Influencer marketing is going from strength to strength, but as new channels and types of influencer emerge, how are brands and agencies leveraging their potential? Alyssa Clementi reports.
The influencer marketing industry has continued to grow at such an exponential rate, there is room for anyone to join, literally. From nano influencers to mega influencers, and every account in between, more and more people are looking for ways to get paid to post. By the end of 2019, the influencer marketing industry is expected to be worth $8bn (£6.5bn), and it’s on track to surpass $15bn by 2022, according to Mediakix. For brands, the use of influencers and social platforms to help drive revenue has been so successful, that according to the WFA (World Federation of Advertisers), 65 per cent of brands plan to increase influencer marketing spend this year.
“Influencer marketing is an effective strategy to increase brand awareness, sales, and brand affinity for businesses across the board. Unlike traditional advertising that can feel overly branded and sterile, influencer marketing speaks to consumers in an authentic, personalized way. This is why nearly half of Americans have said that they make purchased based on influencer recommendations,” comments Eric Lam, founder and CEO of AspireIQ. “We’ve also seen massive success from many companies that have built business rooted in social media, such as Revolve’s IPO and Glossier’s billion-dollar valuation. This is all further proof that influencer marketing and community building works, and that we’ll continue to see more and more brands follow in suit.”
Who can be an influencer?
While many influencers – also known as creators – already have a strong following before they start promoting products, anyone with a smartphone and a social media account can break into the industry. Influencers with a smaller follower count can utilize self-service platforms like AspireIQ, #paid, and PopularPays, which match creators with brands that fit their niche.
“Honestly, these days, anyone can be an influencer; with the rise of micro and nano influencers because of their authentic, trustworthy and engaged audiences, you don’t have to have a million followers to start building your personal brand and working with sponsors,” says Crystal Duncan, vice president, influencer marketing at Edelman Digital.
While racking up a high number of followers is an important factor, creators need to focus on more than just metrics. Some key factors to becoming a sought-after creator are transparency, storytelling, personalization, and inclusivity. Statistics from Microsoft Advertising reveal that 91 per cent of millennials and 93 per cent of mothers will switch to a brand that supports a good cause, while 70 per cent of millennials and Generation Z will choose one brand over another if it demonstrates diversity in its promotions. When brands are searching for an influencer to promote their product, they also want to make sure that each influencer has a good relationship with their audience and can properly delegate the brand’s message.
“The great thing about being an influencer is that it’s not a new concept. People have been doing it since the beginning of time. Social media is just how we do it today. If you have a point of view, social can provide you with the platform to be influential,” says Aana Leech, director of marketing communications & creator experience at PopularPays. “The key is to discover your community and create, create, create. Content is how influencers connect with their communities. Breaking into the industry requires that you find the message, platform and format that resonates most with your community and then be prepared to adapt based on community feedback and new platform features.”
Since there are so many tiers of influencers, brands and influencer marketing agencies have to extensively look at their targeted audience. Depending on the brand’s budget and specific product they are trying to market, they’ll have to pick from using a nano influencer (less than 1k followers), a micro influencer (1k-100k followers), macro influencer (100k-1m followers), or a mega influencer (more than 1m followers). Mega influencers usually tend to be celebrities with millions of followers, so they’re able to charge a huge fee per paid post.
If a brand wants Kylie Jenner to help promote a product on Instagram, they can expect to pay the beauty mogul $1.26m (£1.04m) per post, according to the 2019 Instagram Rich List. Coming in second was singer Ariana Grande, who charges $996,000 per sponsored post. Lesser-known celebrities like YouTubers and former Vine stars can get away with charging around $85,000 per each paid post, depending on their current relevance in social media.
For Instagram influencers on a much lower tier, the rule of thumb is as follows: $10 per 1,000 followers or $1,000 per 100,000 followers. Snapchat influencers start at around $500 per 24-hour campaign, and YouTube influencers can cash in $2,000 for every 100,000 subscribers. There are some factors when it comes to choosing an influencer that are not related to the number of followers, including amount of engagement per post (comments/shares); the preferred platform they use; and the style of post (picture/story/audio).
“We look to create partnerships for brands with people who are already big supporters of, or believers in, what the brand is doing,” says Adam Rivietz, co-founder and CEO of #paid. “Sometimes that’s more difficult to do than it sounds. When that happens, we look for alignment between the brand’s mission and the lifestyle of the creators. For example, when Coke launched Coca Cola Life, their reduced calorie sparkling beverage, we matched them with creators who lived an active, health-conscious lifestyle to massive effect, driving a 21 per cent lift in trial intent with creator content.”
