Last year, Forbes contributor Jesse Damiani penned an article stating Influencer Marketing Is Dead. The H Hub Killed It.
In the article, H Hub founder James Cole (the main subject of the interview) acknowledges the growth of influencer marketing yet suggests, “the quality of content has vastly diluted — and in a few short years turned influencer marketing into a ‘skyscraper on soft ground.'” And while he offers up a new approach––his product, of course––the idea that influencer marketing is dead is decidedly premature. Influencer marketing is very much alive and thriving.
Influencer marketing is alive and well
According to a Linqia “The State of Influencer Marketing 2018” survey of 181 marketers across industries, influencer marketing is here to stay. In fact, “86% of marketers used influencer marketing in 2017, 92% of whom found it effective. The continued widespread adoption of influencer marketing indicates that the channel is becoming an integral part of the marketing mix and is not a passing fad.”
Meanwhile, the Influencer Marketing Hub surveyed 800 marketing professionals in their “The State of Influencer Marketing 2019: Benchmark Report.” The study suggests an industry market size of $4.6 billion in 2018 alone. And it’s “expected to continue its upward trajectory this year to potentially become a $6.5 billion industry.”
Word of mouth, trust culture, and the almighty influence
Most people generally feel uncomfortable with making decisions. They are often scared that they will make the wrong choice. “Decision-making generally involves a level of uncertainty, so we obsess on finding relevant information and examples that can put us more at ease,” according to Inc writer Brandon Webb.
Marketers have understood this for years. As a result, brands know their best results are tied to offering fewer choices to encourage consumers to make a decision. It’s the good ole’ paradox of choice which recognizes that, “too much choice causes the feeling of less happiness, less satisfaction and can even lead to paralysis.”
Choice is difficult because “it also represents sacrifice. Choosing something inherently means giving up something else — something we might want tomorrow, or next week — and that won’t be available to us if we don’t grab it today.” This is one reason why influencer marketing works so well, it reinforces a choice.
Generally, when consumers want to buy a good or service, there is a level or reluctance and risk – especially if they have never tried it before. When recommended by someone they trust, they’re more likely to follow the suggestion. Trusted recommendations reduce the stress and anxiety associated with decision-making.
Some influencers excel at playing this role within niche communities they’ve built and their relationships with followers. Many of whom, actively take an interest in listening to an influencer’s recommendations. Brands understand this process and recognize the quickest way to foster and access goodwill is often through partnership.
Cynicism and the influencer marketing stories we tell ourselves
Influencer marketing skeptics argue that today’s consumer sees through the hype. They contend that today’s consumers are smarter and more distrustful than their predecessors. While there is indeed some truth to it, this isn’t a hard and fast rule.
“According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, today only 52 percent of global respondents trust businesses. The figures are even more dramatic in the US, where a mere 48 percent are similarly trusting, down from 58 percent in 2017.”
This signals a need for brands to “re-evaluate their messaging strategies if they are to regain the public’s confidence.” And many businesses attempt to do just that by partnering with influencers who have built followings and trust.
Reports indicate that, “businesses who understand influencer marketing gain impressive returns, up to $18 in earned media value (a.k.a., publicity) for every dollar they spend on influencer marketing. Even average firms achieve impressive results, with an average earned media value of $5.20 per dollar they spend on influencer marketing.”
Consumers are undoubtedly buying products and services promoted by influencers. However, their eyes are wide open.
Consumers and brands can spot fraudulent and inauthentic influence
Today’s consumer can indeed see right through fake and inauthentic endorsements. They were already cynical in 2016 when reality tv star Scott Disick uploaded a sponsored post for Bootea, a brand of health, fitness and detox products, that included their sponsorship instructions verbatim.
“Presumably, he intended to simply write, ‘keeping up with the summer workout routine with my morning @booteauk protein shake!’ But instead, he wrote, ‘Here you go, at 4pm est, write the below. Caption: Keeping up with the summer workout routine with my morning @booteaukprotein shake!'”
