July 23, 2019 – The NYT: Influencers are driving forces in business, media, and politics; Instagram tests hiding “Likes” in six countries; Insight into Amazon’s Accelerator; TikTok tests several Instagram-inspired features
Here’s what’s worth knowing this week:
With Great Influence, Comes Great Responsibility
Per a recent NYT deep dive, influencers are the driving forces behind not just internet and cultural moments, but business, media, and politics. With the collapse of consumer trust in these institutions, influencers are the leaders informing opinions, inspiring confidence and instigating change.
What’s the hot take?
Being an influencer isn’t synonymous with social media commercialism, and those who have influence online continue to steer conversations in society-at-large. Kevin Roose of the New York Times said it best in his column, The Shift: “But if you can look past the silliness and status-seeking, many people at VidCon are hard at work … Many social media influencers are essentially one-person start-ups, and the best ones can spot trends, experiment relentlessly with new formats and platforms, build an authentic connection with an audience, pay close attention to their channel analytics, and figure out how to distinguish themselves in a crowded media environment — all while churning out a constant stream of new content.”
It’s important to note that influence is a spectrum. Yes, there are those influencers engaged only for the commercial benefits, just as there are influencers who are committed to having a positive impact beyond the feed.
With the latter, we’ve seen a growing number of influencers becoming successful entrepreneurs through the launch of their own Influencer-to-Consumer (ITC) brands (see: Emily Weiss of Glossier) – 7many of which have forced legacy brands to rethink their strategies. We’ve also seen this in politics and government, where leaders in Congress like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have risen to power by pairing policy agendas with an intuitive understanding of how people interact, share, and consume information online. The same holds true in Brazil, where a group of millennials mobilized their YouTube audiences to win seats in Brazil’s federal and state elections.
With this understanding, marketers have the ability to have an impact beyond the feed as well, aligning with influencers who support brand values, culture moments, and/or brand causes. As well, it’s important to note that if the brand is not aligned with the influencers’ views, to flag it as a risk in the vetting process.
Spoiler alert, we’re digging deeper into this trend in our first Influencer-to-Consumer Brand Index report in the coming weeks – stay tuned! #ShamelessPlug
Instagram Expands ‘Hiding Likes’ Test
Instagram is officially testing hiding “Likes” on posts in six countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Italy, and Japan.
What’s Instagram saying?
“We want Instagram to be a place where people feel comfortable expressing themselves. We hope this test will remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive, so you can focus on sharing the things you love.” – Mia Garlick, Facebook Australia and New Zealand’s head of policy
In lieu of government regulation, credible studies that focus the spotlight on the detrimental impact of social media on mental health are pushing social media platforms to play by new rules. And Instagram, who has been named the “worst social media network for mental health and wellbeing” by the Royal Society for Public Health is certainly not immune.
While the change isn’t the end of “Likes” as we know it – creators still have access to these analytics in detail and marketers will probably still ask for them – the result could be an improvement in the quality of engagement Instagram posts do generate as people will be less likely to simply “Like” a photo because they see thousands of others already have, and creators less likely to remove posts that don’t immediately meet benchmark. As well, the change signifies Instagram is leaning more into social proof, since Like Counts will be replaced by followed handles who also liked the post.
From a marketing standpoint, this could encourage marketers to lean into better methods of measurement, like brand or sales lift, to determine influencer marketing campaign effectiveness. While influencers will still have access to insights on their posts, the need for a platform to aggregate and analyze those metrics will become even more important.
WTF Is the Amazon Accelerator?
As part of Amazon’s emerging brands practice and “Our Brands” Exclusive Brands umbrella, Amazon Accelerator offers independent merchants marketing support, product reviews and prominent display. There’s just one catch. Amazon has the right to purchase the brand at any time for a fixed price, often at $10,000.
I’ve never heard of this.
You’re not alone. If you search “Amazon emerging brands program” or “Amazon Accelerator” you won’t be met with any info from Amazon detailing the program. Instead, you’ll find a landing page detailing its Exclusive Brands platform, Our Brands, which we covered a few weeks ago with Bic’s exclusive product launch. When it comes to the Amazon Accelerator, few insider perspectives outside of the WSJ offer insight into what, exactly, the program experience is. Since the program’s launch, Amazon’s largely kept it on the DL.
