Influencer marketing is the business of paying social media personalities to advertise a brand or product. Though this particular term is now a household name, the practice itself is simply evolving from the original “word of mouth” promotion tactic. The introduction of social media platforms, such as TikTok and Instagram, allowed businesses to target customers in this new manner and helped propel the practice over the past few years, setting it on track to become a $15 billion industry next year.
Influencers now demand a line on the marketing budget along with more traditional outlets. In fact, 63% of marketers intend to increase their influencer marketing budget in the next year.
While all of this may sound exciting, the process of finding an influencer who aligns with your brand can be a daunting task. Even more challenging still is the weeding out of accounts that buy followers, don’t declare sponsored content, or profit off fake engagement – a vetting task too often ignored, diluting the influencer marketing industry’s quality.
To help brands map out their marketing strategies and get ahead of the curve, we’ve uncovered some influencer marketing trends for 2021. These will help you create campaigns that bring in record numbers this year and beyond.
While some may confidently declare that influencer marketing’s death is upon us, we don’t see it much as dead as in the midst of a transformation. The term influencer itself has had a makeover. Initially used to describe anyone with a social media following, the word is now associated with monetizing through sponsorships and other brand partnerships.
Instead of influencers, some creatives are now calling themselves content creators. Those who self-identify as creators would rather be recognized for their high-quality content than their follower count. Unlike social media celebrities, content creators are professional photographers, performers, creative directors, writers, and videographers. In other words, these are individuals who, for the most part, have a trained skill that can be utilized both online and off.
This distinction is semantics in the marketing world, though the tendency has shifted towards the “skilled influencer” more than not. And, as one would when hiring a freelancer or consultant, it’s important to select the right type of influencer for your campaign goals, understanding that there are more talented options to choose from in the pool, something that vetting helps best identify.
Types of Influencers
We created this list to help you with the difficult decision-making process of selecting your team of influencers and ambassadors. These distinctions are important because they avoid falling into the one-size-fits-all trap, which nearly always ends in a failed campaign.
Mega-influencers are celebrities and socialites with followers and likes in the multi-millions. To appeal to the masses, they utilize the one-size-fits-all technique—the old school marketing trick of throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks. Kylie Jenner is the embodiment of this as the youngest-ever “self-made” billionaire. She apparently won’t post on Instagram for less than a million dollars.
Mega-influencers are who you seek when you want to get as many eyes on your product or service as possible, without the expectation of brand loyalty or much concern for authenticity or a bit of controversy.
Kendell Jenner serves as a cautionary tale for mega-influencers after she took home a reported $250,000 as one of the supermodel influencers hired to promote the legendary failure that is Fyre Festival.
Macro-influencers have large numbers like their mega counterparts. However, macro-influencers usually get their start online as bloggers, podcasters, and social media stars. Their audience size ranges between 100,000 and a million followers and can serve as ideal partners if your focus is to expand your reach.
Micro-influencers are effective when you’re ready to transition your campaign from spreading awareness to getting your audience to take action. A micro-influencer’s audience ranges from 5,000 to 100,000 followers – however, their smaller audience is more engaged and invested. Micro-influencers are great for small or local brands as they are typically more tapped into their local community.
Nano-influencers are usually the newest kid in the block, so a collaboration with them will be the most cost-effective. With an audience ranging from 1,000 to 5,000, the nano-influencers can grow with your brand if you hire them at the beginning of their journey and allow them to become an ambassador.
Genuinfluencers are focused on making a positive impact. During this pandemic, the spread of misinformation has led agencies like the World Health Organization to reach out to these more responsible influencers to post accurate information about COVID-19. The priority is their social activism, their moral and ethical beliefs above all else for these influencers. Brand collaborations are secondary to their overall goals.
Advocates are a unique type of influencer. They praise your brand publicly and jump into conversations around your brand or product to promote or defend if they identify that the brand aligns with their cause and purpose. And like Genuinfluencers, they will vet the brand, history, partners, and practices long before committing to use their platform to promote them.
Referrers have a solid and trusted recommendation for your product or service and drive people to your website, place of business, or online profiles.
Loyalists are probably the most important types of influencers. These followers, customers, and fans have the same amount of brand awareness as a mega influencer. These people have grown with you, supported you, and bought into your message completely.
We have found that of all the specifics by which you choose an influencer, follower and like count should be at the bottom of the list as these are not always authentic nor determine successful consumer engagement.
Marketing Trends and Tips
There are two steps towards a good marketing strategy: brand recognition and expansion, and focusing on quality and authenticity. Below we’ve spotlighted key marketing trends and tricks for influencers, brands, and businesses.
The consumer landscape is completely different post-2020. Historical events like the pandemic lockdowns and the Black Lives Matter movement changed how we work, where we live, and how we spend. More than ever, consumers are demanding that businesses speak up on topics of racial inequality and other issues affecting the country.
It’s no longer enough for a brand to issue a statement or promote a donation. Consumers today — particularly millennials and Gen Z — are looking to support the brands that put action behind their stated values. Especially when it comes to diversity and inclusion, every influencer marketing campaign should be aware of the Diversity Metric as they develop a campaign that authentically reflects their true audience.