As a result, Disick made it embarrassingly transparent how celebrity Instagram endorsements work. There is no way that some influencers and brands would survive such a sloppy relationship today.
Consumers demand authenticity
YouTube content creator and fashion blogger Aimee Song, known by her online moniker “Song of Style,” knows how quickly the tide can turn. Despite a large following and long-time online presence, she met her day of reckoning last month after she posted a highly scripted video sponsored by Korean skincare brand Sulwhasoo. The vlogger was met with instant backlash from her fanbase for the format and lack of authenticity.
However, genuine influencer-brand relationships still work well for those who can pull it off. According to Mediakix’s 2019 Influencer Marketing Survey, 89% of marketers surveyed say ROI from influencer marketing is comparable to or better than other marketing channels.
Fake it ’til you make it doesn’t work with followers (or for brands)
Like any newly adopted marketing channel, influencer marketing is not without its growing pains. Fraudulent influence is problematic for aspiring influencers and brands. Unbeknownst to many, fake followers can harm online authority, tarnish reputations, and sabotage potential brand deals.
It’s easy to fake popularity on social media platforms these days. By default, everyone will have a few fake followers, usually bots who follow people automatically. Even the top Instagram, Facebook, and YouTuber influencers have dead weight in their follower list. The New York Times reports, “on average, 16.4 percent of the followers on Instagram’s top 20 accounts were fraudulent.” However, the rise of advanced technology makes fake followers easier than ever to spot.
There are many online tools readily available to find and remove fake followers. For example, SparkToro’s Fake Followers Audit for Twitter is designed to estimate the percentage of a given account’s followers that are spam, bot, propaganda, and inactive accounts. Meanwhile, some social platforms like Instagram are taking a more active approach to crackdown on fake followers and spam accounts.
HypeAuditor is another third-party tool that analyzes any Instagram account for fake followers and engagements using an advanced AI-based fraud-detection system. As the CEO of SocialBook, our own platform can help brands avoid wasting time and money on so-called influencers with fake followers who attempt to game the system.
More brands are leveraging third-party data and platforms to vet the authenticity of audiences. This trend suggests influencers with fake followers should clean up their act if they want to attract and retain brand collaborations.
Brand relationships with influencers continue to evolve
As brands aim to leverage trust, build reach and verify the authenticity of influencer audiences there are noticeable changes underway. One being how brands view relationships with influencers.
In previous years, brands tended to think short-term, one campaign at a time. Now, brands prefer to stick with influencers who deliver results with an established track record of working together.
Reports found that although 65% of influencer marketing efforts are campaign-based, the remaining 35% are “always on.” This suggests that more than 1/3 of brands now look to create long-term relationships with their influencers.
This is a significant change. Forward-thinking brands now understand that influencer marketing is a long-term strategy – not a one-off campaign. Influence is mainstream and a vital part of the continuous marketing mix. Successful marketers incorporate influencer marketing into their overall marketing plans. While they may divvy up their campaigns throughout the year, business objectives and strategies are long-term.
Strategic influencer marketing strategies undoubtedly pursue a range of annual goals with campaign-specific focus. This may mean some influencers are best suited for brand awareness campaigns, while others work better for transactional short-term sales efforts.
Will influencer marketing remain relevant?
Influencer marketing is a mainstream marketing strategy. Few brands rely solely on it, but it’s a powerful tool in the marketing toolbox.
Influencer marketing is no longer the “shiny new toy” making daily headlines. While it does have its challenges it is definitely not dead. Influencer marketing is stronger than ever, and all indicators point to its growth in popularity over the coming years.
Heidi Yu is a serial entrepreneur, an influencer, and an evangelist in the influencer marketing industry. She aims to help influencer marketers to maximize their ROIs by choosing the right influencers with the right audience demographics. At the end of 2014, she successfully founded Boostinsider and built the world’s first AI-powered influencer search engine called SocialBook.io.