the state of influencer marketing: 2016

As I was doing my typical monthly reports this week I noticed it was the 1-year anniversary that the client I was working on has been integrating influencer marketing into their marketing strategy. That means it’s been a solid 20-months since our agency first started getting involved with influencer seeding.

In case you don’t know what influencer marketing is, let me refresh you. Influencer marketing is working with normal, everyday, non-celebrity type people who have a real passion product discovery and have the ability to influence others to try out or like a product. In other words, they have a voice or an expertise and people listen.

We started experimenting with this kind of sampling back in 2014. (It’s even hard to believe that it was 2 years ago!) Instagram as a platform was just starting to see user growth and these “spheres” of influence started appearing in certain industries – fashion, fitness, makeup, food and travel where some of the biggest growing community topics at the time. It was easy to reach out to these influencers and ask them if they wanted to try your product – and if they loved it they told everyone. We had one influencer in the beginning talk about our product in 50 posts in 6 short months!

Influencer marketing was great for a variety of reasons:

  • The company finally stopped marketing the product and let the consumers do the talking. Maybe there were things the consumers cared about that marketing just didn’t think of. Peer-to-peer word of mouth marketing had a lot more effect on people “following” us and consuming our content (or product!) than our “advertisements”.

 

  • It was “niche” and targeted – we reached people who cared about what we stood for as a brand. We partnered with influencers who were seen as experts and thought leaders by others. Maybe they lost a lot of weight, maybe they make amazing recipes, or maybe the know how to wing their eyeliner straight everyday – they were mini-experts leading communities of people with common interests. They knew what was up – their approval and kind words were both flattering and valuable to us.

 

  • Influencers demonstrated how to use the product and even more valuable to us – how the product fit into their lives. Again – this just holds more weight coming from the actual fans than it does from the company. People trust their peers more than they will trust a brand. We partnered with influencers to give our fans ideas of how to consume our product and how a product fits can fit into their lifestyle. That’s something that, as a brand (even trying HARD) – it’s not always easy to talk about!

 

  • It was inexpensive. The money it cost to pay a celebrity to talk about your product could reach 100x more people when invested in influencer marketing – and guess which holds more weight? People are getting smarter – we KNOW celebrities and pro athletes are endorsed and paid to talk about and use brands. We don’t trust paid spokespeople, we trust people who do this because, they love it! They are not compensated to talk about a product – we align the “excited-ness” to share it with effectiveness.

 

  • It was easy to get people passionate about your product. They were consumers, after all. If you found the right fit, they often loved you for introducing them to a product they would have otherwise never heard of. So the passion and the authenticity and gratefulness between influencer and company was really strong!

I could go on and on. Plus, I loved working with influencers. I met some really amazing people through searching for influencers and got to partner with them in really cool ways.

Like technology, influencers are progressing and with it comes some new challenges for both the influencers and brands who partner with them. So, I thought I would give you the “skinny” of what’s changing with influencer marketing. It’s still an amazing tactic with great returns – but you need to be aware of the direction that influencer marketing has taken in the past 2 years so you know what to expect from your efforts:

  • Many influencers are now trying to monetize their influence.This was a huge trend that has made influencer marketing a bit more expensive than it used to be. Many people who know they have influence also know that they have the ability to charge companies to work with them. Like a celebrity signs an endorsement deal, these influencers are looking to be paid to talk about your products like an endorsement deal. It’s still a lot less than you would pay a celebrity, but it’s worth having a small budget to work and assess (and i mean ASSESS them – see below!) some paid opportunities too.

 

  • Authenticity is a big issue plaguing fans and the influencers.Like I mentioned early, I had the opportunity to develop some great relationships with influencers. Recently, I had the amazing opportunity to meet with an influencer I connected with through her blog almost 2 years ago. She said one of the biggest things that she faces an influencer is authenticity. The more popular you get, the more opportunities you have to try products. The more opportunities you get, the more products you talk about, and the more products you talk about, the more people start to question whether you are talking about products because you genuinely like them or you are talking about products because the company sent you some free stuff (or maybe even money). Which leads me to the next point….

 

  • Some influencers are losing credibility with their audiences. Especially those who are constantly posting what appear to be too many product reviews (perhaps even for two competing products). Followers of the influencers seem to pick up when the review is no longer authentic. Followers pick up on “brand hopping”. Language like “you have to try this!” used over and over again takes away some of the credibility that the influencers had with their audiences – they are no longer a reviewer, they are a marketing machine. Sometimes this will work in a brand’s favor, but it’s important to know the difference between when an influencer is “marketing” and and influencer is “sharing” to manage expectations about what the influencer is capable of doing for a brand.  Influencer marketing worked 2 years ago on the basis that there were actually people out there who enjoyed the discovery of new products that fit their lifestyle, and they were passionate about sharing. The review was often genuine and that got people interested in what the influencer was saying. Even if the influencer retains the same audience, credibility has been lost, their personal engagement has decreased and therefore, the opinion of some influencers is decreasing in value as compared to 2 years ago.

 

  • It’s getting harder to reach people and have them accept your product samples than it used to be. Influencers who have noticed a drop in engagement and credibility and care will begin to say no to companies offering free samples. They will work with a small handful of companies or insist on only reviewing products they chose to pick up on their own. And you have to respect this – it’s a smart move that an influencer go back to their roots and keep their blog or account about true product discovery, or representing the brands they are MOST passionate about. Being approached by companies is not a luxury or honor the way it used to be – sometimes it’s a detriment. This is happening more often, meaning that you will spend more time approaching and looking for influencers for your brand.

 

  • It takes more time to assess and influencer. Cue the introduction of growth hacking – which now makes it a lot easier to have a high number of followers. Being influential is not just about the number of followers you have, it’s about how much those followers listen and like what you have to say. So measuring engagement becomes important. Looking at comments becomes important. How do people react when brands are posted? Does the person have a lot of fans because they are smoking hot – but people don’t really care about what they had for dinner? (Which stinks for the brand if you are on the dinner plate!) You have to really take a deeper look at influencer than you had to in the past, and that takes more time. Couple that with the fact that influencers are turning down the opportunity to work with companies OR requiring money (that is honestly sometimes not even worth it!) makes finding true influencers a more time consuming process than it used to be.

What have you found to be some of the biggest changes in influencer marketing in the past year?

(….and a special thank you to Colby Triolo for her contributions to this article!)