If you’re a marketer, by now you probably know the numbers — or you’re just not paying attention. Influencer marketing is on a tear. The industry is expected to grow to a worth of $13.8 billion this year, compared to $9.7 billion in 2020, and it's predicted to grow 30.3% annually through 2028.
As a partner at an influencer marketing agency that works with big brands, I can assure you that I’m bullish on the space today, but I’m not convinced it’s an industry that will continue to stay relevant in its current form. Many marketing channels have had tremendous runs only to lose their luster. Yellow Pages marketing, print newspaper ads, banner ads, magazine ads, trade show booths, gated content and Snapchat (too soon?) are just a few examples.
So is there anything about influencer marketing that makes it different?
Is there a force that’s powerful enough to topple this industry?
There are really two ways to look at influencer marketing. First, we can look at the industry as it currently stands: Social media creators with large followings are advocating for brands. Second, we can look at influencer marketing as third-party endorsement from trusted sources.
Ultimately, the answer to whether influencer marketing is likely to be toppled depends on how you’re looking at the industry. First, let’s look at what’s safe in the industry.
Third-party advocacy has been around practically forever. Traditional radio has had disc jockeys advocating for local restaurants for generations. You've no doubt heard some form of the following: “I had a great burger last night at the Village Tavern. Head on over there when you’re hankering for a good meal and tell them DJ Sizzle sent you.”
Third-party advocacy probably isn’t going anywhere. As a society, many of us are hungry for people we trust, whether they're disc jockeys or influencers, to make recommendations for us. This puts influencer marketing, when defined more broadly, on very safe ground.
The No. 1 thing that puts influencer marketing as we know it today in danger is the No. 1 thing that makes the industry effective today: trust.
As long as creators are partnering with brands they truly like and support — and are willing to regularly turn down financial opportunities to stay true to their audience — the industry will likely continue to thrive. We’ve seen that for years now.
But what’s really scary is that creators who are focused on their financial gain in the near term rather than the value of their audience's trust (and what that can mean for a creator financially in the long term) have the opportunity to really bring into question the validity of the whole industry.
How can you tell whether this has started to happen for a particular creator? While this is usually a terrible idea for very obvious reasons, reading the comments on sponsored content can give you a great idea of where a particular creator is with their audience. If it feels "off," smart audiences will quickly flag it. In this case, creators will probably lose revenue opportunities in the near term and their ability to monetize their audience’s trust may go to zero in the long run.
And if this trust topples over for enough creators, the industry as we know it will soon follow.
If this happens, third-party advocacy will likely still be alive and well, but the industry will need to identify a new outlet for this advocacy beyond the social media influencers that we know and love today.
To ensure a long and healthy future for influencer marketing, both creators and brands will need to play a part. If you're a creator, consider being more selective about the brands you choose to work with. Consider what will resonate with your audience. If you're a brand, consider being more selective about the creators you work with. Find creators who fit the profile of your target audience and who might have become customers anyway.
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