Influencer marketing trends 2020 including data and insight; the Instagram, TikTok wars; the march of the regulators and bandwagoning.
Last week I published my influencer marketing year in review 2019. This article looks forward to influencer marketing trends in 2020. The following themes are all mainly work-in-progress for our industry. Ideas don’t start and stop with the calendar year after all.
I am sure to revisit these themes throughout 2020. I’ll dig into the subject matter more closely in those future articles. This thought-piece provides a quick overview of where we’re at and where we’re headed.
For the sake of brevity I’ve omitted explicit mention of ethics. I have, however, hinted at this important area in the data section where, as communicators, we must be driven by data but guided by human insight. Ethics also guide us within the storytelling section where we discuss creators and brands standing up for their values and beliefs.
Any way. Here are my influencer marketing trends in 2020.
Data and Insight
The conversation around data will start to shift from ‘we need it’ to ‘can we trust it’? We’ll ask questions around data’s provenance. For example, is it straight from a platform’s API or is the data a scraped and sampled dataset? We’ll also place more emphasis on the contextual intelligence of the communicator in deciphering the data, in organising it, in putting it to productive use, in giving it meaning and in ultimately turning data into knowledge with insight.
Importance of storytelling
This translation of data into knowledge with insight will re-ignite the importance of quality storytelling.
When Chris Godfrey and his cohorts uploaded a photo of an egg to Instagram in January 2019 they might not have broken the internet - but they changed our perceptions of what an Instagram ‘like’ means, forever. “If one egg can get 54 million likes, what does a like really mean? It doesn’t value who you are and how much you are worth,” said Alissa Khan-Whelan co-founder and director, Egg Gang.
Instagram is now testing the hiding of likes globally. Whether this is down to the Facebook-owned app demonstrating to governments around the world that it can continue to self regulate or whether it’s down to a conscience around the mental health of its users - I’ll let you decide.
Losing likes will mean that creators will need to try harder to gain consumers’ attention and stop followers’ thumbs from scrolling past posts. This will lead to better storytelling.
We’ll search out passion and purpose within creators’ storytelling. The drivers for enhanced storytelling will be both push and pull. The death of Instagram’s public likes and a probable squeeze of organic reach will push creators to produce more note-worthy content. Consumers will want to see the people they follow stand for something. Followers will increasingly demand creators demonstrate their values and beliefs through their storytelling.
Brands should be wary of bandwagoning though - avoiding jumping on good causes just because they’re newsworthy. If brands’ declared values are not the same as their lived values they will be called out by influencers and influencers’ communities. Watch the number of brands which get it wrong in April 2020 when they attach themselves to Earth Day’s 50th anniversary without placing environmental issues at the heart of their businesses.
The same ‘say/do’ gap may well appear with countries, too. Saudi Arabia started working with influencers in 2019 to promote the kingdom. The tactic is part of a broader national-building PR offensive to improve global perceptions of the kingdom in line with Prince Mohammad bin Salman's 2030 Vision.
The influencer campaigns are focused on presenting Saudi Arabia as an attractive tourism destination - especially for young travellers.
Saying you’re open for business and demonstrating you are ready to embrace international tourism are not always the same thing. This will be one-to-watch in 2020; a case study in whether a nation brand can live its declared values.
Instagram will become more eCommerce focused. Checkout and Creator profiles will be fully rolled out globally. This will put the Facebook-owned app on a collision course with Amazon. At the other end of the scale, Etsy, which offers micro-sellers the chance to connect directly with an audience, will continue to rise in popularity - hailing an artisanal renaissance and turning crafters into influencers in the process.
Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, will continue to pile on the pressure for Instagram to produce more advertising revenue as Facebook incomes plateau. Instagram contributed less than $5bn to Facebook in 2017. Income nearly doubled in 2018. eMarketer has forecast revenue will exceed $25bn in 2021.
TikTok vs Instagram wars
The TikTok versus Instagram wars will heat up as the platforms fight for the attention of young users. 39.9% of TikTok users are under 20 years old, according to Business of Apps.
Instagram will continue to ape TikTok’s features like its already done with Lasso and Reels. Similarly, Tiktok will look to eCommerce and influencers to build revenue and relevance.
Blake Chandlee, the man tasked with overseeing TikTok’s US advertising partnerships recently told Hannah Murphy of the Financial Times: “If we found that our consumers are engaging with content and they want to buy products within that content, we will enable that as quickly as possible. We will do a single-click through [for purchases].”
