What does the future hold for influencer marketing?
During the PR Week Influencer 360 event last week, a wide range of topics were covered in the various fireside chats, presentations and panel discussions. The impact of Covid-19 was a regular theme, as were many of the common challenges around influencer identification, measurement and building long-lasting relationships between influencers and brands.
One other topic came up quite a few times – in a rapidly evolving and ever-changing industry that is earning an increasing share of budget across both comms and marketing: what’s coming next?
It’s always a tough question because there are so many factors that can impact what happens in the future. The near-term is often driven by changes that are obvious, already underway or being tested. The medium-term can be impacted by big platform changes, like Facebook recently changing the algorithm to reward creators who publish high-quality, original video content, or big positive changes in perception of the value of influencers from brands and marketers, like we have seen in recent years.
In the long-term, practically anything can happen. New platforms like TikTok can emerge, quickly gain critical mass and change the way influencers approach content creation and invest in a presence on different platforms. The next generation will also always need serving in a different way, from millennials who remember the sound a dial up internet connection made to the Gen Z’ers who grew up in a world of smartphones and instant, on-demand content.
Short-Term Changes to Influencer Marketing
- Covid-19 has likely permanently changed many habits and behaviours – people have become much more reliant on their devices and virtual connections to the world. I think the changes here will be subtle, but as brands look for ways to increase influence and engagement online, influencer budgets will start to increase as a result. The knock-on impact here will be more demand for original content, more competition for good influencers and that should in turn drive better quality from agents, agencies and influencers alike.
- Thousands of new influencers will emerge (and have started doing so already) as people grapple with loss of income, more time at home and what looks likely to be a prolonged economic downturn and general uncertainty. This provides an excellent opportunity for brands to diversify the types of influencers they are working with, uncover great new talent and tap in to brand new, highly engaged audiences.
- While there is still heavy reliance on third-party tracking and measurement tools, the platforms are significantly improving their native measurement and analytics offerings. This is allowing brands to get a better measure of the value their influencers bring as the offering starts to go beyond engagement and awareness and into more hardcore conversion reporting. With the direct path to purchase becoming increasingly optimised, influencer marketing will start to compete for budget with other, more traditional digital approaches like SEO and paid online advertising.
Medium-Term Changes to Influencer Marketing
- In order to keep up with the pace of change in the industry with different audiences and platforms emerging all the time, talent will need to get younger, and I think we’ll see younger people consulting at agencies and agents and more experienced PR professionals and marketers relying on them for their knowledge and expertise, which should make for an interesting dynamic!
- We’re on the cusp of another significant shift in technology over the next few years. Just as broadband and 4G have driven huge growth in video, 5G and the eventual large-scale breakthrough of technology like VR, AR and 360 video will drive changes in social as they become more popular. That does create a higher entry level for influencers, but the hardware needed should come down in price as popularity grows. The change in tech should result in an increase in immersive experiences and full-engagement, meaning less second-and-third-screening and more focus on one activity at a time.
Long-Term Changes to Influencer Marketing
Once you get 5 years or more out the future becomes quite hard to predict, but at some point, a social new platform seems inevitable.
With the advent of a new generation coming online around 2025 and larger changes in technology, something will emerge to cater for one or both. The bigger platforms have got better at building in successful features that are popular elsewhere, and not all new platforms have the same staying power, so it’s also possible the major platforms of 2020 wither or their huge budgets might develop or acquire features to stay ahead. Either way, new platforms will bring a new wave of content and influencers and give existing influencers another tricky decision to make about diversifying across an ever-growing list of platforms and content formats.
Watch this space!