It’s 2019 and influencers are quickly cementing themselves as brands and customer service experts in their own right. Every day we see influencers who are growing powerful customer networks and forming highly profitable partnerships. This, combined with the rise of direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands and Instagram shopping, gives traditional brands a valid reason to worry.
In our fast-paced, digital-first world, influencers have demonstrated a deep understanding of how to effectively capitalize on fans’ desires and grow loyal, global communities through authentic, person-to-person communication. And amidst this influencer explosion, brands who are paying attention can learn a lot from this new flock of customer service experts.
Brands must move past canned, pre-approved responses
In the process of honing their own social media skills, influencers invented community management long before it was a position within brand teams. They innately understood the value of connecting with users, which translated into a loyal and growing following over time.
Brands that infuse the human element that consumers have come to expect into their communications will feel more authentic. Empowering teams to respond naturally and lean into a distinct and consistent voice (whether that is sarcastic, humorous, light or witty) is key. For consumers, it can feel very obvious when a brand is sticking to a script.
Brands must move quickly—and ask for opinions as they go
Influencers are often first adopters on social, whether they’re jumping to new platforms (hello, TikTok) or testing out new features (IG Countdowns). However, it is not only the rate of adoption that’s important, but it’s the continued feedback loop that leads to continuous engagement. Open up your phone and you’ll see an example: “Do you prefer live Q&As or written polls?” “Would you rather see more OOTD or inspiration boards?” “Am I going overboard with pictures of my kids?”
DTC brands are already doing this well—maximizing on the always-on focus group of their followers to not only test content styles but to drive product development and innovation. To maintain relevancy, brands will need to lean into this expectation of feedback/response—whether it is informing consumers of a new product line or a new style of content sharing.
Brands must think of influencers not only as collaborators, but also as potential competitors
While the past few years have been about collaboration, the continued rise of Instagram shopping and increased familiarity with DTC brands means that it will be easier than ever for influencers to launch their own lines. Consumers no longer need the validation of a retailer to sample a product, and influencers are now one step closer to selling directly.
We’re only in the early stages of what could be an influencer revolution. Arielle Charnas, a stylish New Yorker with 1.1 million Instagram followers and a lucrative partnership with Nordstrom, was recently declared “the future of fashion.” Leandra Medine, founder of fashion site Man Repeller, has powerfully owned her voice, pivoting influence into a standalone brand.
Medine’s trajectory highlights lessons brands would do well to adopt. By hiring a content team in line with her own voice, adapting her social presence over time, and inviting followers into the conversation, she continues to stay ahead of trends and now poses a competitive threat to brands she grew her influence showcasing.
An accurate competitive analysis will need to move beyond the traditional scope—fashion brands will need to carefully monitor influencers and their evolving role to remain ahead.
Brands will face challenges that influencers don’t face
Not only must brands capture attention and engage their followers, but they must turn their social channels into an open line of customer service, capable of answering demands at all hours of the day.
Brands face a higher standard for accuracy and reliability, while influencers have an advantage of trust (and leniency) that many brands do not enjoy.
And then there’s the continued hurdle of siloed teams and the reality of corporate demands—it is much harder for a legacy brand to absorb and respond to feedback than it will ever be for an individual person.
Influencers aren’t going anywhere
As Gen Z ushers in a new crop of nano-influencers and emerging platforms offer additional opportunities for engagement, the role of influencers may change, but they are here to stay.
Brands must adopt their customer service behaviors or risk losing market share to those they once held power over—the influencers themselves.