Evolving influence

Influencer marketing is a booming industry and only getting bigger — however it’s not been without scandal. We’ve all read the reports, the buying of followers, skewed engagement, the crack-down on bots. These reasons are why leading influencer agency, Gleam now refers to an influencer’s likes and follower count as a vanity metric, highlighting how influencer marketing needs to provide more insightful KPIs. With 86% of marketers continuing to dedicate part of their budgets to influencer marketing, it’s good news that influencer marketing is evolving into a more tracked, transparent and trusted channel than ever before.

How has influencer marketing evolved positively so far?
Today, influence is about relevance, both for the brand and for the influencer’s audience. This need for relevancy has given rise to two successful influencer types; the micro and monogamous influencer.

Micro-influencers have fewer followers but are only one of two degrees of separation from their audience and are more likely to be talking to followers they have a closer relationship with. For example, ‘Mummy bloggers’, such as Emma Hartridge (aka @MumOfMadLads, eleven thousand followers). Ten influencers like her could easily have more impact and reach than a celebrity influencer with over 100,000 followers. One example of success is Revolve, who by using groups of around 70 influencers per campaign, achieved 70% of its sales by getting those influencers to promote together.

Taking a different approach, fashion brand Onia collaborated with Danielle Bernstein, creator of the We Wore What blog, to generate $1m in sales in just three hours. The success of this collaboration was built on the brand crafting a strong relationship with a specific influencer. This is the opposite to lots of influencers increasing reach by working as one group. But by developing a strong relationship with one influencer who has a committed following. This is what raconteur has termed the monogamous influencer.

Both examples highlight how influencer marketing has worked from a brand awareness perspective, but the industry is evolving in a much broader sense, especially in driving e-commerce transactions.

Changing ROI re-defines Transparency, Tracking and Trust
In a report from Global Data, 39% of Gen Z have shopped through Instagram. Influencers have become a hybrid between a brand advocate and a seller — with the dual ability to refer and direct. This is changing the way influencers are viewed.

There are early indications that Instagram’s new ‘checkout’ feature (enabling in-app transactions), is working well for brands like Adidas and TOMS. As a result, the programme has been extended so influencers who can also sell these goods. With new features in mind, brands now have the ability to boost posts that influencers create by turning their pictures into adverts promoting the ad directly through the influencer’s own channels. These features give brands the ability to apply more effective KPIs than the ‘vanity metrics’ previously lauded, generating greater tangible sales outputs.

We’re also seeing numerous platforms emerge to help people find and connect at the lower end, including pre-approval of posts, automated reporting and payment (payments can be quite micro too), with hands on management to ensure that accounts are verified before they join the network. It’s a big business in China, where the largest influencer platform has just filed to go public, declaring over $130m in revenue in 12 months.

This greater rigour should act as a boost for the industry. With the ability to be more open, the industry will be better at finding out which influencers are authentic and those that are not. In time, there will be more case studies that can show that the industry does play an important part in the marketing mix, restoring trust.

Of course, many influencers caught in the explosion of this new marketing channel may only have a limited time in the spotlight. It’s natural in this evolution that some will move on and make a living in other ways. However, the industry is here to stay, and is about to become significantly more trusted and established. Audiences who have greater access over sales opportunities, as well as brands having a more diverse range of influencer types to use, will make Influencer Marketing more adaptable to clients needs than ever before.