won’t do on their own, and specialized research approaches will be necessary. That’s why 2017 will see an increased use of specialized tools and methods to find the right influencers for a brand.
Brands will have to get smarter with content and distribution
Through the year, brands will enter an ever more intense competition for consumer attention. There is a profusion of influencers creating content, and more and more brands trying to affect it. That’s why influencer strategy will need to be integrated into brands’ wider marketing mix at the highest level. The use of paid promotion will rise, further extending the lifespan of compelling influencer content. Integrated influencer and content campaigns will become the standard for effective online communications.
Brands should become more savvy by using paid promotion to elevate their content beyond influencer communities. By pairing paid social with co-created influencer content brands will be able to cut through noise and ensure that their content is reaching audiences en masse. Content formats will have to evolve too, for example using influencers as talent or involving them in in-person or community activities. Online influencers aren’t going to disappear, and brands are learning how deeply they can impact their audience. But so far we’ve only scratched the surface of how they can work together.