The influencer marketing landscape continues to evolve at such a rapid pace, we now have a whole new set of challenges and opportunities to take on, as 2020 proved to be a challenging year but also created a lot of new opportunities within the social media and influencer marketing industry. We asked 15 influencer marketing experts what we could expect for influencer marketing in 2021, and beyond. Learn where your focus should be, what changes are coming and some future trends to keep an eye on. The only constant in our industry is change, so stay current, and you’ll see some handsome returns on your marketing campaigns!
Brian Mechem - Grin
Time-on-phone stays at COVID levels providing enough eyeball inventory for Clubhouse to blow up and Tik Tok to scale while incumbents Instagram and YouTube stay strong. Creators are prioritized by platforms more than ever due to increased competition at the network level. Consumers follow the creators, so better monetization options and more favorable content rights become battlegrounds. Integrated shopping is prioritized by networks as well. Seeing influencer marketing + DTC perform during the pandemic while other marketing and distribution channels suffered, legacy brands invest more into influencer marketing and it finally becomes a core strategy for them. This leads them to bring the function in-house vs outsource influencer efforts. The larger brands start to acquire more DTC brands to gain their social strategies. On the vendor side, influencer marketplaces (opt-in networks, etc.) continue to decline due to their inauthentic nature and lack of robust technology solutions. The definition of "influencer" expands.
Mae Karwowski - Obviously
1. Video will be more essential than ever. We saw video content take off in 2020, from lives to short-form videos to shoppable video streams. Influencers are churning out great, engaging, fun video content, and brands are going to have to get on board and invest more heavily in video if they want to retain engagement among audiences in the year ahead.
2. Brands will hire influencers to create content - perhaps more than agencies. When the pandemic sent everyone into lockdown, many brands were left struggling to get enough of the visual assets they needed from their traditional creative agency partners. Enter the influencer, who was able to fill the gap with professional, engaging, and beautiful content that can be used across a marketing mix at a fraction of the price. We’ve seen a marked uptick in brands hiring influencers to create content, and we expect this to grow in 2021.
3. TikTok will continue to become more brand-friendly. With TikTok’s ban woes under Trump seemingly in the rearview mirror, we expect the platform to continue to roll out new and better self-service options for advertisers and marketers. On the influencer marketing front, we’re looking forward to seeing more tools that make it easier for brands to use organic content in paid campaigns, track performance, and include shoppable links.
4. Music copyright infringement will become an industry-wide concern. It might not be common knowledge, but influencers and brands cannot use copyright music in sponsored content without paying a licensing fee, even if that hit track is readily available for use on a platform and is going viral with creators. Record labels are becoming more aggressive about going after brands that illegally use their music, and we anticipate this will become a more central issue in the influencer industry in the year ahead.
5. Brands will figure out how to incorporate Reels into their marketing plans. Instagram launched TikTok competitor feature Reels in August 2020, and few brands have yet to figure out how to make the most of it in their campaigns. With Instagram updating their product to prioritize Reels, however, we can count on the most innovative agency strategists and brands to figure out how to maximize the feature in their influencer campaigns.
6. Shared values will drive brand-influencer partnerships. Creators are moving away from the idea that their Instagram feeds are just mini Vogue magazines and moving toward partnerships with brands that share their values. The gravity of current affairs in the last year has reshaped influencers’ ideas of what it means to have influence - what you talk about, the issues you care about, and the brands you partner with. Expect shared values to play a much larger role in brand and influencer partnerships going forward.
Danny Palestine - Julius
As we look forward to a bright 2021, we must look back at 2020 to understand consumer mindsets and social behaviors, and to determine the appropriate stories to tell. In a year overwhelmed with uncertainty and social strife, it will be more important than ever to focus on storytelling over (vanity) metrics. Leaning into stories filled with levity, empathy, and intuitive utility will be essential for connecting with a mostly-virtual culture, which influencers should be ready to lead. Emotional bandwidth is limited—leaning into causes, personal interests, regionality, and other consumer demo- & psychographics will be essential to bring consumers in with open, authentic arms. Finding creators and storytellers that personify and complement these elements will be essential to level set and quickly build rapport with consumers. By positioning them as the connective tissues throughout your integrated media mix (beyond mere one-off social posts on influencer channels), consumers will see consistency from the brand, which will lead to trust—what is most needed from brands in 2021.
