It was a rocky start to the new year for Instagram and the influencer marketing industry.
In January, the release of two high profile documentaries around Fyre Festival, whose promoters had used influencer marketing to ‘catfish’ consumers, only for the event to spectacularly – and very publicly – fail.
With the spectre of Fyre festival and celebrity warnings from the ASA hanging over the industry as we entered 2019 – there has never been more scrutiny on the effectiveness and legitimacy of influencers.
Influencers can inject huge relevancy and creativity into brand communications, but legislation is welcomed with open arms to protect brands from fraud and consumers from being misled. So far this year – we’ve seen a number of positive moves in this space.
In January, several social media stars with millions of followers agreed to label sponsored posts more clearly as a result of growing pressure from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). Then in February, the Home Office and Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport produced a joint whitepaper report proposing to enforce “substantial fines, block access to sites and potentially impose liability on individual members of senior management” at social media companies who violate new, stricter regulations around data privacy and the spread of ‘fake news’ and harmful content.
Despite the controversy, more and more brands are turning towards influencer marketing as a compelling and effective part of their marketing mix. As the number of monthly active users on Instagram continues its rapid growth, reaching the 1 billion mark in June 2018 – double the amount in June 2016 – the platform becomes ever more lucrative for brands. It’s no surprise therefore that the industry has grown in value by almost 300% (282%) since 2016.
It is clear that brands and agencies are increasingly moving away from a carefree ‘test and learn’ approach to influencer marketing and instead are waking up to the fact they need to carefully and strategically manage and monitor their programmes. Too right, when failure is costly.
Lush is a UK brand that has taken a radical approach to social media marketing – with influencer marketing potentially front-and-centre. This April, Lush announced it would close all its social media accounts in favour of live chat and influencer marketing.
While I wouldn’t agree with the notion of abandoning social media entirely – it is undoubtedly the chosen platform for young people to engage with brands – this is a really interesting move from the cosmetics brand.
It’s a vote of confidence in the power of influencers to be the sole social media communicator’s and advocates of a brand and its product. Does it signal a laser focus on authentic consumer voices or reduce a brand’s control? Time will tell how well they are able to execute the strategy.
With this backdrop of brands and policy bodies focussing in on the industry, it seems the future of influencer marketing is in fact bright. Instagram’s new features are a reason for further optimism about proving the value of influencer programmes.
Instagram’s ‘Branded Content Ads’ will allow brands to promote sponsored posts on their own feeds as well as give them access to key performance metrics. This will certainly help with issues surrounding transparency of brand partnerships and improve advertisers’ understanding of ROI on influencer marketing ad spend.
Meanwhile, Instagram also recently announced that it was beta testing a new e-commerce tool that will allow users to purchase products directly on the app without ever having to leave. This will maximise opportunities for brands to sell to Instagram users and effectively drag the platform further down the purchasing funnel, making it a more attractive proposition for sales, merchandising and marketing teams.
Everyone in the industry must champion transparency, real relationships (with consumers and influencers) and authenticity.
Last year Takumi became the first Instagram influencer marketing service to offer advertisers campaigns based on ‘actual’ impressions allowing them to plan and pay for guaranteed delivery. We also partner with Hypeauditor, an advanced fraud-detection system which allows us to ensure our clients high levels of authenticity in their campaigns. We want to see more of this – so brands must demand it, and agencies must implement it.
If influencers and related industry platforms can continue to promote more ethical practices, then influencer marketing can scale new heights, despite the year’s rocky start.