Genuinfluencer and Authenticity
Looking for the recipe for a successful campaign? Add these two things and let them simmer. Genuinfluencers offer a more genuine source of information and inspiration. More brands utilize them as a venue of transparency with customers and added clarity to complicated topics. Consumers expect more authentic content and are also selecting to support brands that demonstrate a sense of environmental responsibility, social justice support and are actively moving towards racial equity. Finding an influencer where these issues are their main platform, and aligning your marketing message with them in genuine ways, are key success points moving forward.
Generation Z is already a consumer powerhouse, with spending estimated at close to $100 billion. Growing up with smartphones in hand, nearly half of them have made purchase decisions based on influencer marketing.
Governments and organizations have begun to use genuinfluencers to take-on misinformation and share important information with groups who aren’t using traditional media channels. Our research found that the 50 influencers involved in WHO’s social media campaigns increased their followings by an average of 11 percent throughout the year. That’s 25 percent higher than those of comparable peers and proof that authenticity is key.
Video Content is Still King
It’s projected that Americans will spend 100 minutes per day watching videos In 2021. According to Smart Insights, an educational platform for marketers, 99% of marketers plan to continue using video in their marketing in 2021, while 95% plan to increase or maintain their spend on online video.
The pandemic has brought production challenges for creating traditional-length video content. So the demand for short-form, on-trend, and time-sensitive messaging ensures that video remains content king in 2021. In the UK, 61% of people under 35 use Instagram and TikTok as their primary news source.
Create a Pause Policy
A successful marketing strategy ensures that your campaigns are well received and your brand safety is protected. Which can sometimes mean pausing content for at least 24 hours to reassess the social climate. 2021 has already shown us why a Pause Policy is an essential marketing tool.
Influencers can be Impacted by your Company’s Stance and vise versa.
Many businesses and brands are making adjustments in their marketing strategy based on company politics and culture. Some are forced to make public statements for or against the behavior of employees. These public statements and strategy shifts need to be communicated with your internal and external marketing sources.
There’s an important discussion happening around what is political versus what is an injustice. Many people believe that brands, businesses, and influencers have a responsibility to use their platform to discuss important issues. However, performativity is not the answer.
Don’t pretend to be an expert in public policy, race relations, or public health if you’re not. Do your research and check your sources before resharing information.
Trends for Businesses + Brands
Influencers are people too, and right now, they’re under a lot of pressure. There’s an ongoing conversation about influencers using their platforms responsibly and how that looks during a global crisis. They need to prioritize their mental and physical health along with brand safety. Influencers know their audience better than anyone, and their audience truly cares for them, so prioritizing patience is paramount. Using language like “Please let us know when you think you and your audience will be ready to move forward with the campaign” helps to humanize the conversation and keep communication clear.
For new and repurposed influencer content, marketers must communicate when it will be used to avoid tokenization. It’s one thing to promote your brand or product, and it’s another to be a representative of your brand’s stance on important issues. The ladder needs to be communicated upfront and agreed upon by all parties.
The Rise of the Micro-influencer
2020 favored micro-influencers in a big way! The pandemic has resulted in more work for micro-influencers with big local numbers. Especially when it comes to shopping and local travel. Affiliate link groups such as RewardStyle have been running micro-only global campaigns that have led to greater engagement levels than those involving a single macro-influencer.
Although micro-influencers were thought to drive engagement instead of sales, we’re quickly learning that’s not the case. In 2020, affiliate site ShopStyle Collective saw a 40% increase in nano-influencer conversion rate and a 250% growth in sales.
Social Commerce Features Will Boost Sponsorship Opportunities
Now is the time to begin including shoppable content in influencer campaigns. More platforms are offering e-commerce features, which will lead to more brand sponsorship opportunities. Shoppable posts and videos with seamless transitions from influencer content to brand-owned channels will continue to expand in 2021.
Trends for Influencers + Creators
Influencers Joining Hands
With the introduction of the genuinfluencer and demands for authenticity, more influencers joining hands to work on a single cause. Last year The Creator and Influencer Council of the Philippines organized a fundraiser that continues to raise money to help purchase medical-grade protective gear for the country’s health workers and frontliners.
Influencer marketing trends show that 2021 will see more influencer partnerships among peers. The ‘influencer house’ concept became popular last year, with the most popular TikTokers creating from Hype House in Los Angeles. The pandemic is driving this trend of influencers living under one roof and working on content together.
Expect Contracts and Aim for Long-term Relationships
Gone are the days of verbal agreements. Influencer marketing is no more a ‘one-off’ strategy. It’s time to expect professionalism and start negotiating long-term contracts that protect you. With an industry that’s on track to reach $15 billion by 2022, developing long-term relationships now will help increase reach and brand loyalty in the future.
As we enter a new and exciting digital media stage, we must leave our old habits and ideals in the past. Fully embracing change and the process of unlearning and relearning. Digital platforms have redefined print media, music, TV, and film. Consumers now demand brand responsibility, integrity, and authenticity above all. What’s ahead of us is a world of opportunity, representation, and equity through new visions of virtual reality and the realization of unimagined realities.