In 2018 a stat was born that potentially became the most regurgitated piece of data ever. That by 2020 influencer marketing would be worth $10bn (and yes, I appreciate the irony of becoming another member of the cult of this statistic and using it myself).
But the door hasn’t even closed on 2019, and this has already been updated, with a Business Insider report estimating the channel to be worth $15bn by 2022.
Not too shabby for an industry often referred to as the Wild West of digital, and one that has faced a year of very negative stories.
The main issue being the apparent lack of trust in the medium. A fire we would argue has been stoked by parties with a vested interest in holding the medium back.
High on this agenda was the issue of fake followers. While it is definitely an issue, stories such as this one on CNBC claiming it will cost advertisers $1.3bn were vastly over-exaggerated.
At the end of the day, good marketers understand the issue. They know fake followers exist and how to deal with them. There is also a growing number of tools (we have one ourselves) that can tell them in advance how many ‘suspicious accounts’ an influencer has. It can also be circumvented by measuring success in engagement, and not reach.
Added to this was the flaunting of the #spon #ad rules by some high level ‘influencers’. Again, this issue is not as big as it is made out to be. Especially with consumers.
We ran a number of focus groups this year to understand just how much these issues affect them and how much they trust the medium – and the feedback was fascinating.
Consumers of a wide cross-section of ages are very aware when posts are ads, even if the sponsorship hashtag isn’t visible straight away. They are smart, savvy and very ready to drop someone if they don’t think that influencer is playing by the rules.
In fact, what we actually found was that they generally used influencers as a starting point for shopping and added their own layer of authenticity by looking for independent reviews. So they didn’t take the influencer at face value anyway.
Essentially, we all need to stop treating consumers (and clients) like they don’t understand how it all works.
And obviously, there were stories of scandals, Mothers of Daughters being the latest, as well as developments on the weirder end of the scale. Such as this ad for Calvin Klein featuring the real-life model Bella Hadid kissing the CGI influencer Lil’Miquela.
Bearing all that in mind, it does seem a little wild, doesn’t it? So, with predictions season upon us, what does 2020 have in store for this crazy industry?
Do I not like that?
As the spectre of a world without likes looms large, comments, comment sentiment and responses will become the most important measure of success, not likes. This change will encourage creators to make content that drives conversation (not just likes) and, in turn, create a more dynamic and social platform. This will be a real positive for brands and help in the battle against fake followers. It will also be particularly prevalent with micro-influencers, where the like count is going to be commensurately lower anyway.
Is time TikToking out for other platforms?
Looking back through BDB’s account history, it’s interesting how campaigns have shifted through YouTube/ Twitter/ Vine / Facebook / Instagram / Instagram Stories. But with more influencers than ever before entering the market, more will move over to emerging but less saturated platforms such as TikTok and YouTube. We’ve seen a lot of crossover already with Instagram influencers creating YouTube channels to give their followers more long-form content that can be monetised.
Tech-t-tech-tech-tech-t-tech it out
For agencies, creating their own proprietary tech for running complex campaigns across regions, clients and brands will become compulsory. The Excel spreadsheets most are still using to build and organise campaigns months in advance are finally becoming unworkable. This technology will also be vital in proving that the channel is trustworthy and investment-worthy.
Who influences the influencers?
As Instagram tools further democratise e-commerce, we can expect to see more influencer-led companies, from clothing brands to tech or lifestyle start-ups. Influencers will become stronger competitors to traditional retailers and brands will have to figure out how to use them strategically (more influencer collections etc) to grow their businesses instead of alienating them.
Waking up to woke
Influencers will want to see brands match their ethics and standards and what they add to the social conversation. Influencer ads are conversations in a way in which print ads in say Vogue just aren’t. And this is being driven by consumer desire. Our focus groups found that consumers want influencers to be relatable, credible, inspiring, real, authentic, true to their original brand message and like a friend. And to offer deeper and more engaging content than just pics.
Not content with average content
Leading on from this, and as Instagram and other social media platforms continue to change how they track content performance, influencers will have to continue to adapt and adjust the type of content that they’re putting out. Brands will have to rely on the influencers to educate them on what kind of content performs best and relate to their audiences in order to have successful campaigns.
With major content owners (Netflix, Disney, HBO, Amazon) creating their own streaming services, influencers will seize the opportunity to create their own channels on them. The earning potential and reach could be huge and they’ll be able to monetise their content and take back a large chunk of advertising pounds and dollars previously soaked up by Google and Facebook. 2020 could see the appearance of an influencer-run, managed and monetised TV channel.
Edward East is CEO and founder of Billion Dollar Boy
This article first appeared on PRWeek sister title Campaign