How is influencer marketing evolving? What brands need to know
Social media platforms are introducing new features to attract and retain influencers. Here’s why and how marketers should do it too.
The great interest in social commerce via social media has drawn marketers to influencers, looking for opportunities to grab customer attention. Influencer feedback on products and services has become a critical growth driver for many brands on social media.
Today, the choice of influencers can seem as overwhelming as the platforms themselves. Thus, marketing managers must exercise a wise selection compared to past years.
The evolution of social media platforms
Influencers were born from the high usage of social media by consumers. They dominate on these platforms. Internet users came to see and listen to the suggestions of influencers for their choice of products and services. This shift in behavior has led social media platforms to redevelop their environments to attract influencers and their audiences.
Take YouTube, for example. An eMarketer article noted a Hub Research study in which 43% of US consumers surveyed watch YouTube videos from influencers weekly. In response, YouTube is increasing its reliance on creators to drive engagement on the platform. Given the high consumer interest in viewing, it makes sense that YouTube has a strong relationship with its influencers. This makes it easier to compete with TikTok, which I talked about in a previous article.
TikTok has combined the best features of video — making it a formidable presence against Instagram and YouTube — while building creative communities around particular topics in a similar way to Twitter. This has made TikTok the best of both worlds and encourages an environment where influencers can build communities. Micro-creators — influencers who focus on creating a product — thrive particularly well, carving out a hyper-engaged niche that TikTok has become famous for.
This all reflects the significant seed development for social commerce features. Social commerce allows subscribers to conduct purchase activities, such as autofill payment, without leaving the initial platform where the purchase is initiated, i.e. the social media feed. This simplifies attributions and extends the customer experience that a brand and influencer have cultivated.
Related Article: Why Your Brand Should Care About Influencer Marketing
The Evolution of the Social Influencer
Meanwhile, the influencer ecosystem is being shaped by a new sophistication to attract followers to a profile. Some influencers succeed by building followers in an active community rather than an audience of followers. Having followers often means communication seems one-dimensional – influencers say a few observations, and followers react and comment on those observations. With a community, more discussions reflect everyone’s participation.
A community audience results from real people who want to engage and build relationships with the profiles they follow. Many influencers find that the effort leads to long-term leads – a form of creating long-term value and reducing customer churn. Additionally, people recognize that follower accounts can be faked or corrupted, so a profile may not speak to what the audience aspires to. So, good influencer choices for managers are those who want to speak to their audience more frequently and naturally.
Additionally, managers need to recognize the growing proliferation of one type of influencer online. A class of influencers called the creator class is emerging. Creators are influencers who use the products and services they describe in their videos and posts. They also create things from the products and services they mention.
For example, if I was a hobby and craft influencer, I might mention a particular brand of store where I pick up my items or a particular toy or brand I use to build my crafts. This class of creators create a different level of influence among their followers.
Influencers are feeling their growing presence online. As a result, they are starting to give platforms more weight. The Kardashians’ recent criticism of Instagram trying to be more like TikTok illustrates how high profile influencers are starting to weigh in more on the directions the platforms can take.
All of this comes as time spent on social media has reached its peak.
Daily social media usage, according to Statista, has gone from 145 to 147 minutes over the past two years. This means that platforms will likely continue to find ways to optimize their environments to prevent influencers from migrating from one platform. The more opportunities influencers have to make sales on a given platform, the more likely they are to stick around and not transfer resources to a competitor.
Related article: Is influencer marketing suitable for B2B marketing plans?
Create a customer experience with influencers
The combined changes in social media and influencer trends lead marketers to a golden opportunity to choose an influencer who can improve customer experience goals. But marketers need to look at a number of qualities among the influencers they’re considering.
They should look at how influencers manage their online audience. They should look at comments and engagement, study posts to determine the type of influencer voice and how that voice aligns with brand management plans.
Managers should also consider what kind of brand safety keywords to avoid. These choices are not related to censorship: the objective is to manage the algorithm on the platform. You want influencers to use words that your team determines are best for the brand. Usage can be a safeguard rather than a guideline offering influencers the opportunity to work with the brand while maintaining their creativity and independence.
Managers should look at the influencer’s past posts and see if any controversy arose and how the influencer handled it at the time. This helps the brand understand what risks they may be exposing their brand to. Often influencers are criticized for what they may have said in the past.
Lessons learned from current influencer issues regarding how associations are run abound. For example, CNBC reported that Kim Kardashian was seeking removal from a lawsuit against EthereumMax, a crypto token that created losses for investors. The lawsuit, which also includes Floyd Mayweather, is that the financial failure, an alleged “pump and dump” investment scheme, would not have moved forward without his social media endorsement.
Marketers should also be aware of the growing interest in building a community and the legal issues that can arise that differ from attracting subscribers. Platforms have provided all the creative tools to build a community, but what if the influencer moves to another platform? Who “owns” the community: the platform, the brand or the influencers themselves?
It’s a sticky question. The platforms strive to provide more shopping experience to the users which attracts more followers for the influencer who had started with followers even before being approached by the platforms.
Simply put, this means the relationship could devolve into a vicious cycle in which brands can get caught in the middle. But marketers should be encouraged that more and more platforms and influencers are working together and more often than not see mutual benefit in building an online community.
Influencers have gone from online entertainment to good curators for customer experiences. The one marketers choose should reflect their brand values to deliver an exceptional customer experience.