Discussing the importance of influencers to the platform Chandlee continued: “I would love it for brands to be able to . . . brief creators on almost every campaign they run,” adding that enabling influencers to monetise on the platform was a “huge part of our strategy [in] the next couple of years”.
The battle between TikTok and Instagram will become geopoliticised. US authorities will scrutinise TikTok’s parent, ByteDance, to ensure personal data can not be compromised by Chinese authorities. Facebook will attempt to turn TikTok into the bogeyman. It will play on China’s poor track record on censorship.
Measurement and ROI
We’ll think less about whether nano influencers ‘trump’ micro-influencers. Or whether we should focus on mid-tier or celebrity creators. Instead, we’ll focus on our communication and corporate objectives, budgets and how we intend to measure success.
Influencer marketing measurement will continue to inch itself away from vanity metrics. Concerns over influencer fraud and Instagram’s potential removal of likes will expedite this.
We’ll still track engagement rates but our methods will become more sophisticated. They will be benchmarked per industry vertical. Organic content will be measured separately to sponsored content. Theoretical reach will finally give over to true reach. We’ll look toward intent metrics and impact metrics, too.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) played nicey-nicey in 2019. They published guidelines and held seminars to help creators and communicators better understand their responsibilities around advertorials and sponsored content. These watchdogs will start to sharpen their teeth in 2020 for repeat offenders.
In a different form of regulation big tech companies are under threat from antitrust probes.
In the US the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, Congress and a stack of state attorneys-general have started investigations focused on whether Google, Facebook, Amazon and others have unfairly suppressed competition, and harmed consumers in the process.
Breaking up big tech is high on the Democrats campaign ticket for 2020's US presidential election.
Closer to home the OECD has proposed global digital tax plans allowing national governments to tax a tech giants locally.
The concept of virtual influencers will become more than novelty. Our understanding of this subsection of influencer marketing will go beyond Lil Miquela. The US presidential election will pull into the mainstream the phenomenon of deep fakes. Deep fakes will help us to understand the capabilities of virtual influencers and the technology which powers them.
More brand-specific virtual influencers will be created. In 2019 French fashion-house Balmain created Margot and Zhi as in-house CGI clotheshorses. The virtual influencers were designed by Cameron-James Wilson’s creative agency, Diigitals, especially for the brand. Wilson is the brain behind Shudu - heralded as the world's first digital supermodel.
Procter and Gamble’s global prestige skincare brand, SK-II now works with virtual influencer: YUMI. YUMI was designed by technology house Soul Machines to help consumers better match their skin types to SK-II products and to provide tips and advice on beauty product application. More recently Kenna became beauty-brand Essence’s new virtual influencer.
B2B influencer Marketing
B2B influencer marketing budgets will rise. They will remain a small part of many marketing budgets, however. More B2B firms will trial influencer marketing campaigns. Most, however, will get stuck at the tactical level. They will miss the opportunity to embed the discipline across the customer journey.
Influencer marketing agency acquisitions
We’ll see more influencer marketing agencies merge, acquire or shutter. In 2019 Mavrck acquired GroupHigh. Bazaarvoice acquired Influenster. Sir Martin Sorrell’s S4 Capital acquired Amsterdam-based IMA. Marketplaces will manage to differentiate their offering or die. Some agencies will expand too fast; burn through their seed capital and fall by the wayside.
The most innovative and effective influencer marketing campaigns will continue to be platform agnostic.
Instead of starting with the platform smart activations start with the audience. Instagram might well be the preferred channel. However, for B2B influencer marketing, it's just as likely to be LinkedIn, Twitter or blogs.
To tap into gaming's clout communicators will look to Twitch, Mixer, YouTube and Facebook.
Successful influencer marketing programmes will continue to form part of wider communications programmes. These campaigns may well be influencer led, but they might also include media briefings, advertising on Out Of Home assets, earned media and distribution through owned channels.
Influencer marketing need for a shared language
The term: 'influencer' is fast becoming unhelpful. It’s increasingly seen as a pejorative term. It fails to accurately describe the activities within the broad church of influencer marketing. Successful innovation demands a shared vocabulary. A shared vocabulary follows shared values and a shared purpose. These facets are currently missing from our discipline. In order to professionalise and to prosper we need to fix that.
As our industry continues to professionalise more industry bodies such as the BCMA, the CIPR’s influencer marketing panel, Australia’s AIMco, and the Influencer Marketing Association in the US will start to shape the shared language for our discipline.