2017 was a remarkable year for influencer marketing industry growth and maturity. One in which influencer marketing evolved from tactic to a prioritized strategy with new connections to multiple marketing & communications functions as well as customer journey touchpoints; interest in influencer marketing eclipsed search interest in programmatic advertising, display advertising, and social media marketing; and social networks and e-commerce platforms alike introduced new influencer marketing technologies, tools, and programs designed to increase the impact of influencer-generated content.
So what does the next year have in store?
New year, new influencer marketing strategy. Here are the seven influencer marketing trends you need to know to take your marketing to the next level in 2018.
1. The Spectrum of Influence has Expanded Beyond Bloggers and Celebrities
If you’re planning on executing a rinse & repeat influencer marketing program that includes the same celebrity endorsement and 2-4 bloggers you used last year, be prepared to miss out on a wealth of opportunity, content, and insight.
There are six different influence personas who, when activated together in concert with each other, could actually power your entire digital marketing plan in 2018. While number of followers or engagement rate can be indicators of influence, what defines these personas in particular are their primary motivations and behaviors, preferred content use cases, and brand impact.
- Mega-Influencers earn their living as a celebrity (e.g. Athlete, Actor, Artist)
- Macro-Influencers earn their living as an influencer (e.g. Blogger, Creator, Journalist)
- Micro-Influencers are everyday consumers who have relevant influence and may not know it or aspire to become a macro-influencer
- Advocates are consumers who are passionate and willing to share, but have little influence
- Referrers are consumers who passively share relevant content with friends and family
- Loyalists are consumers who love your brand, but are not willing to share on social
Influence personas are highly contextual and not mutually exclusive – a person could be a macro-influencer for one brand, and an advocate for another, depending on the brand and product. Each persona also has preferred activations and incentive models, based on the brand objective desired.
The ‘triple threat’ of the influence spectrum, micro-influencers are not only capable of creating, amplifying or submitting content on behalf of a brand, they do so with the most authenticity. Marketers will not only continue to prioritizing micro-influencers in 2018 for these reasons, but start executing influencer marketing programs across the spectrum to increase scale and efficiency. Loyalists can provide rich consumer insights that then inform more empathetic content briefs for micro-influencer content, which can be amplified by consumer advocates.
2. Marketers Will Prioritize Micro-Influencers As Influencer Activation Costs Increase
As marketers, we’ve seen this inherently. Mega-influencers and macro-influencers are professional content creators, and as such – expect to get paid. And it’s not just Kendall Jenner who is dictating the going rate – the mega-influencer with 100k followers who makes their living producing brand content will expect to be paid for their activity, versus the micro-influencer with 100k followers who produces brand content on the side and will do so in exchange for free product. By 2019, over $2 billion is expected to be spent on Instagram Influencers alone.
If there is an influencer marketing bubble, look for it to burst at the top as marketers demand more data and definitive results of mega- and macro-influencers’ impact.
Instagram Influencer Marketing is a Billon Dollar Industry:
So where’s the white space in 2018?
As we discussed, you already know that micro-influencers can offer you more bang for your buck. There’s also untapped opportunities in under-used platforms like Pinterest, and emerging platforms that the influencers you work with are already adopting and experimenting on – that are not even on your (or your comms team’s) radar. When it comes to emerging media platforms, by the time paid media is even an option, you’re already at least one year too late. As such, 2018 will also be the year that marketers start using influencers for not just content creation – but for research, insights, and ideation.
3. Brands and Agencies are Using Influencer Marketing Media Mix
With an army of influential content creators at your finger tips – here’s to hoping that 2018 will be the death of the stock photo. Brands and agencies alike are starting to repurpose influencer-generated content across their owned and paid media campaigns, not only extending the life of their budgets but maximizing their impact per channel.
Research studies from independent firms and educational institutions alike proved over and over again in 2017 that consumers today trust people like them: the Edelman Trust Barometer, Forrester Research, Northeastern University’s recent study on consumer trust published in the Journal of Marketing, and Rachel Botsman’s Who Can You Trust?. Not only that – consumers actively seek out and rely on other consumers’ opinions and experiences to inform their purchase decisions. When you can search for any product via Google, why do people prefer Amazon for product discovery? Amazon has the most comprehensive product rating and review depth than any other platform or network. It’s as much a bonafide word-of-mouth marketing and advertising ecosystem as it is a e-commerce behemoth, with entire agencies like 360i devoting new practice areas just to Amazon best practices.
What Amazon does, better than any other brand or agency, is repurpose influencer-generated and user-generated content at ever consumer touchpoint across its customer experiences. Its product pages alone embed 12 instances of consumer-generated content.
To succeed in 2018, look for opportunities to unify your customer experience and accelerate your path-to-purchase through influencer-generated and user-generated content. Get started by creating an influence-augmented customer journey map, using our steps outlined here.