Vivien Garnès - Upfluence
In 2021 influencer marketing will become an increasingly important digital marketing channel for driving sales given the exponential growth of eCommerce. With this in mind, here are the most important trends:
1. Influencer marketing will grow as a strategy to drive eCommerce and social commerce sales. Influencer partnerships and commerce-oriented features on social media channels will fuel online sales. Influencer performance will therefore be measured in terms of conversions and GMV, leaving behind the age of counting likes and engagements to determine ROI.
2. Brands will leverage their networks for authentic partnerships. Content based on real brand affinity delivers the best results. Brands will activate influential customers, web visitors and followers as brand ambassadors, bringing a genuine level of authenticity to partnerships.
3. AI and machine learning will boost ROI. AI influencer matching and better automation will make campaign workflow infinitely more efficient, saving businesses time and resources, resulting in a higher ROI.
Jeff Melton - CreatorIQ
In 2021, we will be entering the third generation of influencer marketing - or what we see as the convergence of customer experience (CX) and influencer marketing. The once tactical, ad hoc discipline finds its place on the CMO's agenda as a core pillar of customer experience and digital transformation.
- The first generation of influencer marketing focused on reach via influencers' followers.
- The second generation of influencer marketing built on the first generation by focusing on content.
- We are just now entering the third generation, focused on long-term, multifaceted influencer & consumer partnerships as a customer experience (CX) pillar.
Long-term partnerships & elevated influencer experiences are topics that influencer marketing practitioners understand well. Still, to Sr. Leaders in the C-suite, the idea of connecting enduring influencer partnerships to customer experience strategies can be a nebulous one. For those Sr. leaders, we ask the following three questions:
1. If a celebrity comes into your brand's ecosystem, do they receive an elevated experience?
2. Do you believe social media influencers have as much credibility as traditional celebrities - especially among younger audiences such as Gen Z?
3. If a social media influencer comes into your brand's ecosystem, do they receive a personalized, elevated experience? With the above questions, Sr. Marketers instantly realize they forget to include a high-value cohort, influencers, within their customer experience strategies. The questions we typically get next usually get quite pedantic:
- “Do we need to bring everything in-house, or can we still engage our agency partners?”
- "How do we create the next generation influencer marketing strategy?"
- "How do we connect influencer data sets via platforms like CreatorIQ to our CDP, DMP, or CRM to analyze which customers have influence?"
- "How do we elevate the omnichannel experience of our influential customers in ways that yield organic advocacy and brand love?"
- "How do we augment our brand health tracking to account for influencers' perception of our brand?"
- "How do we design a customer decision journey for influencers given their unique psychographics?"
The thoughtful questions go on from there.
Alessandro Bogliari - The Influencer Marketing Factory
Social Commerce will be one of the main core focus for both social media apps and influencer marketing: several apps will work on how to better integrate content, live streams and video-on-demand with products/services showcase, thanks to 1-click purchases options and a stable integrated mobile payment system. Influencer marketing will work to make social commerce even more user-friendly and easy-to-buy: this will open up a new revenue stream as a mix of affiliation fees on third-party websites and sales on influencer’s own merchandise. 2021 will start transforming social media from mere entertaining apps to e-commerces where authentic and relatable user-generated videos will smoothly bring the followers to buy certain products.
Roger Figueiredo - #paid
Creators will be the new retailers. I'd love to see creator-curated and owned retail stores. Not just online, though. Post-covid, I think we'll creator run their own pop-ups in different cities showcasing and selling their favorite things. I don't think something like this should be exclusive to brands. Creator will get in on it.
Jim Tobin - Carusele
With limited access to content studios and photoshoots, many brands looked to hire influencers specifically for their content creation capabilities last year. As we move into 2021 and businesses continue to work remotely, we expect brands to continue to partner with influencers in this manner.
We’re also hopeful that in the new year the industry will become more consistent when it comes to influencers rates and pricing models. Often our team finds themself in a position where several influencers, all of which have similar follower counts and engagement rates, return drastically different rate cards. This isn’t necessarily the influencer to blame, as brands are also often unsure of what they should be paying their influencer partners. Hopefully, this changes in 2021 and we have a set industry norm.
