Consistently identifying and engaging your target audience with the right message has never been more challenging. Communicators face an ever-expanding volume of content, shrinking newsrooms and distrust in the media, shorter attention spans, and technologies like ad-blockers—all compounded by a market that’s always in motion
One strategy that has managed to cut through the noise for many is influencer marketing. A recent study by Captiv8 estimated that big brands spend a collective $255 million per month for sponsored posts on Instagram alone. What’s more, worldwide Google Search interest in the term "influencer marketing" is at its highest point in the past 12 months. It makes sense: influencers are experts at navigating the constant motion of an always-on world and connecting with consumers on an emotional level.
From the debacle that was the Fyre Festival, to the Federal Trade Commission’s continued crackdown on brands and influencers who fail to disclose their relationships, to Amazon launching its own influencer program, 2017 was a critical year of evolution for the industry. As we look ahead to 2018, here are several key themes that promise to shape influencer marketing for brands and consumers alike.
Relationships will become the centerpiece
Influencers are not a marketing channel; instead the approach has to be all about relationships. After all, that’s what public relations has been about from the very beginning. An influencer approach has to start with a point of mutual interest and be focused on building long-term relationships that benefit both parties. Influence can come from anywhere, which is why a data-driven approach to identifying it combined with the art of relationship-building to fully harness it will help brands create the forward momentum they need to stand out in today’s environment.
The battle of the bots will continue
To understand online influence, a cursory view of an individual’s followers is not enough. Why? According to research from the University of Southern California and Indiana University, up to 15% of all Twitter accounts are bots, not people. That means somewhere in the range of 50 million accounts are fake.
When exploring and evaluating influencers, here are a few tactics to separate the signal from the noise:
Do an audience deep dive: a larger number of followers does not equate to influence. Who are those followers? Where are they located? What demographic information can you gather?
Examine audience growth patterns: look for days or weeks with huge increases. This can indicate that someone is purchasing their audience. In the end, that audience will not be authentic and not be likely to engage with content the so-called influencer shares.
Analyze the cross-platform social presence: people who have true influence do not typically have a robust presence on just a single social platform. If you can’t easily find the person on multiple platforms, proceed with caution.
The advent of the influencer marketing center of excellence
Kirk Crenshaw, CMO at Traackr, expects changes in how companies organize around the influencer function.
"With the rapid growth and acceptance of influencer marketing by brand marketers, we see companies moving from a purely tactical view to a broader, strategic, cross-organizational one," Crenshaw says. "This will require marketing teams to look beyond optimizing the efficiency and impact of their existing programs within the silo of the marketing organization. They will have to take a broader role in the operational and financial management of these programs that span the enterprise. As this happens, we will see the rise of the influencer marketing center of excellence. These centers will ensure that the company is taking a holistic view of their influencer programs, providing governance, oversight, and standardization across the organization."
Influencers will infiltrate every stage of the customer journey
As brands continue to move from a transactional to an always-on approach, it is inevitable that influencers will be activated well beyond the awareness or lead-generation phases. Brands that find creative ways to activate influencers at each phase of the customer journey—and put some rigor around tracking performance—will be those that win.
What do you think is in store in 2018?
Trevor Jonas is VP of digital strategy at WE Communications.