I can pinpoint the exact moment that I realised the importance of influencers. I was sitting at the kitchen table with my then seven-year-old son, and I asked him what he wanted to be when he was older. I was expecting an answer like ‘a doctor’ or ‘an astronaut’, or even something as broad as ‘famous’.
Forever surprising me, he gave his answer: ‘A YouTuber.’
Five years on, and influencers are now part of my day-to-day life. I dance between my mainstay of pitching to glossy magazines and national papers, and reaching out to Instagram influencers, YouTube superstars, the Twitterati, Lifestyle bloggers and everything in between.
I’m painfully aware that I’m rarely unplugged. As soon as I’m up from my desk, I’m back on stories, digesting content for both business and pleasure. From work to play, influencers are always there with me.
In short, the realm of the influencer is all-consuming, making it a vital tool in any business’ marketing mix. Over the years, we’ve seen the industry professionalise – a side effect of major brands taking a seat at the influencer table. Big brands mean higher standards, stronger strategies and meaningful reporting, with influencers now forced to run their accounts with the same skills as a Marketing Manager, Business Development Manager, IT Manager and Creative Director – all in one.
Influencer inflation: growth in the industry
Influencers are certainly everywhere. You see them on billboards, replacing models in high profile campaigns, on TV, on your phone, and shooting content in the street. We see the free holidays and free gifts - enviable lifestyles sold to us daily. With so many apparent perks, it’s no wonder that seemingly everyone is trying to chase a career in this sector, cultivating their own empire through little squares on ‘the grid’.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that social media analytics and intelligence platform, Klear, recently reported a 48% growth in the influencer marketing industry in 2019, based on the usage of #AD. When I look at my own Instagram feed, roughly one in every four posts is an advert – something that’s definitely increased as big brands take to the ‘gram to amplify their messages. But is this 48% growth accurate, or is it down to the tighter regulation of the industry? The realm of the influencer is growing up, and it has to be compliant.
Let’s get legal
Compliance – a word that the best influencers embrace, some fear, and the worst ignore. Paid content has had a legal overhaul, with the ASA (Advertising Standards Agency) and the CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) requiring it to be labelled an advertisement. Although the influencer industry has undoubtedly ballooned, the data behind the 48% growth in 2019 could be a little skewed – affected by a tougher crackdown on influencers found to be flouting the rules.
Compliance is a result of big brand involvement - the more money pumped into the industry, the more the ASA and CMA are forced to take notice and regulate accordingly. Influencers are held as accountable as the brands hiring them – a good thing for consumers but arguably adding a challenge to the role of the influencer, forced to juggle paid partnerships with a constant stream of organic content in order to maintain credibility and authenticity. Before compliance, who could tell the difference? Content was content. Nowadays, accounts saturated with ads fall foul of the Instagram algorithm and, indeed, the followers themselves.
So, what’s in store for 2020? Brands continue to pull away from traditional advertising and carve out separate budgets for influencer marketing. This year, I predict a greater importance on reporting and metrics as brand spend skyrockets. I’ll also be on the lookout for a new wave of influencers; those with a more niche following that screams brand advocacy. Finally, I want to lean on influencers to enhance the marketing mix as a whole, rather than to deliver one small segment – I’m hungry for more adventurous content across the board, and I believe that we can partner with influencers to accomplish this. Here at Mallory Group, we challenge the influencer industry to mature further, aim higher and achieve more.
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