“When we are planning out a program, we actually start by looking at what our KPIs are for the campaign and what other media is running for the program overall,” says Edelman Digital’s Duncan. “By establishing goals up front, we can then work backwards to figure out which platforms are best for our program, basically build an Influencer channel strategy, before going into Influencer selection. For example, if we’re looking to drive traffic to a website, eCommerce page, etc., we would probably avoid tactics that wouldn’t include clickable links (like Instagram in-feed posts) and lean into places that make it easy for an audience to client through (like Instagram stories swipe ups).
“Once we align on KPIs and channel tactics, we can then start looking at other aspects of the influencers, like their demographics, age, content style, audience information, etc. By layering on these aspects of the Influencer and their audience, we can then start to build out who our talent could be for the program.”
So what do brands and agencies need to look out for when hiring influencers? Fraud is a key consideration: as more and more brands have turned to influencer marketing to reach newer and more relevant audiences, so the amount of fraud in the industry has increased. According to cybersecurity company Cheq, fraudulent activity amongst influencers will cost advertisers $1.3m in 2019. Dishonest influencers can easily purchase fake followers, which will fraudulently boost that influencer’s comments, ‘likes’ and shares. Advertisers will then pay that influencer more, due to the misplaced belief the account has a higher engagement rate.
To avoid hiring a creator that has paid for their likes, agencies can take on the tedious task of going through the creator’s followers and seeing if anything stands out as looking suspicious or fraudulent, thought there are tools and companies available to help them do this. On the other side of the coin, the creators and influencers themselves have a legal responsibility to be transparent and honest with their followers, and to disclose when they are being paid to promote an item.
“We named our company #paid for a multitude of reasons, but one of them was that we strongly believe you need to make it clear that you’re being paid to endorse something. This is a major problem for the industry, because even if only a small portion of influencers fail to do this, people notice and everyone’s credibility takes a hit,” comments Rivietz. “Part of onboarding creators to our platform is an audit that checks for this kind of behaviour. We don’t want people who would do something like that representing our clients, because it risks the reputation of our brand partners.”
Edelman Digital’s Duncan agrees. “Influencers should always be honest and truthful with their followers, because this is what their followers expect,” she says. “Edelman’s 2019 Trust Barometer Special Report: Online Influencer Survey found that in the last six months, nearly six in 10 young adults aged 18-34, have purchased a brand or product based on an influencer and four in 10 say they trust a brand because of an influencer. Influencers are trusted because they aren’t always perfect; they share the good parts of their lives, but also the non-perfect moments. Doing this give us an insight into their lives and makes us feel like a friend and someone we can rely on for insights, perspectives and opinions.”
There are several platforms where influencers are active. For creators, Instagram has always been the leading platform of choice, especially because of engaging features including the discovery page, Stories, and IGTV. Trailing just slightly in popularity (and campaign results) are Facebook, YouTube, and Pinterest, while newer platforms like Snapchat and, more recently, TikTok, have quickly gained momentum. Depending on the influencer marketing campaign strategy, each influencer may have their go-to platform.
“In recent years, Instagram has figured out how to create an environment that makes it easy for brands to connect with their target audiences and convert them into customers, but new platforms are the friendliest for influencers as they’re the starting point for monetization. For brands, look to new platforms for experimentation. It will be difficult to directly measure ROI at first, but emerging platforms are a green field for your brand’s story,” says PopularPays’ Leech.
“Instagram is definitely the platform for product promotion,” says #paid’s Rivietz. “CivicScience found that 34 per cent of Instagram’s daily active users have made a purchase based on an influencer’s recommendation. That level of influence is huge, and brands have taken notice.”
After short-form video sharing platform Vine was shut down in 2017, many of its most-known creators jumped ship and transferred their following to YouTube. Some of the most famous Viners-turned-YouTube influencers include King Bach, Lele Pons, Gabbie Hanna, Jake Paul and Sarah Schauer. Most of these influencers continue to make an excessive amount of money from their YouTube channels, product reviews and product-placements.
“YouTube remains popular for promoting products that take advantage of its long-form video medium, which makes it an ideal platform for providing in-depth product reviews and tutorials. These content creators are viewed as experts in their space, offering valuable tips or recommendations to their audience. In fact, 68 per cent of YouTube users have watched a video to help make a purchase decision,” explains AspireIQ’s Lam. “Additionally, we’ve seen a surge in interest from brands building Pinterest into their strategy. 90 percent of users rely on Pinterest to help guide their purchasing decisions, creating a huge opportunity for brands to connect with customers when they are already open and receptive to new ideas.”
And Elena Kutsopal, managing director of WeQInfluencers, notes that, according to Apptopia, TikTok’s international downloads rose by 20 per cent between April and mid-July 2019, with US downloads up 25 per cent. “Currently, TikTok holds the number one spot for social media app downloads, beating Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube,” she says. “While TikTok is still relatively new, marketers should seriously consider looking to this emerging platform to create video for younger audiences,” mentions, managing director, AspireIQ.