Renata Milicevic - Post For Rent
In the last 12 months the value of influencers has become clear even for the sceptics. In the times of no physical events, which include the content productions as well, brands suddenly realised that influencers can help them create content and reach their audience.
What we expect in 2021 is the continuation of the trend, but also a more distinguished and respected role of influencers who used their influence for higher purpose, and not only as an advertising space. More creative power will be given to influencers, serving literally as a content production arm for brands. The shift from short-term to long-term collaboration will be inevitable, as it will allow both brands and influencers to be more credible and authentic.
The business of influence will become a more regulated space in markets where it's not regulated enough, and Influencer marketing's role in brands' marketing mix will be an integral one (where it's not already).
Sarah Levin Weinberg - Stellar
Live stream and live shopping popularity and use in influencer marketing dramatically increased in 2020 due to the pandemic and will explode in 2021.
Live streams lift the curtain between participants, opening an opportunity for unique interaction and enabling brands to reach multiple objectives: high visibility – due to the live itself and its replay recording - unique engagement, web traffic, sales and even purchases forecast - through potential customers' live questions and feedback. We see our clients plugging more and more exciting promotions via interviews, behind-the-scenes, reviews, product placements, unboxing, demos, giveaways and so on.
Live shopping did meet a huge success in Asia and North America and is now conquering Europe. Major players have joined the trend in various ways: Alibaba through Taobao, Amazon through its QVC-like Amazon Live and the social media giants: From Facebook and Instagram with the launch of their Live Checkout to TikTok with their recent Christmas pilot with retailer Walmart. We also see more and more of our clients incorporating lives on their own webshops as they know that leveraging their influencers – whether brand ambassadors, employees or clients – will create excitement around their products and boosts their conversions.
Shelly Chadha - Fanbytes
Whilst video influencers will still reign supreme in 2021, I predict that we'll start to see the rise or at least building of the foundations of the audio influencer. With the rise of Clubhouse, the audio-only platform that is investing in early creators on the app, and 'Twitter Spaces', who are testing out a similar format, I believe the audio advertising space will see an uplift in 2021 where audio influencers will be at the forefront.
Ricky Ray Butler - BEN Group
In 2021, the influencer marketing industry will continue to experience a massive change by way of decentralization, specifically within live streaming where we will see both established and new platforms joining the live streaming wars. The explosion of social media platforms put creative power and monetization opportunities in the hands of everyday people and influencers, allowing content creation to become an accessible, generational expression of art that millions participate in every year.
In 2021, brands will recognize that technology like AI is nonnegotiable, as the growing rate of content creation and distribution far exceeds what any human can feasibly process. By leveraging structured and unstructured data, AI can guide us through an endless sea of creators and content to accurately provide recommendations that will yield the most ROI. In 2021, this data will equip brands with the necessary knowledge to execute impactful, authentic campaigns that better resonate with audiences.
Chris Raniere - Lumanu
Brands will continue to form longer-term relationships with key creators that match their brand values. The use of creator content and their audiences for advertising will start to enter the mass market as big consumer brands learn from smaller disrupter brands. Technology will begin to focus on truly helping the creators run and grow their businesses. Technology to protect creator IP as well as improve their business transaction efficiencies across all media channels will start to take center stage.
Paul Johnson - Lumanu
1) "Creator" will start to replace "Influencer" as creators are recognized for the production value and quality of their content, not just social media follower count.
2) Paid amplification across channels will be a given , not an afterthought. As brands invest more in internal teams and tools to manage influencer initiatives, ROI is now measured in terms of ROAS (return on ad spend). Influencer content, identity and audience are what drives success in 2021.
Brandon Brown - Grin
Transactional networks and marketplaces will continue to decline. This is because the best brands prefer going direct to influencers so they can foster authenticity in the content. The broader ecosystem of brands will start looking at the leaders within ecommerce and D2C for best practices. They want to understand how these challenger brands have been able to disrupt incumbents, primarily with an influencer-first strategy. This will accelerate innovation within the space for the slow movers. The consumer will further blur the definitions between influencers, affiliates, athletes, ambassadors and more - as they don’t care to tell the difference. This perception shift at the consumer level will start signaling to brands that a more robust strategy is required to fully maximize the influencer opportunity.