7 Influencer Marketing Trends to Watch in 2018

Kathleen Ohlson is a writer and editor with over 10 years of experience. Previously, she was a high tech reporter covering various topics, including 9/11 and virus attacks. You can follow Kathleen on Twitter, @kaohlson.

Influencer marketing is where it’s at. Gone (well, mostly) are the days of traditional channels; now it’s all about the web and social media. With all of this competition, companies are relying on influencers to get their message – and their brand – to their audience.

Influencers – anyone from celebrities to athletes to everyday people – give a human, empathetic voice to your brand, developing authentic relationships between them and your audience.

But it’s lost some effectiveness recently. The demand to know what’s real content is higher now with the ramifications of the 2016 U.S. elections and new FTC guidelines. And the fallout continues. The New York Times recently revealed actors, companies, a Twitter board member and others allegedly paid for fake Twitter followers, while Unilever threatened to pull advertising from digital platforms unless Google, Twitter and others clean up fake news, racist and other inflammatory language.

So with all of these changes, where does that leave you? Here are some tips to follow this year to get more out of your influencer marketing strategy.

Keep it real.

In light of FTC guidelines, several companies announced programs and algorithms that would allow for greater transparency. For example, Facebook requires influencers to use its branded tool to identify when a shared post is actually part of a brand partnership. But companies are trying to figure out the new algorithms, while making sure their organic influencer content still reaches their followers and isn’t flagged.

One way you can make sure your influencer content reaches your audience is to ensure your influencers clearly disclose they’re being compensated for promoting your brand. Add in #ad or #sponsoredad in a post.

You’ll also need to be vigilant about fake followers and bot-driven engagement. Look for real results like conversions, downloads and product sales and go beyond likes, retweets, comments and click-throughs.  

Remember it’s not always in a name.

Brands have generally felt more comfortable working with well-known influencers, thinking that notoriety would help get more followers. But that’s changing for some companies with the behavior of some influencers and their costs.

The value of influencers isn’t their follower count; it’s their ability to capture the attention of their audience no matter what size it is. You might want to consider micro-influencers, who typically have thousands or tens of thousands of followers. They have a particular interest and expertise that revolves around a specific niche, such as fitness or beauty. Their enthusiasm for that specialty allows micro-influencers to offer a personal touch to their content, establishing them as a reliable voice. While they may not have the name recognition of macro-influencers, micro-influencers’ content generally resonates with their audience because they’re relatable. According to MarketingProfs, 30% of people said they were more likely to buy a product if was based on a non-celebrity blogger’s recommendation, while only 3% said they would consider buying a product if it was celebrity-endorsed.

Brands are now looking to amplify their messaging to smaller, targeted audiences and they’re seeing results. For example, meowbox, a subscription box service for cat owners, saw sales skyrocket after it started sending free boxes to micro-influencers in its target audience.

Stay connected.

Now that you’ve made connections to influencers, the key is to sustain that relationship. Why? They’ll be more invested in your brand. When they know you genuinely care about them, influencers will promote your brand with more enthusiasm. Influencers may even adopt the role of brand ambassador for you.

If your relationship with influencers is more transactional, their followers will see right through that and will less likely be engaged. When you develop a partnership with your influencers, your followers will see that and your brand will have greater access to trends, feedback and new ideas.

Get back to business.

Now that you’re doing all this work, you’re going to want to see results.

Previously, influencer marketing was all about reach and awareness. Now it’s about expanding into driving conversions and engagement. You can track how much revenue influencers bring in, even though there isn’t a monetary value in getting mentioned by them. For example, assign specific UTM parameters to your influencers so you can track what visitors do when they come to your site. Maybe have your influencers share unique promo codes with their audience. Each time a customer uses that code, you can attribute revenue to that specific influencer.

Look into the lens.

Video marketing is where it’s at for marketing, with all of the different options (YouTube Live, Instagram Stories, Facebook Live, etc.) and new technologies making it more accessible, immersive and engaging.

According to MarketingProfs, the average daily amount of time that U.S. adults spend watching digital video content has almost doubled since 2012, increasing from 35 minutes to 72 minutes. And most of that time is spent on mobile devices.

So why do you need your influencers in front of a lens? Your audience wants to watch real people being themselves on camera, rather than a super-polished production. And the most successful influencers show what’s happening behind the scenes or at that moment in their lives.

Expand your footprint.

While the majority of the action may be focused on Instagram, don’t limit your platform use. Look at Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube and even Pinterest.

Most influencers base their pricing on their following, engagement and demand. If the bulk of their offers are on Instagram, then that’ll drive up their pricing. But if you start using other platforms, you may not get the same reach as Instagram, but you’ll likely get better ROI if you pay less and get better conversions.

Go on a journey.

There’s definitely an opportunity for influencer marketing to make an impact at every step of your buyer’s journey.

During the inspiration stage, influencers can discuss common questions about products and services, while they can provide educational and valuable content such as tutorials at the consideration stage. Influencers can incorporate promo codes with your content at the decision/purchase stage to sway audiences. Storytelling at any of these stages will elevate your brand’s image and foster a connection between influencers and their followers.

Yes, there are a lot of changes to how you need to engage with your influencers and how that impacts your influencer marketing strategy -- and there are challenges with new algorithms and regulations, as well as what trends you need to follow. But the most important factor to remember is the importance of developing – and maintaining – an authentic relationship with your influencers and audience.