2020 has been a crazy ride so far – and influencer marketing will come out of this global crisis differently. However, there are a few items that will remain a topic in the post-quarantine world.  Google Trends charts often provide us with interesting insights. On this occasion, let’s focus on the “micro-influencer” trend chart. This termfirst became popular in 2016 and was a hot topic in the industry three years ago. There are still many people frequently discussing “the rise of the micro-influencer” so prominently in 2020. Collectively, the industry (should) know that lower-tier influencers indeed come with superior engagement rates, but provide a lack of absolute impact. Favouring a specific tier of influencer is an outdated – but surprisingly often still applied – concept.

Perhaps we could focus on the value that mid-to-high level tier influencers can bring to the table in terms of absolute engagements and the impact that they generate, while still being able to deliver a more than acceptable engagement rate. Alternatively – what about a strategy that encompasses alllayers and tiers of influence, from everyday influencers, all the way up to celebrities? One that doesn’t focus simply on engagement rates, or low cost per engagements, at the same time allowing the industry to prevent a race to the bottom.

The basic formula for a successful influencer marketing strategy has not shifted that significantly in the past four years. While the industry indeed is maturing when it comes to measurement, available metrics, industry knowledge as well as investment levels, it has been at quite a slow pace. There have been some algorithm changes, some content format changes, and available technology has improved significantly so. However, the biggest changes to the industry have been (fairly) recent, and are driven either by money (hiding likes), competition (thank you, TikTok), or more currently, a global crisis, which has sadly been the crux that has forced the industry to put audience and purpose before sales. I don’t need to repeat the myriad of articles that have been written about content consumption skyrocketing, especially on Twitch, TikTok and Instagram Live.

The divide between influencer marketing and influencer advertising

The ability to better measure influencer performance and ROI, combined with increased investment and companies wanting to (quickly) scale performance, has led us to an industry crossroads. Influencer advertising focuses on scaling success (sales and clicks) through paid-for content. Cost per acquisition is often used as an indicator of success. Reach often plays a pivotal role within this approach, as more eyeballs will feasibly translate to higher sales figures. Influencer marketing, however, focuses more on longer-term metrics (which are less tangible and not as easy to measure) and is not as short-term and sales heavy. Other elements include collaborating with influencers across the more expansive influencer pyramid, developing online and offline hybrid strategies, and including existing brand advocates. Overall, it tends to be a more resource-heavy, all-round strategy. However, as with all things, in reality, a combination of the two should be applied. In addition, a race to the bottom in terms of CPM metrics and over-promising high-volume, low-effort tactics are a potential danger to the industry.  Both influencer advertising and marketing approaches are becoming more common as part of the wider business strategies but they require different tactics and a different mindset. This widening gap is leading to confusion within the industry, and the two should perhaps be treated as separate approaches within perhaps the same discipline.

A strong regulating body needs to enforce regulation

Recently, the US Federal Trade Commission released a statement saying that they intend to review the non-binding rules concerning disclosure. A few weeks later, in order to strengthen their argument, the FTC fined a detox tea company $1 million for misleading claims and insufficient disclosure. This is welcome news considering the fact that many have been skirting the rules without serious repercussions. It is somewhat ironic that an industry that is built on trust seems to have collectively allowed for it to come this far. The FTC leading this proactive charge could be the boost the industry desperately needs. The ultimate goal of influencer marketing is to spread credible word of mouth and strive to make people fall in love with brands and in turn become brand advocates. There is no shortcut to brand advocacy, and a lack of transparency should be penalised. 

There’s no such thing as bad press

Influencer marketing (or more specifically, influencer advertising) seems to be going through a bit of an image crisis. When someone posts a video of themselves (for publicity, of course) licking toilet seats, they are quickly dubbed an influencer by the media. This stunt drove 21,000 people to follow her on Instagram. There are a myriad of articles published by international media outlets frequently discussing influencer fraud and other antics. On the flip side, articles discussing innovative influencer strategies are often pushed behind paywalls. As an industry, we should encourage shifting the narrative here and stop providing fraudulent influencers with a platform as it appears to benefit them. For example, remember Fashionambitionist’s fake proposal? She welcomed some 40,000 followers on the back of that stunt. The influencer that staged her motorcycle accident? She saw a direct increase of 4,000 followers. We should focus on the positive impact that influencers are making and reward these strategies with the exposure they deserve. The current crisis is providing influencers with a platform to make a positive impact. The United Nations has even put out an open brief to creatives to help spread vital messaging surrounding the pandemic. There is an opportunity for influencers to focus on utilising their ability to influence for good – stepping away for a few months from the monetisation of their audiences, and instead, developing content that can help save lives in a time where the world is watching. Influencers are now, more than ever looked at to make a profound, impact with their messaging – and drive positive change.The current crisis will without a doubt cause quite the shakeup within the industry for months to come. However, with proper education, and unified and aligned messaging from experts within the space, we can set the tone for a successful decade. 
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