As the market for becoming a blogger or “influencer” has exploded, brands have taken notice of this alternative way to traditional advertising and reaching niche audiences. Influencer marketing took off in 2016 and 2017 as a result of the growing popularity of social media channels like Instagram and its development into a platform to not only stay in touch with friends and family but also connect bloggers and content creators to his or her audience.
To understand the growth we can expect to see moving forward and the trajectory of updates we might see this year, let’s do a little recap on what happened over the past year or so before we dive into 2018.
No idea where to even start with influencer outreach? We break it down here.
Past Updates You Should Know
Instagram Stories and Instagram Live
Instagram Stories was released in August 2016 followed by Instagram Live and then linking in stories for verified accounts in November 2016. These three updates gave a new impact to influencer marketing. Why? Instagram Stories has made it possible for influencers to share more personal reflections of their lives in short clips lasting 24 hours (similar to SnapChat), which makes it a more authentic way to share content than an edited or filtered and pre-planned piece of content you might see on an Instagram feed. Instagram Live took that one step further, enabling influencers to broadcast themselves in real-time. Live can give more visibility to influencers because it includes a push notification to followers’ phones when the influencer is going on Live, which can capture more eyeballs. It also gives another way to engage with an audience because people can comment and ask questions in real-time and have them answered right away.
Finally, linking in Stories became possible for verified accounts, referring to those accounts with a checkmark next to their names. Influencers were able to include a link in their Stories, which allowed brands to create custom UTMs in order to track website clicks and behavioral metrics coming right from Instagram. This was the first step in making Instagram influencer marketing more transparent on the brand side as they could see actual traffic and conversions (dollars) coming from one specific influencer.
Then, in June of last year, linking in Instagram Stories became more accessible. Rather than just verified accounts, any account with at least 10,000 followers and set up as a business profile could now use this link feature on Instagram Stories. This opened the door for micro-influencers to include links and therefore brands have more visibility across the board when working on campaigns that involve Instagram Stories.
In October 2017, Instagram launched a new paid partnership feature. This feature discloses at the top of the Instagram post both on the Instagram feed and on Stories that it is a paid collaboration with a company. Brands have to approve the partnership before the post goes live with this disclosure, but it then gives the brand the insights into the performance of the content available in their Facebook Page insights. This includes insights that have never been readily accessible on the brand side without having to ask the influencer. Right now this is not available to everyone on Instagram, but I expect this to roll out to everyone similarly to what happened with Instagram Stories in early 2018.
It seems like Instagram made this update to combat some issues with the FTC disclosure guidelines, which requires influencers to indicate that the post has been sponsored so their followers know they are not being shown content organically, but rather the influencer was compensated. According to FTC guidelines, influencers still need to disclose in their caption that it was an ad or sponsored post, but this at least gives insights directly to the brand and makes sponsored posts more transparent and adds that extra safety net for disclosures.
In November 2017, Instagram updated its Stories feature to include photos and videos on your camera roll that are older than 24 hours, and includes a sticker with the date it was taken. You probably saw influencers you follow posting a recap of their 2017 year using these throwback photos and videos in early January 2018 as a highlight reel of the year.
In 2018 alone, Instagram has already released a few updates that you can expect to have an impact on your influencer marketing strategies.
The first update is following hashtags. You can now follow a hashtag like you would follow a person or an influencer. This means you should absolutely be creating campaign hashtags for each campaign you do with influencers so you can follow that hashtag and be easily notified of new posts going live. It also means that you should be encouraging influencers to include specific hashtags that relate to the type of content they are creating for you or the type of brand you are.
Another way to use this update to your advantage on the brand side is to encourage influencers in your campaign to include popular hashtags that people follow. For example, if you’re a feminine clothing company, you might consider having influencers you work with include the hashtag #thatsdarling, while if you’re a fitness brand, you might consider having influencers you work with include the hashtag #dailyworkout. That way when someone is following these hashtags but not necessarily that specific influencer, they will see your influencer content too.
There’s been a lot of chatter about the Instagram algorithm changing in the influencer world and amongst brands working with influencers. Influencers and brands are hyper-aware of this because they’re looking at engagement rates. Influencers want a great engagement rate and brands want to work with influencers who have excellent engagement. Today, many influencers are seeing engagement dips on similar posts that used to perform better. What we know as of now, is that Instagram might be prioritizing content to followers based off of how a portion of your followers respond to the content within a short amount of time after you’ve posted.
What this means, is if you post at a prime time and people start to positively engage with likes and comments, then it will be opened up to visibility from more people. On the flip-side, if an influencer posts content at an odd hour and doesn’t get traction right away, their overall engagement might drop off because Instagram won’t prioritize their content to their total following.
What does this mean for brands and marketers? You should make sure influencers are posting at prime hours, usually early morning or after 5 p.m. on weekdays, when audiences are usually more active on social media. Another thing to keep in mind on the brand side is that if an influencer is posting about your brand, you should be requiring them to spread out a second or third post of the day by at least eight hours so their other content of the day is not competing with your sponsored brand post.
