What Does 2021 Hold For Influencer Marketing?
Influencer marketing in 2020 was a story of resilience. The start of the pandemic saw companies pull campaigns as marketers had their budgets cut, yet by October nearly three-quarters of brands reported upping spend in influencer marketing. Brands and governments alike soon found that tapping into influencers was an effective way to reach time-rich consumers in lockdown, who were engaging with social media more than ever. Content creators who were stuck at home, just like their followers, were able to produce material that was more relevant and relatable.
This watershed moment has already begun to shape the paths to successful partnerships. With 63% of marketers planning to increase their influencer marketing budgets in 2021, it’s essential for brands to understand and align their strategies with these recent shifts. Here we explain five key influencer marketing trends to pay attention to.
1. The growth of micro and nano influencers
Internet celebrities with millions of followers may not necessarily be the best method for your brand to reach potential customers. In influencer marketing, engagement is more valuable than impressions and some of the highest engagement rates can be found with micro and nano-influencers. Micro-influencers (less than 100,000 followers) and nano-influencers (less than 10,000) typically are more specialised and operate in a particular niche. They’ve built communities around topics they are knowledge about and are considered a trusted and relatable source by their audience.
Smaller tiered talent have done particularly well during the pandemic so expect to see more influencers specialising and seeking partnerships within their area of focus. For brands, these influencers can offer lower costs, higher conversions and more creativity, and therefore are likely to take up a bigger role in marketing strategies going forward.
Certain brands may even choose to look within and invest in employee advocacy programmes, recognising the potential of their staff to be nano-influencers themselves.
2. More consciousness around purpose and inclusion
Following the Black Lives Matter protests, which saw more content creators participate in social activism last year, a broader conversation emerged about inequality within influencer marketing. Many brands were held accountable for unfair pay and social media platforms were scrutinised for discriminatory policies. Overall, creators were vocal about the need for more representation and for brands to move beyond tokenism.
Simply choosing to partner with influencers from diverse backgrounds will not be enough. There will certainly be an increased effort from brands to produce more inclusive campaigns, but this will be insufficient unless brands also make the effort to build diversity and inclusion into every aspect of their business. Consumers now expect companies to have a clear stance on social issues that is expressed through both their messaging and day to day actions. Influencers are just as susceptible to criticism and will therefore have to become more selective and critical of the brands they partner with as they consider any potential for backlash.
3. Authenticity matters more than ever
A survey run by Twitter found that 49% of respondents relied on influencers for product recommendations – only slightly less than the 56% who reported relying on Tweets from their own friends. This level of trust is the reason why producing authentic content is key to the success of influencers and their brand partners. During the pandemic, we saw the same genuine advocacy extending beyond products as influencers were tasked with disseminating accurate information by governments and the World Health Organisation.
Audiences were able to build even deeper connections as they watched how their favourite content creators were adjusting to the pandemic; typically producing from home and offering more transparency and vulnerability than usual. The demand for authenticity from consumers will only increase and brands can harness this by opting for influencer-generated content rather than traditional-branded content. Talented creators have the ability to produce value-driven content that comes across less ‘salesy’ and more trustworthy. It’s crucial that you select the right influencer, with values and audiences that align with your brand, as their honest commentary can build the credibility that defines your product.
4. Brands seek longer term partnerships
The common partnership between brands and influencers has been based around one-off campaigns and sponsored content. For many brands looking to raise awareness, short-term deals with numerous influencers were the best way to reach a wider audience on multiple platforms. But as brands begin to recognise the importance of authenticity and engagement, many are realising the value of working with influencers on an ongoing basis to increase reach and brand loyalty.
Generating a sale from a single post is difficult, even for influencers with engaged followings. Longer-term partnerships build a deeper relationship between creator and brand, giving them increased responsibility and a greater stake in the outcome of campaigns. The stability that comes with a long-term contract can allow for freedom to experiment with different approaches and incentivise the content creator to become a committed brand ambassador. For clients serious about mapping out deliverables, having a smaller group of long-term influencers to track and grow with will be preferable over a wide net of one-off sponsorships.
5. Brands more interested in measurement and return-on-investment
With companies spending more on influencer marketing budgets, many will want to see proof of ROI to justify the spend. Traditionally measurement has prioritised metrics such as awareness, engagement and impressions. But with growing opportunities in social commerce and a pandemic-induced acceleration of online shopping, brands will increasingly be looking at influencers to drive sales too.
Performance-based deals with influencers agreeing to deliver against specific KPIs will become more popular as brands look for guarantees where possible. Brands and content creators will therefore have to collaborate in longer term partnerships to plan campaigns and identify relevant, trackable metrics. As campaigns become increasingly analytical and data-led, there will be a growing demand for reliable benchmarking technology so that brands can compare their influencers against competitors.
The trends we’re witnessing all point towards the idea that brands are recognising influencers as credible communicators and not simply vessels for sales. As much as influencer marketing has grown in recent years, there is still a lot of untapped potential that will be revealed through longer-term collaborations that play to the strengths of both content creators and their clients. The growth of influencer generated content and the emergence of ongoing partnerships will produce authentic activations that will improve consumer trust.
With influencers now under just as much scrutiny as brands when it comes to ethics and social responsibility, both parties will have to commit to inclusive and equitable practices and be prepared to be held accountable. There isn’t an excuse for anything less than that. The range of different influencer options – from nano to celebrity – have created an ecosystem where all types of businesses and organisations can access and benefit from influencer marketing. What it will all come down to is finding the right influencer for you.