Influencer marketing took a huge leap forward in 2016, as brands began to fully realize the power behind social media and those with loyal and engaged followings.
As the CEO of an influencer marketing platform for five years, I’ve seen firsthand how brands have successfully and unsuccessfully navigated these previously unchartered waters.
I’ve watched brands and agencies morph from skeptics, to inquisitive, to trying out every influencer company as if they are all new flavors of the month.
I’ve watched brands and agencies become believers from the campaigns they have tested, and I’ve watched them learn best practices to set influencer campaigns up for success from the start.
With all of the positive progress made in 2016 within the industry, I know 2017 will be a revolutionary year for advertisers. Advertisers now understand that continual brand mentions, endorsements and sponsored conversations by authentic people living authentic lifestyles that the brand can stand behind to be their social voice is the future.
They understand that celebrities are a wasted expense, that influencers are not exclusive, that influencer networks are very limited in their potential reach since they rely on “in-network” influencers that have signed up for all of the influencer networks and that marketplaces hose them on the influencer prices, often at four to 10 times the cost.
That’s why brands and agencies will be creating their own influencer networks in 2017. Brands are sick of the limitations that influencer networks bring and influencer choices that do not offer them access to those who are loyal customers of their products or the ability to forge new relationships with specific influencers that will make them loyal ambassadors.
Authenticity is the most important aspect of influencer marketing, and the only way to achieve authenticity is by owning relationships and building out an owned influencer network with brand mentions that are done frequently, and not once by a third party sending opportunities out to an email list.
I’ve never before seen brands and agencies move at the same speed as now, where we have migrated most of our clients over to a white-labeled, owned influencer network, prepopulated with their biggest advocates for them to engage with and create opportunities for while tracking their success and key performance indicators.
Owned influencer networks empower brands and agencies by allowing them to manage their most enthusiastic and influential brand ambassadors, while also allowing for discovery of new influencers through lookalike audience building.
Brands find tremendous value in owning relationships so they can activate whenever they want, however they want with transparency and control. Brands are able to easily manage influencers, keeping them up to date on product launches, press and exclusive sneak peeks. They are able to invite these influencers to events and activate campaigns at the drop of a dime.
Also, establishing positive relationships gives brands the opportunity to create a valuable feedback loop from trusted voices. These influencers will be advocating for the brand digitally and in real life, offering word-of-mouth recommendations and living the lifestyle that the brand views as authentic to their voice. Similar to how brands have sponsored athletes, you’ll see sponsorships arise in many different categories within consumer-facing products.
What we’ve discovered by tracking the daily shares of more than 2 million people across Instagram, YouTube, blogs, Pinterest and Vine is that there are authentic people that you can discover and forge relationships with to be brand ambassadors and manage within your own influencer network.
By owning these relationships and bringing these influencers into your own influencer network, you’re able to compensate them with experiences, new product rollout announcements and private feedback for new launches and have full exclusivity with the influencer, where they cannot mention any other competitive brand on their social account or take on sponsored content from particular brands as part of a sponsorship.
Strategy to invest in
The days of campaign-based influencer relations are gone. Quality influencers are seeking out sponsorships that are long-term and provide their followers with consistency and the influencer with enough creative leeway to produce authentic and relatable content on a continual basis by integrating the brand in ways that are authentic to their use and their lifestyle.
Consumers respond to continual brand mentions from those that they follow in a way that is unprecedented by any other advertising method. Just like you wouldn’t create a display ad for one impression or a commercial for one airing, you should never approach influencer marketing as a one-time mention.
Brands must be willing to invest to see maximized results, but that doesn’t necessarily mean dumping big bucks into mega-celebrities.
We recently released a report on how smaller influencers receive a higher percentage of engagement. The math is simple–the more followers a person acquires, the smaller the percentage becomes of those that see the content, engage with the content and are target consumers for a specific brand as the audience becomes too broad. Therefore, brands are paying more money for less targeting, less engagement and fewer impressions.
Now advertisers understand that engagement is the most important and the largest indicator to success, following relevancy to the brand. By providing brand and agencies with influencer scores that are adjusted for their follower count and compare them to all their peers in their category and of follower size, brands can make decisions that will move the needle with tracking results from influencer campaigns.
Influencer marketing will continue to grow at the fastest rate ever during 2017, with clear winners emerging in the category. As brands invest more into successful ongoing influencer marketing strategies, they will see sales increasing both digitally and in-store, along with an increase in organic brand mentions across all social channels. And they will do so by taking control of their strategy and building their own influencer networks.
2017 image courtesy of Shutterstock.