Just this week Instagram released another update that makes their API accessible to third-party scheduling platforms. This will make it easier for influencers to schedule out content and for brands to schedule out content and post directly through the scheduling platform. For your influencer campaigns, this means you will be able to confirm a specific day and they’ll be able to schedule it out and know it goes live when planned, rather than having to work around an influencer’s personal schedule. This is important when doing a launch announcement, for example.
2018 Predictions and Trends
Engagement Rates Matter
As more and more people have wanted to grow their social media presence and become an influencer over the past few years, a number of apps and websites were started that offered guaranteed follower growth through the use of bots that engage with other people on Instagram. Additionally, websites and bot networks were created where anyone can buy followers and likes. The result for people who participated in this was inflated follower numbers rather than genuine followers, which can be a slippery slope.
A number of these websites were shut down in 2017 since they did not adhere to Instagram’s guidelines. These fake followers or inflated follower numbers means that now more than ever brands are going to be looking at engagement rate to see if someone’s following is legitimate. Engagement rate is very telling because an incredibly low engagement rate (what we consider under 2%) means their audience could look large but isn’t seeing their content or just plain doesn’t care to engage with it.
As an agency, we look very critically at engagement. This is because more and more influencers are charging for their time and content and it’s becoming more of a pay to play arena. When we receive sponsored rates and media kits from influencers, we have a sense of what other people with similar followings and engagement rates charge, and can easily detect when someone is over-charging.
Influencers with smaller followings (maybe under 10,000 on one channel) but killer engagement (maybe over 1,000 likes on one Instagram post) will be getting more brand deals because they have a legitimate audience. Brands will more likely want to work with these smaller influencers over someone who might have over 60,000 followers but only gets 300 likes per post. I see this only continuing to become a critical factor in brand collaborations and will help weed out influencers who bought their way to the top versus influencers who built a legitimate community of fans and carry clout and true influence.
Content Reigns Queen
Another thing that is always changing with social media is algorithm updates, we’ve talked about a little and how it directly impacts influencers and brands. Chatter amongst the influencer community as of late has been that the algorithm is deflating their ability to have their content be seen. Many are frustrated, by why is this happening?
Chronological order is a thing of the past on Instagram and that’s not new, but the way Instagram is prioritizing content is having some squirm. Influencers who consistently share content have a better shot at reaching their full audience. There are insights on the influencer side, just like on the brand side that shows your top posting times based on the activity of your followers. This is something brands and influencers should be paying attention to. If you’re an influencer, make sure you’re posting at peak times. If you’re a brand, request that your influencer partnerships are posting at their peak times to get the most visibility possible.
I think that the number one way (besides posting at peak times) that people will overcome algorithm updates is to continuously produce better content. Those with high-quality, engaging, real content will rise to the top and those with filler content won’t get the engagement they need to land brand partnerships. Brands are looking at engagement; influencers are hyper-critical to their engagement too. Using other ways to drive people to your influencer’s profiles to build momentum once a post goes live is a great way for a brand to boost overall impressions on their influencer sponsored posts.
For example, if you’re on the brand side you can post on Instagram Stories directing to an influencer post that has gone live and odds are some of your audience will check out their post. More eyeballs garner more eyeballs based off of the latest algorithmic updates, so even if it’s already your audience, you have the ability to capture other people through creating a sense of virality.
Links, Links and more Links
The digital revolution has transitioned traditional PR into online PR. This means print placements are dying (read: dead) and online placements are what every publicist is seeking. Why is this? Links. Links provide better insights into placement performance. With an online PR placement, you can track hard numbers rather than fluff metrics like “impressions” and “readership.” If there’s a link in an article, you can look in Google Analytics to see referral traffic and even conversions coming right from the placement.
This same concept is true with influencer marketing. Influencers can link on YouTube. Influencers can link in Instagram Stories. Influencers currently cannot link on their actual photos on Instagram, nor can they link in their captions. I think that will change in 2018 and I think both of those linking opportunities will open up.
Brands want to know more than just potential reach from number of followers. They want to see results; they want ROI. Right now, these insights are available if you’re creating UTMs that are shared in Instagram Stories. You can actually see how much traffic a specific influencer drove to your website, if they drove sales, and what dollar amount was generated. The only problem is that this is only available in Stories. Since this is such a huge factor in sponsored brand deals, heat from advertisers and brands with big influencer budgets I believe will result in Instagram opening up more linking opportunities.
Influencer marketing will probably not look like what it looks like today even six months from now. The best way to stay on top of influencer marketing trends and tips (besides reading the PDM blog) is to be active on social media yourself and to follow other influencers. As an agency or as a brand, you can even do a poll to some of the influencers you work with to get updates from them on trends they see from the influencer perspective. Here are some immediate actions you can take to improve your influencer strategy:
- Utilize Instagram Stories with UTMs
- Check engagement rate before locking in an influencer deal (should be over 2%)
- Be skeptical of high-priced sponsored partnerships
- Ask influencers for their demographics
Looking for other PR tips in 2018? Check this out: 6 PR Tips to Keep In Mind Heading Into 2018