How Influencer Marketing Will Evolve in 2017
Looking back, 2016 may be seen as the year influencer marketing went mainstream—or, the year it died. Think the 60 Minutes piece on social media influencers, or countless posts on the death of the strategy—or the how-tos on making money as an influencer. Spredfast chatted with Leslie Fines, Manager of Social Strategy for DigitasLBi, to take a look at where influencer marketing stands today, and where it might be headed tomorrow.
Ashley Brown: What's your point of view on the state of influencer marketing for 2016—what’s working, and what’s not?
Leslie Fines: What’s working? The practice of marketing to influential individuals has been around in different forms for some time—evolving from sending bloggers (with actual blogs) a product in hopes that they will write something, all the way to brands shelling out thousands of dollars for a popular individual to create a single Instagram post. 2016 was the year that “influencer marketing” earned a business model. Influencers have agents. Advertising agencies have more vendors than they can count pitching them influencer marketing tools and management systems. We figured out how to monetize the practice and so it became mainstream.
Influencer and brand partnerships work best when they are just that—partnerships. There is a give and take in order to get the best result for both, be that a piece of content, a blog post, or a full-length video. Influencer and brand relationships are most powerful when they are not one-off programs, but instead, longer-term relationships in which an influencer goes from liking the brand to being an organic advocate for the brand. When selecting influencers, it is important that brands set the goals of the partnership and criteria for their perfect influencer partner before starting the search. When influencer marketing works, the consumer isn’t surprised that they’re seeing an influencer they follow on Instagram post about a certain brand. Success is when the content feels authentic.
What’s not working? That’s simple: a brand that pays a mega celebrity way too much money to post one or two times about a specific product on social media. Consumers are too savvy and see right through the promotion when the content doesn’t feel like a true partnership.
AB: If you could predict the future, what will change in influencer marketing in 2017?
LF: A lot of brands that work with influencers are doing so on traditional social platforms because the ROI is visible to an extent. Brands and agencies alike can see the number of likes and comments on an influencer’s post and read the reactions from consumers, which helps validate the investment. In 2017, smart brands will widen their focus to platforms that are harder to track—think messenger apps like Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Kik, and WhatsApp. Influencers can create small or large discussion groups where users are sharing opinions and content continuously. The influencer can act as a brand advocate within this group of passionate consumers. The conversations that happen outside of hashtags will become increasingly important in 2017.
AB: What are the keys to developing a successful influencer marketing strategy? How do you identify influencers and how do you measure success?
LF: When brands partner with influencers, there are benefits for both parties. The brand gets the benefits of getting the campaign message heard by an engaged audience and reaching a new group of people. The influencer gains visibility and a new outlet for creativity. There are three key things that make brand/influencer partnerships successful, and brands should keep these in mind as they develop influencer marketing strategies:
When brands partner with influencers, there are benefits for both parties.
1) Equal value exchange. The exchange can come in the form of money, a unique experience, products, or countless other things. Whatever it is, the brand must offer something that will benefit the influencer’s experience with the brand so they feel empowered to create high-quality content.
2) A good brief. The best partnership is with an influencer who already loves and embodies a brand, but that can’t always be the case. When an influencer creates new content on behalf of the brand, they need clear direction. Don't be afraid to say what you do and do not want from the influencer—the more details a brand can include, the fewer rounds of review the brand and influencer will go through and the more credible the content will be.
3) Trust. It can be scary for a brand to loosen the reigns on content control and standards. That said, the influencer knows what their audience wants better than anyone else. The brand has hand selected this person for a variety of reasons (e.g., reach, content quality, tone, audience). When the influencer feels trusted and empowered by the brand to express himself or herself the way they want to, the content is much more compelling.
Measuring success of these partnerships is based on which KPIs a brand sets at the beginning of a program. If the goals of the program are reach and awareness, the brand will choose the influencers with the largest followings to work with, then do a brand lift study to determine the impact of the campaign. If the goals are engagement and sentiment, the brand should work with influencers who may not have the biggest reach but have a strong, engaged follower base. We always recommend looking at influencers’ engagement rates rather than their reach because the engagement means more when a strong percentage of their follower base genuinely connects with the content.
AB: What are the most important channels for an influencer marketing strategy? Does it vary by demographic?
LF: A brand’s target audience and the goals of the campaign should absolutely dictate where influencers are activated. If a brand were trying to reach moms, I wouldn’t necessarily direct the brand to Snapchat because moms aren’t the most engaged demo on the platform. There aren’t necessarily channels that we can deem most important. It all depends on the brand, the vertical, the target, and the goals. The answers to those questions will guide the strategy and ensure that each influencer reaches the right people in the right place at the right time.
AB: What are the emerging channels that you see taking center stage in 2017?
LF: I talked a little bit about messaging apps already, but brands will see more of a need to open their marketing efforts to those channels in 2017. That may not be through influencers, but it will take some form (e.g., chat bots, insider groups where brands share exclusives). “Live” everything will also continue to be the name of the game. Facebook Live is gaining traction and evolving every day so that users are streaming more and more of their daily lives with the world. We have seen the same trend with the adoption and growth of Snapchat. It is rumored that Instagram will soon launch a live button within their Stories feature. Brands will have to find a way to give their consumers interesting opportunities to connect in the moment.
AB: What new challenges will 2017 bring for brands diving into influencer marketing? What new opportunities?
LF: As influencer marketing moves into new platforms like messaging apps and into the dark social space, measurement will be a hurdle. It will be harder, at first at least, to follow the conversation and track it with our standard measurement tools and tactics. We will evolve and find solutions as we have done with social in the past. Also, as influencer marketing becomes more readily used, the FTC will continue to crack down on disclosure to ensure that brands and influencers alike are not deceiving consumers with branded content. Always be sure that influencers are honest about partnering the brands they are working with. The next generation of consumers respects transparency.