Ok, now I’m interested.
TLDR; the year-long program, which allows the brand rights to be bought for a fixed price on 60 days notice, is part of Amazon’s initiative to launch DTC startups on its platform. According to sources familiar with Amazon’s programs, it’s the first selling program that allows Amazon to obtain direct control over the independent brands that sell on its website.
What’s in it for sellers?
Internal pull and transparency at Amazon.
Account reps for this program, who have been described as having significantly more internal pull than those servicing third-party sellers, are able to essentially provide exclusive and emerging brands with a playbook to succeed on Amazon. Think: daily insight around best product listings, content optimization, keyword and advertising practices, feedback on new product launches, guides for how to get products in front of customers on popular holidays (i.e., Prime Day and Cyber Monday) and smaller-scale events (i.e., lightning deals and deals of the day) which, in turn, allows the brand to gain free visibility through Amazon’s own promotions.
What’s the industry saying?
“Amazon’s core values have always been price, convenience and selection, and selection is probably the most important of those three. In the early days, having the largest selection meant all the brands you could find at Walmart, Target and Costco. Today, it also means you need to have all the brands you can find on Instagram, the brands friends tell each other about, new startups and so on. All of those need to be represented on the platform if Amazon wants to continue to be flying that ‘Earth’s largest selection’ banner, which they do.” – John Ghiorso, CEO of Orca Pacific, an agency that consultants with brands on Amazon strategies.
For so long, Amazon has been regarded as the “everything store.” However, as direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands and influencer-to-consumer (ITC) brands drive more demand, Amazon is forced to play catch up.
What’s interesting with Amazon Accelerator is that, like almost all of Amazon’s initiatives, Amazon doesn’t share data about its customers with vendors, which means that all brands in the program are cut off from insights about who buys its products. For ITC and DTC brands, that connection to consumers is the most vital part of the business model, as it is that data that is used rapidly iterate and expand brand and product offerings. For this reason, a growing number of DTC brands, like Away, have opted out of selling their products on Amazon.
TikTok Tests Instagram-Inspired Features
TikTok is testing several Instagram-inspired features, including a grid-style layout, a Discover page, an Account Switcher and more.
Let’s talk specifics.
Grid-Style Layout: Currently, users flip through videos one at a time, in a uniquely, vertical feed-style format. The updated version would be a grid-style layout, resembling Instagram’s Explore page. Notably, this design would allow users to select the videos they wanted to watch, instead of swiping through all videos which would ultimately provide TikTok’s recommendation engine with more insight into users’ preferences.
Discover Tab: The new button would replace the current Search tab, which lets users enter keywords and returns results that can be filtered by users, sounds, hashtags or videos. It also features trending topics on the main page. The new Discover tab, which has a people icon on it, suggests that it could be used to help users find new people to follow on TikTok, instead of just videos and sounds. This, paired with TikTok’s “Suggested Users” test, could make highlighting top talent and creator discoverability that much easier.
“Like” Counts: To show “Like” counts or to not show “Like” counts, that is where TikTok and Instagram differ. Unlike Instagram, which is testing the removal of “Like” counts, TikTok appears to be testing the addition of “Like” counts on videos, as well as the number of downloads a video receives. Also notable here is a “Liked by Creator” comment badge, which would evidently add a layer of social proof into the comments section of the app.
Account Linking: TikTok also appears to be testing improving connections with social apps, including the ability to integrate with WhatsApp and another that would allow users to link their accounts to Google and Facebook.
Instagram, infamous for it’s “anything you can do I can do better” approach to copying features from other platforms, may have met its match. At this stage in the game, TikTok is laser-focused on driving user adoption, which is why TikTok is focused on improving connections with existing apps, using the massive adoption on other platforms to drive success on its own.
As the fourth most downloaded app in the world, TikTok has a large, highly engaged, global audience. If your audience is on TikTok (60 percent of the app’s monthly users are between 16-24 years old), it’s worth exploring. For tips on how to get started, check out this post.