Recently, there has been growing concern over the correlation between social media engagement and users’ mental health. Issues. Public metrics such as likes, comments, and views have been deemed dangerous, as they could cause a user to have lower levels or self-worth or confidence. To most creators, likes are the way they measure the success of their campaign, and how they cash in their checks.
“Likes have been a vanity metric for quite some time,” says Lam. “Like other third-party platforms and agencies, we’re provided with limited data from the social networks to measure performance. Unfortunately for the industry at large, this has continued to make likes one of the most important markers of performance.”
As one of the most popular platforms for giving out and receiving likes, Instagram decided to see what a world without this number would look like. In April, it launched an experimental trial throughout Canada, hiding likes on certain accounts. While the post’s creator could still see who liked their picture, the like-count was hidden from everyone else.
Creator media platform #paid, which connects creators to brands for social media campaigns, decided to research just how much hidden likes affected its content creators. The Canada-based company found that 35 per cent of them either hated (19 per cent) or disliked (16 per cent) the ‘no likes’ experience. By comparison, only 24 per cent of users in the control group (those who could still see likes), hated or disliked the idea of the no likes experience.
More than 50 per cent of creators saw their likes fall, and a third of the creators experienced fewer comments on their posts. Almost half of the creators saw a stall in follower growth since likes had started being hidden.
“Since launch, I’ve seen extremely low engagement and interaction because posts are not gaining enough likes/comments to be deemed a ‘good post’ and therefore it does not get shown to many people,” says one creator.
Creators who had their likes hidden were 162 per cent more likely to disagree with the statement, “Since the start of the experiment, I feel more freedom to be creative.” Two-thirds of creators also admitted that removing likes did not improve their happiness. #paid found that creators who had their likes hidden 2.5x more likely to strongly agree with the statement, ‘Since the change, I post less often’.
Another creator comments, “Since the change, I engage with the platform less, I post less, I feel worse about posting and do not enjoy creating content for it anymore. Seems like the focus/changes are always geared at ripping away more and more of our reach/influence with each change.”
However, there were some fans of the hidden likes experiment, including the 23 per cent of creators who agreed they had the freedom to be more creative with their posts. 16 per cent agreed they could be more authentic with their content if likes were hidden.
“Too many people rely on the numbers, when it usually ends up fostering unhealthy comparisons. I am all for quality over quantity. Creating quality and engaging content should be the focus,” says another participant.
“Right now, people are really torn on this, but long-term #paid believes this is a change for the better,” says Rivietz. “It should increase the creative freedom of influencers and creators, while having a positive mental health impact for all users. For brands, the change would necessitate a period of recalibration. A lot of brands put a lot of faith in likes as a metric of success, and their baselines will need to be adjusted as this change will cause the average number of likes to go down for creators. This will ultimately be a change for the better though, as hopefully more brands start focusing on metrics that really measure like return-on-ad-spend.”
So what does a successful influencer campaign look like? Clearly, they come in all shapes and sizes. Back in 2017, M&M’s launched a new flavour – Caramel – and decided influencer marketing was the way to go. Along with PopularPays, M&M’s worked with 70 creators to publish 204 pieces of content on Instagram, throughout a span of one year. All 70 creators were paid to post three unique pieces of content, which were viewed by a total following of 6.49m Instagram accounts.
“M&M’s effectively managed 70 creator partnerships through the Pop Pays platform to develop a diverse library of content for the brand to use throughout the first-year product launch,” says PopularPays.
Lovesac, a nationwide furniture chain, wanted to increase brand awareness and drive key metrics including ROI. Originally, Lovesac used a handful of macro influencers to promote the brand’s products via Instagram, but the company was interested to see how far their campaign could reach. After partnering with AspireIQ, Lovesac was able to take advantage of the agencies catalogue of creators. Lovesac asked these creators to authentically integrate their products into the their Instagram content, in a way that seemed seamless and organic.
Lovesac now has a working relationship with 30-40 influencers per month and has seen its ROI increase by a factor of 3-4x since partnering with the agency. Lovesac’s influencer campaigns have resulted in 18.5m impressions, 1.1m video views, $245,000 in media value, and more than 577,000 clicks to the Lovesac website.
From influencers to creators
For some people and brands, the jury is still out on influencer marketing. It remain a young, in many ways immature medium, in which not all the key protagonists choose to play by the rules. On the other hand, influencer marketing provides brands with a way to target their key audiences much more precisely and cost effectively, by using people their customers and prospects see as role models to endorse their message.
And as interest, and budgets, move away from influencers who are famous for being famous, towards creators who have real talent, the space is set for more growth and more exciting innovation in the months and years to come.