Influencers continue to be a part of many brand marketing strategies, with a surge in data-driven tools and features offered by social platforms, such as TikTok Shop, which was rolled out in the US last month.
As Lucy Robertson, Account Director at SEEN Connects, told Influencer Intelligence last year, “While influencer was once the domain of fashion and beauty, now it’s anyone’s game.”
So, along with a proliferation of influencer content, what trends are impacting brand strategies in 2023/2024, and how are marketers looking to succeed? I spoke to several industry experts…
- Unpolished content
- Long live the curators and creators
- Delivering ‘niche at scale’
- AI: from ‘signal liquidity’ to deep fakes
- Regulation of generative AI?
- First-party data
- Social commerce
Authenticity has been a term widely used in association with influencer marketing over the past few years, but in 2023, it has been even more prominent.
“One constant [this year] is the popularity of raw and authentic content – as we saw with the recent popularity of Tube Girl, leading to the creator striking successful partnerships with Hugo Boss among others,” Thomas Walters, Europe CEO and founder of influencer marketing agency Billion Dollar Boy, told Econsultancy.
This content has altered the way brands advertise. We’ve seen a seismic shift [away] from adverts that feature polished brand assets…
– Jennifer Quigley-Jones, Digital Voices
Similarly, Keith Foggan, founder at social agency System, said that “TikTok has a soft spot for real, raw, unpolished content. People want to follow accounts they feel are relatable, rather than aspirational.”
“It’s a part of the reason that 2023 has been the year of the micro-influencer, with larger accounts seeing a decline in engagement – due to their track record of promoting just about anything and everything.” In contrast to this, Foggan continued, “users are also looking for niche, diverse influencers that don’t necessarily have mass appeal but speak directly to them. That need for connection is another driver behind the trend.”
Jennifer Quigley-Jones, CEO and founder at independent agency Digital Voices, also noted “unpolished content” as one of the biggest trends of this year so far, citing TikTok’s “content-first” algorithm as the reason for its explosion.
“This content has altered the way brands advertise. We’ve seen a seismic shift from adverts that feature polished brand assets, to including UGC and influencer content in ads as standard. Influencers now truly sit at the heart of media plans – not just producing quirky and unexpected content for their own channels, but also for brand channels, OOH, CCTV and paid.”
Even as unpolished influencer content has risen in popularity, a sense of ‘authenticity’ doesn’t mean that consumers will buy in. Shray Joshi, CEO and Founder of Good Peeps, an agency that helps brands scale online, told Econsultancy that a “value transfer” is now vital for influencers to build an audience that’s willing to convert.
These “information curators” as Joshi calls them – personalities such as Andrew Huberman or Jay Shetty – are “trusted and specialised voices in their own topics or fields, who have now become the voices that people look to for their information,” he said.
Influencers are no longer. Long live the creator – less ‘look at me’, more ‘this is what I’m interested in.’
– Jonathan Trimble, And Rising
In many ways, this is one element of what Jonathan Trimble, Co-Founder and CEO at And Rising, a creative ventures company, refers to as the “death of the social graph” (i.e. judging content by connections and followers), which he says previously underpinned influencer marketing, and has now been replaced by “interest-based algorithms.”
“Influencers are no longer. Long live the creator – less ‘look at me’, more ‘this is what I’m interested in,’” he stated.
System’s Keith Foggan notes how brands are actively creating value-focused content in partnership with influencers. “The most successful influencer campaigns right now are ones that have a particular audience in mind. In such an oversaturated market, the only way to make your campaign stand out is to create an ad that is tailor-made, very considered and has a point of difference,” he said.
To highlight his point, Foggan cited a recent campaign by System for Most Wanted Wines, in partnership with the dating app Thursday. This came about after “spotting that dating and relationships were big shared interests with their [wine-loving] audience.” said Foggan. “Finding that sweet-spot and activating with a campaign that had a real-world activation made making compelling content a breeze.”
“It’s been an ongoing trend for a while now but the challenge to brands currently is how to deliver ‘niche at scale’ without compromising the trust built with those small communities.
– Thomas Walters, Billon Dollar Boy
Indeed, Billion Dollar Boy’s Thomas Walters said that brands can drive higher engagement rates and even grow advocacy by engaging with sub-cultures and more niche communities, but also that brands should be mindful of doing so without due diligence.
“It’s been an ongoing trend for a while now but the challenge to brands currently is how to deliver ‘niche at scale’ without compromising the trust built with those small communities. Careful research and a patient approach to building relationships is crucial, with rewards and incentives baked in to nurture and build on the community-brand relationship,” said Walters.
Digital Voices’ Jennifer Quigley-Jones also commented on the shift to this new social landscape, where “the crucial power of influencer marketing is engaging with niche communities at vast scale.”
“Brands need to think about their customers in terms of interests and communities they engage with, then use influencers to reach them and take part in those conversations,” she said. “These can be communities based on interests, identities, personal challenges, lifestyle etc. But if brands get the power of influencer right, they will rapidly build awareness, trust, and drive sales.”
Ultimately, said Quigley-Jones, “I’m excited to see influencer marketing challenge the idea of demographic and psychographic customer personas that have been fundamental to marketing strategies for decades.”
Artificial intelligence has infiltrated multiple areas of marketing, and the world of influencers is no exception, says And Rising’s Jonathan Trimble, who highlights the technology’s ability to “find an audience rather than having to target them.”
