2019 was a rollercoaster year for the influencer marketing industry. It started with Netflix’ documentary on Fyre Festival, and has ended with more influencer drama (in the parenting world at least) than even Glee managed in six seasons.
Following the panic in 2018 around follower fraud there was an overall drive in 2019 to better the industry. It goes without saying that as we move into 2020 (and beyond) there will be a continued effort to improve the metrics, data and reporting both for influencers’ individual channels and on campaigns as a whole. But beyond this slightly obvious prediction, what else can we expect from the year to come, and the dawn of the roaring twenties 2.0?
‘Keeping it real’ is the new chic
Reports show that consumers are gravitating more and more towards influencers who are ‘keeping it real’. People are tiring of “best life” content that has become synonymous with Instagram and Pinterest; and with the world, the economy, politics and just about everyone in turmoil, everyone’s feeling a bit jaded. This shift in consumer thinking was clearly (albeit crudely) depicted in the demise of skinny jeans as women welcomed ‘mom jeans’ back into their wardrobes in the last couple of years, along with the return of grunge. (If you’re interested in this in more detail, read The age of the Influencer has peaked. It’s time for the slacker to rise again.)
To brands this may feel a worrying shift – it’s easier to understand how to execute a brand campaign safely with controlled flat lays and aspirational photography. But consumers are seeking influencers who aren’t afraid to show the real-life mess (albeit in a stylised and curated fashion, I’m sure). If brands and their agencies can learn to trust digital content creators to do what they do best – to be authentic, creative, to speak a language their audience tunes in for – then there is no reason for them to fear this shift.
This could prove an exciting next phase for the influencer industry as it returns to its roots (real people actually being real – shock horror) but with the structure in place that brands, the influencer industry and governing bodies such as the ASA have put in place. Roaring twenties indeed.
Authenticity remains important
Authenticity has become a hideously over used word in influencer marketing, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less relevant or necessary.
With consumers being all the more concerned by authenticity (see above), it’s more important than ever for brands and agencies alike to ensure the creators they work with are genuinely a good fit for their brand and the product. Doing your due diligence – digging into the data, checking audience demographics, past brands they’ve worked with and what’s in their pipeline, personal history where necessary, etc.
And there is without a doubt equal onus on the creators themselves to ensure the brands they collaborate with are right for them and their audience too.
Say hello to in-house teams
As the industry continues to mature (see my article on why the industry is still actually just a toddler in training pants here) and brands’ influencer marketing budgets increase it makes sense that brands are looking to hire specialists in-house to manage the activity and their agencies. For example in March, Melanie Kentish joined Sky as their Head of Influencer Marketing and in May, Lauren Spearman joined Made.com as their Head of Brand Advocacy to name but a few.
In-house influencer teams are a big step forward for the industry – brands are not only taking it seriously but genuinely putting money and resource behind influencer marketing. It just – got – interesting!
Usage rights will dominate conversation
This subject came up on a number of campaigns in 2019, with more established talent agents already building this into contracts. I foresee this becoming a much bigger topic in 2020. Influencer campaigns are becoming far more sophisticated with brands utilizing campaign assets across the full marketing mix rather than creators remaining siloed on their own channels.
2020 will be a year of negotiation and trial and error as everyone in the industry tries to find a solution that suits all involved – likely led by the talent agents who have worked with traditional talent and are used to negotiating these sorts of rights already.
Quality, not quantity
At the start of 2019 the Competitions Market Authority (CMA) published guidelines for digital content creatorsstating that creators must now declare if something in the content (e.g. a pair of shoes, a camera, the sofa they’re sitting on) was the result of a brand relationship, whether that be paid, gifted or otherwise if the relationship was within a reasonable period (e.g. the last year or so).
As a result, many influencers suddenly risked every post becoming ‘ad’ content – which doesn’t spark delight in audiences, no matter how devoted to an influencer they may be. In response, creators are becoming more particular about who they work with and what products they feature to ensure that when they do declare a brand relationship, it’s truly worth it to them and their audience.
Another really positive change for the industry. If an influencer works with 100 brands in a year, you are 1 in 100. If an influencer works with 10 brands, suddenly you have the opportunity to do more with that individual, to demand exclusivity for your sector, and to build a truly meaningful relationship with them and their audience that is far more likely to convert in the long run.
The rise of B2B influencer marketing
This is the big one. Millennials have come of age and are applying the same social media savvy to LinkedIn as they learned on first MySpace, then Facebook, Youtube and more over the years. Creating digital content is second nature to this generation, so it’s no surprise that as they mature and their careers become more established they should look to do the same in the professional sphere as in their personal.
Enter LinkedIn. If you hadn’t noticed, LinkedIn has responded in kind to this new appetite for its platform and is practically giving away organic reach at the moment. Now is the perfect time for individuals and businesses alike to harness that ‘free’ reach and grow their B2B brands effectively. But as with any good marketing strategy, make sure you plan a multi-platform approach, as LinkedIn won’t offer such high levels of organic reach forever. As with Facebook and YouTube before it, it will close the gates at some point, and you and your business need to be ready for that when it happens.
Strong examples from early adopters in 2019 include:
- software provider Sage who’s B2B and employee advocacy strategy drove 23% of all organic social referrals last year
- Social Chain who employed personal brand consultant Ashley Jones to work with Founder and CEO Steven Barlett and MD Katy Leeson to build their personal brands and support the agency’s B2B strategy (find out more here)
Podcasting comes of age
“Everyone has a podcast these days” – so the joke goes. But 2020 will be the year that podcasters and brands alike figure out how to effectively monetize this channel and we’ll see more podcasters in the mix for influencer marketing campaigns alongside their more ‘traditional’ influencer counterparts. Podcasting giant Acast is already making moves in this space with their new tiered approach to the Acast platform.
Tik Tok goes mainstream
As 2019 draws to a close this is the platform on everyone’s lips. Tik Tok currently has a very young userbase, but more brands and influencers will join the platform in 2020 and start experimenting with the format.
Tik Tok released their ad platform earlier this year and this week released the Tik Tok top 100 to help brands and creators alike start to see what (and who) is popular on the platform as they develop their 2020 strategy.