What Does Influencer Marketing Look Like Today?

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Influencer marketing has certainly evolved over the past decade. From the mommy bloggers creating a brand new industry in the late 2000’s, to the Insta-famous street style stars that popped up a few years later, to present day teens achieving fame via YouTube beauty videos, the wild world of influencers continues to grow and change before our screen weary eyes. So where are we now?

As with any industry that gets too big, there’s an inflection point. CMOs and social media marketers of the future will think back to the days where we “threw too much money at them” which is why influencer budgets are now being scrutinized, KPIs determined by data informed decisions and all the stops being pulled out to ensure the right amount of dollars are spent targeting hyper-specific audiences. The problem is picking a direction to go when there are unlimited ways to categorize, rank and recommend influencers for a program — there are simply too many options.

The term micro-influencer is being thrown around like wildfire right now, and for good reason. An influencer that has less than 5,000 followers has an average engagement rate of 9.6%. Once that follower count grows above 5,000 followers, that average engagement rate drops to 3.3% and continues to drastically decrease as one’s follower base increases. There’s also an acute awareness across the industry that so many of these incredibly sought after, high reaching influencers have likely bought thousands of followers. And no one wants to put budgets towards bots. As marketers are getting savvy to the idea of prioritizing engagement over reach, it’s becoming more appealing to focus in on smaller, more niche communities.

Several companies are popping up to address this new craving for access to smaller, highly engaged communities, with a few different ways to approach them. Some will tell you to go after the engagement instead of the reach. Some will say you should bring your audience to the top of the marketing funnel, enlisting their input into your strategy before you go to market with a new product. Some just say you should go for quality over quantity. But all agree that you should pay, but not too much. Influencer marketing may be shifting to a model that pays micro-influencers micro-payments in a way that brings them closer to brands in deeper, more meaningful ways. And while this isn’t necessarily new, the number of companies doubling down on this may be a sign of things to come.

This emerging trend boils down to three key principles:

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1. Don’t market to them, market with them

Find new ways to bring your audience into the conversation at the beginning of the process. Have them weigh in on your marketing strategy or provide product feedback prior to launch. The Ambassadors Company is an insights and feedback focused company that enlists Gen Z consumers across the country to test products and provide feedback not just on the product itself, but on the branding, user interface and design prior to launch. Each consumer is paid a fee of about $50, and they can either choose to accept or decline the challenge. But don’t call them a focus group. According to their website, they don’t structure it like a focus group because they want their ambassadors to share feedback with no filter. “Our clients love us for our brutally honest, raw and actionable feedback.” Authenticity is key when it comes to Gen Z.

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2. Smaller is better

As we move towards a world where marketers value higher engagement over massively large followings, Heartbeatis primed to capitalize on this shift. Their platform enables brands to connect directly with young female consumers and their close knit circle of trusted friends. Heartbeat founders Brian Freeman and Kate Edwards wanted to find a way to connect brands with influencers in a way that would allow them to overcome what they call the “influencer authenticity paradox,” the notion that people with more followers are less authentic. Freeman explains, “The closer people are to you the more influence they have over decisions you make, so the more an influencer grows their following, the less relevance they have to their audience - and that’s why engagement rates drop as your audience grows.”  

Heartbeat’s proprietary tool, appropriately named the “authenticity engine,” divides people into two categories - influencers and consumers - weeding out the influencers and prioritizing the consumers as they work to identify “ambassadors” for different programs. Ambassadors are paid a fee of no more than $30. The philosophy is if you pay people too much, they may feel obligated to say something positive about your brand, whether that’s their true feeling or not (even though it’s against FCC regulation to include such a request in an official influencer contract). Edwards articulates that philosophy, “We want these people to feel valuable even if they have only 500 followers. We’re also an empowerment company.” Heartbeat's ambassadors reach 526 million consumers through campaigns that generate over 100 million likes and over 9 million comments  weekly. So even though each individual community might be smaller, on the whole they’re certainly having a bit impact.

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3. Break down barriers of consumer-created content

If we are in fact shifting to this model of enlisting consumers to weigh more heavily into our marketing strategies, we should also be making it easier for them to actually serve as our on the ground content creators. To get the most compelling content from consumers, we have to treat them like smart, savvy individuals who should be paid for their work. That’s where BeeRoll comes in. With a very clean, visually appealing and user friendly interface, they’re creating a seamless way for video-savvy users to create UGC (user generated content) in the form of videos that brands can then opt in to buy. It’s also gamifying things a bit by offering “challenges” to consumers, and if said consumers are up for the challenge (like making a video of their recent travels for a brand like Trip Advisor), they submit a video and the brand decides if they want to use it or not. Again, consumers for these challenges receive prizes in the form of cash - up to $100. One of the biggest barriers brands face is getting consumers to submit videos for UGC campaigns, and BeeRoll is primed to break down that barrier by making the process simple, engaging and rewarding.

Brian Dutt, their CEO and cofounder, said, “Mastercard’s CMO Raja Rajamannar has said that the future for brands is not about tops-down storytelling, but storymaking. That is, allowing your customers to interpret your brand and evolve its narrative - as opposed to assuming you know what they want to hear. If you think about your social media feeds, we have already reached this point where a large part of the content we consume is raw and everyday stories told by our "peers" - what your neighbor had for dinner, how many steps your high school lab partners' baby took yesterday, how good your dentist was in his first surfing lesson. Brands will spend over $90 billion on Social Media ads by 2021. I think it's only a matter of time until that ad creative starts looking slightly more like the content it is running against.”

This micro-payment model is low risk, high reward, and should be considered within a 360 marketing mix. It will be interesting to see if this trend is today’s shiny new object, or if it becomes a key component of our 2018 influencer plans.

(Original article