How The Market Has Changed
Having been the CEO of an influencer marketing platform for 5 years, I’ve had a first-row seat to how brands have successfully and unsuccessfully navigated these previously unchartered waters.

I’ve watched brands and agencies morph from skeptical 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, as well as learn the best practices to set influencer campaigns up for success from the start.

2017 will be a revolutionary year for advertisers. Through trial and error advertisers have learned how these various platforms differ and what they need to do in order to make influencer marketing work for them and their clients.

By now advertisers have realized that celebrities are a waste, influencers are not exclusive (and everybody is up for grabs), 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 that they pay out from discovery on their platform between 4-10 times the cost.

Advertisers know 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.

That’s why brands and agencies will be creating their own influencer networks rather than relying on third parties to mass send opportunities out to an email list. 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, not once.

Owned influencer networks empower brands and agencies. Besides the value of being able to activate whenever they want, however they want, they have a list of influencers that they can keep 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.

Owning Relationships

It’s about identifying who exists on social that will be the most enthusiastic brand ambassadors. Similar to how brands have sponsored athletes, you’ll see sponsorships arise in many different categories within consumer-facing products.

As suspected, 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.

What we’ve discovered by tracking the daily shares of over 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.

Some success stories would be sustainable living advocates that live in SF, first-time homebuyers that live in LA, outdoor enthusiasts that went to a National Park during the summer, so on and so forth. It is not about limiting your choices for who the voices should be for the brand. It’s about having the right tool at your disposal to identify the voices that line up with the lifestyle choices for your brand.

This has allowed for brands to create their own influencer networks, identify lookalikes to those who are living these authentic lifestyles and manage relationships with them directly. Building relationships this way allows for brands to save on costs associated with influencer buys through influencer networks, as well as build an army of advocates that will promote your press and owned media as well. You’ll see more enthusiasm, more earned media and more powerful relationships by identifying influencers that always create yogurt recipes on their own and receive high engagement, and inviting them into your Yogurt Brand network than you would randomly engage with food influencers that are not eating yogurt every day.

By owning these relationships and bringing these influencers into your own influencer network, you’re able to compensate them with experiences, new product roll out announcements, 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.

Continual brand mentions also grow your social account. With every mention, you receive more followers. When a follower of an influencer sees your brand mentioned multiple times, they are more likely to follow, more likely to buy and more likely to think positively about the brand in general. These posts allow for interaction and two-way conversations between the influencer and follower and brand and follower. Successful brands make sure that influencers are required to respond to all mentions of the product and all questions. Brands will also engage directly with those who are interested in the product, with a follow, shoutout or a like on their photo to show they are listening.

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.

Instagram will continue to lead the way, with blogs still being the second most popular choice for influencer marketing. YouTube, because of the high price of content creation (5-10x as expensive) with low returns to sales for products under $100, will remain the less scalable and will continue to be used less. Snapchat will continue to be a social platform where brands appealing to lower audiences will invest resources into building an audience of their own, but will not become a leading channel for brand sponsorships through influencers for two reasons. The first being that Snapchat has no API to verify views. The second is that brands are scared of the legal ramifications of using platforms that have been created for Snapchat that log into users accounts unknowingly to verify views.

Instagram video has proven to be a great alternative for sponsored content with influencers creating package pricing for Instagram Stories and a picture.

Pinterest will remain the most evergreen platform, with content shifting away from aspirational and more to practical. Pins that provide value for years to come will continue to get engaged with and re-pinned providing for compounding media value over time.

As we previously reported, Vine has experienced a detrimental exodus in usage which prevents us from recommending it for any influencer strategies.

Follower Count Does Not Equal Engagement

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 aspect because it is the largest indicator of success, following relevancy to the brand. By providing brands and agencies with influencer scores that are adjusted for their follower count and comparing them to all their peers in their category of follower size, brands can make decisions that will move the needle with tracking results from influencer campaigns.

Conclusion

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 influencer marketing strategies they will see an increase in sales both digitally and in-store and inorganic brand mentions across all social channels.