4. Influencer Marketing Technology Becomes Integrated Across the Consumer Journey
Just as influencer-generated content is being repurposed across customer journey touchpoints, influencer marketing technology is also being integrated across the path-to-purchase.
Here’s the thing that all marketers know, but few want to believe: Influence is dynamic and highly contextual. If only influencer marketing was as easy as reach and engagement rate. In the context of your brand, a person may have influence this month, but not next year; they may be able to influence app downloads – but not e-comm purchases; they may be motivated by money today and the latest release of a product tomorrow; they could be a fraud, they could be legit.
Influence is not – and can not – be determined by follower counts and engagement rates alone. Those, as we know, can be easily gamed – bots, comment pods, engagement rings (not of the bling variety). For all the variables that sincerely indicate whether or not a person has influence in the context of your particular brand requires technology to understand, measure, predict, validate and recommend for you to use for marketing purposes.
Your best source of influencers, before you search anywhere else, is your existing consumer base. This includes, but is not limited to: your CRM database, email subscribers, loyalty members, social followers, and website visitors. Influencer marketing technology has evolved to not only be able to discover and identify influencers who already exis
5. Influencer Marketing Platforms Become More Automated & Programmatic
The same way that you can set up campaigns via Facebook Ads Manager or Google Adwords, you can now execute an influencer marketing campaign.
Influencer marketing platforms and technologies have improved dramatically when it comes to workflow automation and programmatic activation – so much so that once you understand a consumers’ influence persona, you’re able to programmatically activate them in real time in the most effective way they can drive value for your brand and automatically reward them based on that activity or performance (as noted above).
The conversation around influencer marketing automation will continue to evolve in 2018 with the application of artificial intelligence – namely, machine learning. Imagine a future where predictive influencer marketing software is able to make better decisions about your influencer marketing strategy and execution than the world’s savviest marketer. Instead of making manual adjustments and recommendations, influencer marketing technologies will tweak activities continuously to optimize influencer campaigns and identify trends in influencer potential.
In 2018, influencer marketing platforms will enable marketers to create an ever-expanding, owned panel of influencers, advocates, referrers, and loyalists that enables them to activate thousands of influential consumers per month without lifting a finger – let alone a spreadsheet.
6. Influencer Marketing Becomes More Regulated
2017 was all about the FTC. And in direct response to the FTC’s crackdown on sponsored content disclosures, Facebook introduced new tools for Facebook and Instagram enabling influencers to tag a sponsored post with a brand disclosure. But with most mature influencer marketing platforms already appending disclosures automatically to sponsored posts, this more of a non-issue in 2018 – even as the FTC expresses its intent to crack down on non-disclosed posts in the future.
The more impactful regulation looming is the EU’s GDPR deadline on May 25th, which requires companies to be more transparent with its use of customer data. While this applies to the EU only – it also applies to you if you handle personal data of any EU citizen. It has major implications for international brands, and influencer marketing – particularly as audience targeting and paid amplification of influencer-generated content become mainstream practices.
Under GDPR, a cookie or any other identifier capable of identifying an individual, is considered personal data and as such, requires consent for use in marketing (or any other business activities). While many marketing activities already require consent via some form of opt-in (i.e. email, sms notifications), GDPR compliance requires advertisers to obtain individual consumer consent (opt-in) before marketing to them in any form, and offering ‘the right to be forgotten’ – the ability to remove any one individual’s historical data, which requires advertisers to know exactly what that is.
What it requires, is for marketers to invest in developing their own, first-party cookie pools – since they’ll no longer be able to rely on third-party partners. Partnerships with publishers and influencers can be a huge advantage (or gatekeepers) in developing first-party cookie pools for retargeting and advertising use. They’re on the front lines, if you will, in acquiring consumer consent in the moment.
7. The Role of Influencer Marketing Expands Within Organizations
Despite its popularity and performance, the evolution of influencer marketing from tactical solution to enterprise strategy remains largely theoretical in practice. Largely understood and misused, influencer marketing is still perceived as a content play, and not a strategic asset that can positively impact multiple parts of an enterprise organization. To realize its fullest potential, the maturation of influencer marketing in 2018 requires evolving how it is integrated at every step of the marketing process.
Influencers, by definition, have such rich knowledge, that not including them at the point of research, ideation, strategy and planning, is a significant missed opportunity. As brands and modern business leaders alike struggle to remain influential and trustworthy themselves, not inviting influencers who are influencing their target audiences into the boardroom will result in lost business insight.
With the role of influencer marketing set to expand and scale remarkably, it’s only natural that we’ll continue to see new trends, tools, and technologies emerge.
So how will you take your influencer marketing to the next level in 2018? Leave us a comment below and for deeper insight on the impact each of these trends will have in the next year, download our Influencer Marketing & Relations in 2018 Trends Report.