There has been much debate over the future of influencer marketing. Do brands get enough of a return on their investment when working with influencers? Will this marketing strategy stand the test of time? In late 2018 and early 2019, media outlets like Forbes and Entrepreneur were reporting on ‘the death of influencer marketing’. But, this industry might be more resilient than marketing experts forecasted. In fact, a whole new version of influencer marketing is on the rise, and both brands and ambassadors will need to keep pace and reinvent their content and strategy in order to stay relevant.
Instagram vs. reality
The highlight reel of perfection has had significant consequences on millennials. Research shows that the relationship between social media and mental health is complex, indicating that individuals who frequently use multiple social media platforms report a high emotional connection to them. Those same individuals simultaneously reported higher levels of anxiety and depression.
Many millennials seem just as confused as scientists when asked about the impact of social media on their emotional well-being. Cat Delaney, a recent grad from Laurier University, feels images on social media foster “unreasonable expectations” that she says are impossible to attain. Dr. Leah Smith, a family physician who runs a medical aesthetics clinic in Toronto, shares similar sentiments. She claims that some days her newsfeed can trigger feelings of anxiety and depression, but overall, feels that the impact social media has on her life is more positive than negative.
Evidently, regardless of how successful, wealthy, talented or beautiful you are, chances are that your perfectly curated and expertly colour-balanced Instagram grid is a far cry from your day-to-day reality. Comparing your reality to the social media feeds of the people you follow can feel exhausting, demoralizing and, even, depressing.
Many popular Instagram influencers have begun to speak out about the pressures associated with their careers as brand ambassadors. Alexis Ren, an Instagram influencer with nearly 14 million followers opened up in 2017 about the pressures she experienced as a result of her wildly popular social media presence. “I would look at my profile and be like, 'Look at this girl! She has, like, the most perfect life!' and I would feel so guilty for not feeling blessed all the time”. The truth is, Ren was struggling with an eating disorder, mourning the loss of her mother, and dealing with a toxic relationship all while projecting an idyllic image to her followers.
Authenticity replaces perfection.
This disconnection between reality and a projected image has shifted the tides of influencer marketing. Brands want to see a return on their investment, while consumers want to feel the authenticity of influencers - are they trustworthy, transparent, relatable, and honest? Matt Klein, a cultural strategist at marketing consultancy, Sparks & Honey, says “culture is a pendulum, and the pendulum is swaying. That’s not to say everyone is going to stop posting perfect photos. But the energy is shifting.”
A new wave of influencers are spearheading that change. At the helm are people like YouTuber, Emma Chamberlain, who, at just 18-years-old, garnered nearly 9 million subscribers on the platform, and boasts brand partnerships with Louis Vuitton, Calvin Klein, and Target. Chamberlain’s videos often feature her looking undone with her hair up and no-makeup on, filming through daily, mundane activities that are relatable to her Gen Z audience. Abby Adesanya, the Head of Talent and Influencers for Bustle Digital Group, says that YouTube used to be about high production value videos, but “then Emma came along with her iPhone, laying in bed editing with food on her chest and was like, ‘I’m not going to curate myself like that.’ And people just loved it.”
Lauren McPhillips, the Toronto-based founder of This Renegade Love, a blog focused on empowering and connecting women, also opted for authentic rather than overly-polished content. She sums up her approach with the hashtag #influencewithintention. McPhillips believes that it all starts with trust. “You cannot influence someone until you have earned their trust, because influence is a byproduct of trust,” she says. McPhillips now teaches aspiring influencers how to build trust with their community by highlighting the importance of human connection. She often responds to her social media followers’ questions with voice notes or direct message videos to foster more intimate and personal conversations. With a following of nearly 40,000 on Instagram, her approach certainly seems to be working.
What exactly do brands want?
With a shift from a polished aesthetic to a more raw look, where does this leave brands looking for partnerships with influencers? Will this new style of content be elevated and aspirational enough to entice consumers to purchase products? And, does it even need to be?
Brands like Glossier, Ritual, and Everlane are proof that an imperfect grid can sell. Their content strategies heavily leverage user-generated content (UGC), memes, and re-shared tweets on their Instagram feeds - nothing looks overly polished or perfect. Instead, the focus is on releasing and sharing content their customers actually want to see. Sometimes, that’s just a picture of a sleeping puppy with his tongue sticking out.
Authentic storytelling, cultivating connection, and championing meaningful dialogue and engagement has become the content style of choice, and not surprisingly, brands are ready to go all in. According to Influencer Marketing Hub, marketing spend on influencer-generated content is expected to increase by $9.7 billion in 2020. The question is, can these forward-thinking influencers convert the appetite for authenticity into sales? Will the influencer marketing industry have staying power in an ever-evolving social media environment? We’ll have to wait, and just keep scrolling, to see.
What are your predictions? Share your thoughts on the future of influencer marketing with us in the comments below!