The state of influencer marketing in 2016

trust in me

Before Vine’s popularity declined, Vine stars had transcended the platform to become actual celebrities. How has influencer marketing changed as it’s grown?

Justin Bieber has 22 million YouTube subscribers. Rihanna has 21 million. Katy Perry and Eminem, 18 million apiece. These four musicians are among the most famous people on the planet, and none of them has even half the following of Felix Kjellberg.

You know, PewDiePie. The Swedish video gamer who made $12 million last year, as the most-followed person on YouTube. Though PewDiePie largely stays away from marketing (though he has partnered with Mountain Dew in the past) the same can’t be said for many of his fellow social media stars-turned-actual stars.

Logan Paul, a Vine celebrity who has graced the cover of AdWeek, has worked with Verizon, Nike and Dunkin Donuts. Michelle Phan parlayed a YouTube channel about makeup tutorials into a line of cosmetics with L’Oréal. Influencer marketing has been huge for a while. How has it changed as it’s gotten bigger?

Vine declines as Instagram and Snapchat soar

Vine has traditionally been a big platform for social media influencers – Paul has nearly 4 billion loops – but its star is fading. Analyzing the Vine accounts with more than 15,000 followers, influencer marketing technology platform Markerly found that 52% of those users have left the platform. Paul hasn’t posted a new Vine since April.

“I don’t think there’s one specific reason why, but the content is way too short,” says Sarah Ware, founder and chief executive (CEO) of Markerly, who believes Vine became so popular because it was something of a novelty in 2012. “If Vine were to be released now, it probably wouldn’t be that popular because there are so many video platforms now. At the time, it was different, but it hasn’t been able to keep up that momentum.”

Ware doesn’t see the decline of Vine taking away from the popularity of influencer marketing. While the six-second videos were the go-to medium for many advertisers, the same influencers also have presences on other platforms with bigger, more engaged userbases. (Vine is currently ranked 135th in the App Store; Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube are all in the top 10.)

In Ware’s opinion, Instagram is the ultimate platform for influencer marketing. According to a recent Comcast survey, it also now has more advertisers than Twitter. It’s got a young audience, but not so young that brands can’t reach the coveted millennial mom demographic there. In addition, Markerly sees a distinct correlation between Instagram posts and the brands’ site traffic.

insta-vs-twitter

“It’s the place to be for product placement,” says Ware. “If I sell couches and give one to an influencer, every time she posts a picture of her kid on the couch, she’s going to tag my brand.”

There’s also Snapchat, which is having its moment in the sun. But it’s still got some kinks, such as poor discoverability and the fact that many marketers haven’t quite figured out how to navigate it.

Will McDonough, head of brand at KICK, is a fan of turning his Snapchat over to influencers. KICK is all about soccer, and this strategy keeps the media destination from being too one-dimensional.

“It’s unique and it’s fun.” says McDonough. “We want to be that great connector. You like soccer and you also like fashion; there’s a lot of fashion in soccer. We try and find that little Venn diagram where soccer hits the rest of the world in pop culture.”

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As influencer marketing grows, people are becoming more aware of it

Influencer marketing is such a big thing now that many brands have specific influencer strategies.

It’s also so common that McDonough likes to sometimes turn regular KICK fans into influencers, just to switch it up.

kick-instagram

“What can we do that’s going to cut through the noise? Everybody’s got somebody taking over their handle,” he says. “What we try and do is, let’s get a fan to do it because that’s what KICK is about: the voice of the fans. We find cool fans who are good at telling stories and say, ‘Hey man, go to the match and show the audience."”

Working with influencers has also become a much more costly strategy. That Adweek story reported that Logan Paul was paid $1,000 to promote a video game on Vine three years ago; now he can make six figures for brand work.

When it comes to advertising, “costly” is relative. A Super Bowl ad can cost $5 million – so $166,000 per second – but brands keep doing it because they’re in front of the largest TV audience possible.

For Ware, influencer marketing is worth it, if you go about it in a smart way – which many brands are savvy enough to do now. She said that it’s common for brands to contract influencers to do a certain number of posts over a period of time, though reach often determines the price.

expensive

“If you’re putting $25,000 toward Instagram, we’re giving you a total reach of 5 million people,” says Ware. “You can work with a couple of really large influencers, or a ton of smaller ones. You’re paying the same and you’re reaching the same. It’s just, how much content do you want created?

“If you’re able to repurpose that content, it’s really worth it,” she adds.

If these people fit naturally, they’ll help the brands get a lift because ultimately, people like them. But if the influencers are bright enough stars, they can still help the brand get a lift either way because people just like them and want to see what they’re doing.

Does anyone really think Kendall Jenner stops by the Estee Lauder counter at Macy’s to pick up makeup? Probably not. But there are more people in the world following Jenner on Instagram than there are living in Spain, and within a day of Estee Lauder appointing her the face of the brand, its Instagram following shot up by 18%.

I’d add a note of caution. Though I’m sure many people are well-aware that these influencers are being paid by brands for endorsing their products, there are some grey areas here.

Google’s recent use of manual actions around bloggers linking to products in return for freebies may have been harsh in some cases, but it illustrates the importance of clarity in advertising.

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