This article originally appeared on Forbes.com, on December 28, 2018
By most accounts, influencer marketing is now a multibillion-dollar industry. It’s an impressive feat until you consider that the social networks will rake in $26.95 billion in ad sales in the U.S. only this year, according to eMarketer. If influencer marketing wants to move from a line item in the “experimental” budget to a line item in the media budget, the industry will need to continue to mature in 2019.
Based on my experience at Carusele with over 150 influencer marketing programs in the last few years, here are 10 influencer marketing advancements that brands should begin to expect from their 2019 initiatives.
Every few days, it seems, someone is arguing for celebrity influencers, micro-influencers, macro influencers and even nano-influencers. The main difference between these somewhat arbitrary groupings is the size of the influencer’s follower count. At the end of the day, however, the likelihood of an influencer stimulating an action is much more about the quality of their content than it is their reach. Of course, a great piece of content can’t influence anyone if nobody sees it.
In my experience, influencers with total follower counts between 20,000 and 500,000 are often the right balance between cost, reach and quality. But if you have a good amplification strategy (see No. 6 below), the influencer’s reach becomes less important.
Too often, influencers who match a brand’s demographic are chosen to represent them. That’s a good start, but targeting should really be about the influencers’ audiences. Brands need to expect their influencer marketing partners to be able to match audiences with their needs in 2019.
What to pay an influencer is a complicated topic. Some brands are paying 3-4 times more than they need to, based solely on lack of experience. In other cases, some influencers hire managers who increase costs 3-5 times and price their clients out of the market. Right now, rates are ad hoc, and payment decisions are often emotional (“I have to have them!” or “How much for a blog post?”). In 2019, we have to focus on value and zero in on influencers in the center of the value continuum.
Having run over 150 of these campaigns in the last couple of years, I’m comfortable saying that predicting which content will take off is impossible. Rather, influencer programs need to analyze every piece of content for performance and quality in the midst of the campaign to figure out which pieces are doing the heavy lifting.
Once you’re evaluating every piece of content, it’s fairly easy to measure performance at the influencer level. This provides guidance as to which influencers brands should engage for long-term commitments.
Ad hoc 30-day programs can be successful, but they should become less common as the industry starts to look toward three-month, six-month or 12-month commitments to specific influencers. For our clients who have taken that approach, engagement rates have increased as much as 400%. As influencers get more accustomed to the brand, and as their followers get more accustomed to them talking about that brand, results can increase significantly.
As content analysis starts happening in real time for influencer programs, we can now elevate the highest-performing content to make sure it reaches the ideal target audience. But to be successful, this strategy has to be in place as the program begins so that syndication can begin as results come in.
The brand should also have a plan to use the best-performing content, not only on their social channels but in their other marketing as well. We even had one client use one of our influencers’ content in a Times Square billboard. This content can have value immediately, but also on an ongoing basis, depending on the campaign. Part of this strategy has to be extracting insights from which content performed well and feeding those insights back into the organization.
So many influencer programs are built on the fiction of “max potential impressions.” In this model, agencies are multiplying an influencer’s followers by the number of shares to get their estimated impressions (e.g., 1,000 followers on Twitter x three tweets = 3,000 max potential impressions. In reality, these three tweets will probably receive roughly 105 impressions). Nobody should be making influencer strategy decisions based on max potential impressions in 2019.
Budgets for influencer programs are growing. And with that, so will the expectation that they drive real business results. Good influencer programs in 2019 should work hard to provide some level of attribution between the campaign and real business objectives for the brand.
The good news is that influencer marketing is set to grow to roughly $6 billion in spend in 2019. To make sure that investment pays dividends, marketers need to ensure their influencer marketing strategy takes advantage of these 10 influencer marketing advancements this year.