In its coverage of the 2019 VidCon conference, held late July in Anaheim, The New York Times wrote that social media influencers are poised to dominate internet culture, the entertainment industry AND society as a whole. While that may sound a bit over the top, there’s no question that, at least in the marketing world, they’re capturing unprecedented attention—and budget—from today’s brands. According to MediaKix, spend is expected to increase from $8 billion this year to $15 billion by 2022.
Such enthusiasm is understandable. Over the last few years a number of studies have emerged (some compiled here) highlighting the positives of influencer tactics: returns of $6.50 to $20 on every dollar invested; views of influencers as more authentic and trustworthy than celebrities; faith in influencer recommendations for purchase decisions. But as influencer marketing becomes more common, it’s getting more complex. Here are three factors critical for success with influencer marketing.
Understand What Influencer Marketing Is—And what it Isn’t
VidCon wasn’t the only industry group looking at the evolution of the influencer sphere last month. Days later the IAB hosted its Inside Influencer/UGC Marketing Day, an invite-only event for brands and agencies to discuss both influencer and user-generated-content marketing. Of particular interest this year was IAB’s position that influencer marketing should be viewed as its own entity rather than as under the broader umbrella of UGC. That’s a marked shift for the IAB, brought on by the growing confusion around what constitutes a material connection between a brand and content published online about it.
As such, one of the most significant presentations of the day was the panel discussion with Mamie Kresses, a senior attorney with the Federal Trade Commission’s advertising practices division, on how to determine what separates individually driven content (UGC) from brand-driven (influencer) and how to disclose the latter relationship appropriately. Brands that aren’t able to make these determinations correctly not only risk raising the ire of the FTC, but also alienating the consumers they are trying to court more authentically. Some brands are trying to skirt these questions with the use of “virtual influencers,” which underscores just how rapidly—and interestingly—this market is changing.
Mutual Measures of Success
When we wrote about influencers last year, we advised brands to require the use of audience verification platforms, not just to avoid the reputational taint of being associated with an influencer that inflates followings, but also to ensure the desired reach. That hasn’t changed but the process of getting that verification may be evolving as influencers come up against more competition for brand partnerships.
Influencers on a panel at the IAB event noted how the best influencers won’t just agree to contractual obligations for metrics and verifications but will actually volunteer to provide clear and detailed information on the full gamut of demographic, geographic and preference information they have. In other words, the influencers that will have the greatest impact are those that see the relationship with the brand as more than just a financial transaction. Liz Joy, of Pure Home Joy, told the panel she’s interested in all aspects of a brand’s consumer outreach—even if it’s not directly part of her remit. Authenticity cuts both ways and if both influencer and brand demonstrate mutual respect for each other’s needs and goals, the relationship has a better chance of succeeding than one in which either party tries to exercise outsize control.
Keep Abreast of Platform Developments
The biggest star at VidCon this year wasn’t YouTube (VidCon was founded by YouTubers) or Instagram but TikTok, an app for short-form mobile video described by TechCrunch as “the Instagram for the mobile video age.” Although TikTok, founded in China, didn’t enter the U.S. market until last year, it has taken the digital world by storm with a user base of 500 million and more than a billion downloads worldwide—with 100+ million of those coming from the U.S., according to the Wall Street Journal.
While U.S. advertising—particularly influencer advertising—is still nascent on TikTok, cutting-edge advertisers such as Nike, Fenty Beauty, and Apple Music are exploring options and Universal Pictures is reportedly investigating influencer campaigns on the platform. Brands ignore the popularity numbers noted above at their peril.
Influencer marketing is undoubtedly a moving target but advertisers that look to use the tactic as part of a broader marketing mix, and that are willing to push the boundaries of what’s already tried and true, stand to forge exciting new inroads with social media obsessed consumers.