The decorations are barely back in the boxes and gym membership cards are still being used instead of wasting away in wallets, and influencer marketing has already had a barrage of negative headlines, picking up where it left off in 2019.
Influencer Marketing spent most of last year facing intense media negativity for issues such as fake followers, lack of transparency and influencers contravening the ASA guidelines. Issues that are bound to affect an industry that is still finding its feet – even though it is set to break the $10 billion barrier this year.
Last week the 2019 Love Island runner up turned influencer Molly Mae Hague (2.3 million followers) became the latest in a string of influencers forced to take down posts for contravening the ASA’s guidelines.
And as with many of last year’s rulings, the reasons why were pretty blurred.
In the “offending” image she was wearing clothes from fashion brand PrettyLittleThing, for whom she is an ambassador. It was claimed that she had not clearly signposted that it was an ad.
Was it an ad or not?
Both the brand and the influencer contend it was an organic post, and therefore outside the remit of the contractual agreement between them, and instead was a result of her genuine support for the brand as a consumer.
Forcing an influencer to mark a non-contracted post about a product they like as an #Ad is not expected in other areas of advertising – you wouldn’t see the same applying to someone like Rhianna when they are endorsing something – and sets a dangerous precedent.
What next? What if the influencer is being sponsored, but bought something from the brand themselves? Do they now have to declare ‘bought with own money’? This constant over-regulation and negative press attention is seriously holding back a nascent industry.
Similarly, last year saw an explosion of negativity around the idea of fake followers when a story broke on CNBC claiming it was costing clients $1.3 billion. Again, for us, this consistent negativity has far-reaching implications.
Consumers and clients aren’t idiots?
We like to be optimists here at Instinct, and we think that despite all of this 2020 will be the year common-sense will begin to prevail in influencer marketing as the naysayers and those that still don’t seem to understand how it actually works, begin to realise what many of us have known for a while now: clients and consumer understand this channel and are not completely in the dark.
The issue is that these guidelines and the negativity around fake followers are all predicated on the idea that consumers don’t understand the difference between an influencer post and an influencer ad, or that clients are somehow being conned or swindled.
Which, in the main, isn’t true. It’s Millennials and Generation Z who make up the lion’s share of Instagram users. Figures from Hootsuite show that 71% of Instagram users are aged between 13 and 34, and it’s these people who have grown up in a digital world and fully understand the rules of engagement on social.
Similarly, most clients actually fully understand that there is such a thing as fake followers and that an influencer can have these without actually having purchased them.
They also understand how to deal with them – as do their agencies.
There are numerous tools that can tell clients in advance how many “suspicious accounts” an influencer has, which also means clients have much more data about their audience than any other industry has had before.
And if we’re going to be totally honest about this, massaging effectiveness isn’t just an issue in Influencer Marketing, it happens in all areas of digital advertising.
The year of the niche influencer
As Instagram moves to get rid of “Likes” clients will start looking for deeper engagement and stronger brand alignment from influencers, over mere vanity metrics, and this will drive another big development in 2020 – the growth of the niche influencer.
These are influencers who focus on one specific area, such as teaching or yoga and have a devoted and engaged following because of it. They can have anything from 2,000 to 200,000 followers and commanding payment from £150 per post to £2,000.
If a brand wants to start conversations or build an audience with a genuinely targeted grass-roots community or build advocacy in a niche sector or target-demographic, this is the ideal way to do it.
However, this isn’t a development as such, but actually a swing back to what Influencer Marketing used to be.
The original influencers tended to have specific topics – their own interests – and attracted an audience because they were talking honestly about things they knew about or had an interest in. Then the growth of the industry (and potential rewards) meant they became more mainstream.
A potted history
This is down to several reasons. Firstly, the desire to appeal to wider audiences. Then, to satisfy the interests of that larger audience (e.g. based on feedback they were getting). Because of this, they had to satisfy the content creation requirements (wider scope is easier creatively) and finally, from due to the increased brand opportunities (which made them branch out into something new). Mix in influencer platforms that essentially just let brands use influencers as a media channel – buying a set number of eyeballs or engagements – and you get a large number of influencers potentially promoting brands they have no interest in or authority to speak about.
This renewed focus on niche influencers is getting us back to the original proposition. When people are dealing with a specific issue, they can be an authority on it to their audience. Being smaller means, they can also still have a sense of community and conversation with their followers, that just isn’t really possible once you become huge and comments are swamped.
And this, of course, links back to clients and consumers not being clueless.
The followers know what they want from their influencers, and because they trust them, are happy to take their recommendation as a trusted peer voice – understanding what is and isn’t an ad. And it’s an agency’s task to ensure clients’ better understand of the influencers they are using and the audience they are reaching
2020 might just be the year Influencer Marketing becomes trusted.