Want to do a fun exercise? This will only take about thirty seconds, and it will instantly prove to you the value of Influencer marketing. Go into Instagram and look up your favorite brand--clothing brand, fitness brand, beverage brand, etc. Then look up an Influencer in that same space--a famous fitness model, or celebrity, or online entertainer. If you look in similar markets, you'll not only find those influencers representing (or being sponsored by) those brands, but you'll also see that the influencers themselves have bigger and more engaged audiences.
Because people gravitate to people. And as much as a brand can try to be entertaining or engaging, they will always be one step removed. They will be hiring or collaborating or sourcing content from influencers to liven up their pages. But they won't be the influencers themselves--and people would rather go to the source.
One of the most valuable things a brand can do on social media today is to allow influencers to tell their story for them. Take fitness brands, for example. Their primary brand pages tend to be packed with product shots and promotions with influencer content sprinkled in--and as a result, have much smaller audiences than the athletes they sponsor.
The equation should be flipped. Brands should be platforms for influencers, curators of the best influencer content in their niche or market. And if they really want to take it a step further, they would just let the influencers all contribute to and run the brand page: creating Stories, engaging with audience members, etc.
I've been part of the rise of influencer marketing over the past few years. I remember when Vine first came out and I started seeing personalities on there subtly promoting products. It was a glimpse into what has now become a massively profitable industry (for both the influencers and the brands looking to gain targeted exposure).
Seeing that shift in the marketplace, I was the first one at the digital agency I was working at to suggest we start allocating ad spends toward influencers. I was the first one to execute our initial influencer marketing campaigns. And I even became an influencer myself, building an audience on the popular photography app that had just started to catch fire: Instagram.
I have had my own predictions on where influencer marketing is headed as an industry, but I wanted to vet them with someone who has been part of the influencer marketing boom since the beginning:Branden Hampton.
For those that don't know, Hampton saw the opportunities online to build influence very early on, and secured extremely popular handles such as @money onInstagram, @CEO on Twitter, and is responsible for several accounts in the millions, like @Notebook and @F1tness.
Total, Hampton has access to over 33M Followers across all his accounts.
"I saw the opportunity after I had built a huge network of followers on Twitter and Instagram, and brands started approaching me with the opportunity to pay for exposure. That's what made me realize that the marketplace was shifting. You could create content around a specific category as an influencer, you could amass a valuable audience that fits a certain demographic, and then you would have something advertisers would want to pay for in exchange for targeted exposure," said Hampton.
Where I believe influencer marketing is headed is very similar to Hampton's own perspective. When I chatted with him, I explained that soon everyone will be an "influencer" of sorts, and all of social media is going to become a social marketplace.
"Gone is the day of using a celebrity with unrelated clout. Michael Jordan got a deal with Hanes because he's Michael Jordan, not because he necessarily had anything to do with t-shirts. Now all advertising and influencer/celebrity integration will be specifically catered to who the person is and who their audience is. It will become ultra targeted and ultra precise," said Hampton.
He went on to share that celebrity marketing has been around forever, and that brands market to consumers 101 different ways through 101 different mediums. The difference is that today, we are seeing less and less irrelevant advertising. "It's almost to a point where if you see an ad, it was meant for you. It's that targeted," he said.
The reason brands are willing to pay top dollar for influencers to promote their products or services is because of their targeted and engaged audience. But even more so, it's because people will always tell a better story than a brand. Because what's more engaging: a brand talking about how great their protein powder is, or an influencer drinking their protein shake right before hitting a set--all filmed, of course, on the iPhone 7's 4k camera.
If you want to really crush it on social media in 2017, I urge you to strongly consider allocating some of your budget toward working with people. Especially with the rise of Instagram Stories, it would be in your best interest to let the ones living and breathing your brand be the face of it.