Last winter, we warned you not to look at influencers as a fleeting trend but rather as the future of advertising. I don’t mean to brag, but we were kind of totally right: With social media algorithms in constant flux and organic posts declining in reach for businesses, influencer marketing has become a fundamental way for brands to make sure great content doesn’t go unnoticed.
Plus, because consumers trust each other more than they trust brands, content from an influencer will almost always trump content from a brand. The numbers are telling: According to HubSpot, 71 percent of consumers are more likely to make a purchase based on a social media reference.
But like all burgeoning marketing tools, the function of influencers is continually growing and changing. Here are six new predictions to heed to pursue a successful influencer marketing strategy in 2018.
B2B companies will better utilize industry influencers — and turn employees and partners into influencers in their own respect.
In tandem with B2C influencers, B2B influencer marketing will continue to gain popularity on more business-centric platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter as well as other outlets such as corporate events, web platforms, and paid placements. From blogs and social media content to high-value videos, amplifying your brand’s message through mid-market and enterprise influencers can drive traffic and generate quality leads to your company’s website.
Moreover, B2B companies can create their own influencers through:
- Employee advocacy: This is one of the most authentic ways to reach a new audience. When your employees share and promote your company’s content, they’re helping connect it to a network of people who are already inclined to listen to — and believe — what they have to say.
- Social CEOs: There’s a demand for transparent, engaged CEOs who join the conversation about their company’s content and their industry as a whole. (We wrote all about it here.)
- In-house subject matter experts (SMEs): Take time to choose SMEs who are not only knowledgeable on a particular subject, but who also have a strong social presence so they can share your message on their own channels.
On the B2C side, smaller influencers (aka “micro-influencers”) will drive more and higher quality engagement.
Stop wasting time seeking out Kardashian-caliber influencers. Instead, brands that use smaller influencers with hyper-targeted audiences will reap the benefits of better engagement among new audiences they draw in.
As consumers have come to seek more authentic brand relationships, influencers have become more trustworthy than celebrities and are more likely to turn followers into customers. It’s happening across the spectrum: A Google-commissioned study by Ipsos Connect found that 70 percent of teen YouTube subscribers relate to YouTube personalities more than celebrities.
Not only do these influencers drive more authentic engagement with and excitement about endorsed companies and products, they come at a lower price tag than superstar talent, giving brands more bang for their buck.
Honesty and transparency will rule.
Digital audiences are savvier than ever before, which means they can spot a fake endorsement from miles away. This is especially true with new Federal Trade Commission endorsement requirements, which are making a big push for influencer transparency through regulations such as hashtag compliance. For example, influencer posts must be clearly tagged with #Sponsored, #Ad, or a unique partnership hashtag.
To effectively sell a product, it’s important now more than ever that influencers and brands closely align. But they can’t all be pay-for-play deals. To be effective, influencers will have to remember what got them where they are: endorsing products they like, not just the ones that pay.
If your product or business doesn’t match your influencer, it will hurt both your audience’s perception of your brand and the influencer’s reach — a waste of time and money for everyone.
Influencers will impact customers through every part of the purchase cycle.
This year, marketers should take a closer look at the different stages in the consumer journey that influencer marketing can cater to.
Here’s how to use influencers to take your customers through every step of their journey:
- Awareness: Your influencer can provide inspirational content that grabs your audience’s attention. By generating awareness with an influencer, your reach multiplies because you have access to your influencer’s built-in followers as well as your own established audience.
- Interest: Equip your influencer with educational content so he or she can answer questions or show off unique aspects of your business to generate interest.
- Desire: Turn your influencer’s post into a testimonial or review to encourage your audience to enjoy the same service they do. (Your blog is a good place for this.)
- Decision: Have your influencer announce any big events, accomplishments, or positive changes at your company to convince audiences to become customers.
- Advocacy: When people in your audience post about the product or service your influencer helped them find, they become brand advocates themselves. Friend referral programs, for example, can be a great way to kick-start this butterfly marketing effect.
Brands will build long-term noncompete relationships with influencers.
Traditionally, brands have been shortsighted with influencer marketing efforts. But the one-off product-plug approach doesn’t cut it for steady, long-term audience engagement.
Instead of treating influencers as a means to a marketing end and getting flash-in-the-pan results, brands will grow long-term relationships with influencers. These valuable relationships will result in audiences seeing influencers as extensions of a product or service, like LeBron James’ lifetime contract with Nike.
Influencer campaigns will continue to go beyond Instagram.
Instagram did house a majority of the market last year, but that doesn’t mean it’s the be-all and end-all of influencer content — particularly in the B2B realm.
Consider other platforms in your influencer marketing strategy that other brands might be ignoring. Social media fans are a loyal crowd, and a majority of true fans will follow their favorite influencers on more than one platform. While you may not reach the same level of engagement on other social platforms as you would on Instagram, you could generate a better ROI if you’re paying less and getting better conversions.
In general, don’t be afraid to think beyond social media — speaking campaigns, guest blogging, Q & A interviews, and more can be powerful ways to use your influencer to better position your business.
There’s plenty more going on in the influencer world, but — as we proved in the beginning of this blog — influencer marketing is a facet of marketing that is growing and changing quickly. So there’s no doubt things will look totally different this time next year, and at that time we’ll have another update for you. By keeping a finger on the pulse of influencer marketing trends, your business can further amplify products and services and position itself as a trusted brand among digital audiences.
If you need help with your influencer marketing strategy or content creation, contact us. And keep an eye out for more tips on digital marketing trends and strategy by following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.