“Like any other machine learning technology, if you put a range of content out there, it will begin picking up signals about who (if anyone) might be interested in what you’re doing. These signals are amassed over every kind of viewing and engagement behaviours,” he explained.
“TikTok’s “signal liquidity” and its ability to match content to an audience is the most powerful we’ve seen – unlike Meta and others who grew up on the social graph. You may be surprised by what you learn through the process. The technology’s ability to scan these signals at scale is way faster than any human instincts or media strategist.”
Keith Foggan also cited Meta as a company making progress with AI, after the company announced a new feature which turns top celebs such as Tom Brady, Snoop Dogg and Kendall Jenner into AI chat bots.
“At launch, they’ll only be able to chat over text, but will be available to businesses and influencers in time. Whether users will latch on to these bots, in a time where people are actively looking for more authenticity remains to be seen,” he noted.
Foggan issued a word of caution, too, commenting on deep fake content that is seemingly still slipping through the cracks, despite TikTok putting regulations in place to tag AI-generated content on the app.
“However, creators should be free to try out AI-generated tools and create content using these tools,” he said, “it’s just important they are clear about what is AI-powered and what isn’t, otherwise there is risk for audience confusion, distrust and apathy towards influencers.”
For Billion Dollar Boy’s Thomas Walters, AI is becoming more of a workplace reality, particularly when it comes to supporting tasks like writing copy and streamlining processes. He also explains how creators are increasingly using the technology themselves.
“We’re currently witnessing a growing sub-section of creators building out their social media presence through AI, either by using existing open source tech or with creators building their own AI,” he said. “For example, image generation tools like DALL-E and Midjourney are being used to create images from text prompts and software that facilitates video and audio editing, like RunwayML, Adobe Premiere Pro and Descript, is also becoming increasingly popular, particularly among podcasters.”
Despite predicting that generative AI will further evolve in 2024 – for example, being used in conjunction with virtual influencers – Walters also says that advances in regulation will also need to happen.
“As with all new emerging tech, generative AI doesn’t come with a rule book in the creator economy and beyond. And, when the democratisation of technology puts the power back in the hands of the individual, there will always be the need for ethical and moral considerations which we cannot foresee in such a young and quickly evolving space,” he said.
However, Walters also noted the importance of striking the right balance, explaining that “we should be wary of implementing overly restrictive regulations before we’ve had a chance to really understand the capabilities of AI in the industry and the potential benefits it can bring.
“Ultimately, the final wording of any regulatory updates must be informed by people that truly understand the technologies and industries.”
Another recent shift within marketing is the focus on first-party data, fuelled by the phasing out of third-party cookies. Influencer marketing is also set to be impacted, with “a huge opportunity to prove the value of influencer marketing with first-party data,” suggested Jennifer Quigley-Jones.
Our clients share anonymised first-party data, so that we can analyse the true impact of our campaigns and scale where we see success.
– Jennifer Quigley Jones, Digital Voices
“Firstly, the data on influencers’ audiences will be far stronger than before,” she explained. “The tools and agencies that succeed will need to have tech API integrations to truly seize the opportunity here and validate their offerings. This offers a better opportunity for brands to know exactly who they are reaching. If influencers also use the opportunity to engage more directly with their audiences, they can demonstrate even more value and provide qualitative and quantitative insights to brand partners.”
“Secondly,” continued Quigley-Jones, “true influencer marketing agency partners should be growth partners for brands. Our clients share anonymised first-party data, so that we can analyse the true impact of our campaigns and scale where we see success. Do not only see influencer content as something that lives on a social media platform. It’s a full funnel marketing strategy. Sharing data is crucial for making smart decisions.”
System’s Keith Foggan cited a similar opportunity stemming from new tools such as the TikTok Creator Marketplace and Meta’s business suite, which enables for greater transparency between influencers and brands.
“Brands now have a better understanding of an influencer’s specific reach and engagement rate, which could change the way you utilise that influencer – for example, perhaps they have a better engagement on Instagram stories than reels etc,” he explained.
More brands may also bring creators in-house as a result of the quest for first-party data, creating an opportunity for users to opt-in to brand comms. “The strategy between serving that community, the brand, and sales objectives requires careful attention,” warns And Rising’s Jonathan Trimble.
Lastly, experts cited social commerce as a trend that is yet to come to full fruition, but is well on the way, with influencers increasingly driving both engagement and sales via social platforms. Jonathan Trimble predicts that this will come to the forefront in the near future, with TikTok in particular “playing the role of full funnel media platform from discovery through to sale all within the app.”
Keith Foggan agreed with this notion, commenting that “ecommerce on TikTok and other similar platforms will be streamlined, personalised and, most crucially, all in one app. Influencers will play a huge role in this, especially on TikTok, which has essentially turned into a hub of product recommendations,” he said.
Interestingly, Foggan suggests that livestream shopping will also emerge. “Looking at viral trends,” he stated, “brands should definitely be integrating live streams into their influencer strategies.”
More for Econsultancy members
- Evolving social commerce and social media – Digital Shift Q4 2023
- Lower CPMs but higher in the funnel? How are advertisers measuring success on TikTok
- Social Media Advertising Best Practice Guide
- Social Quarterly: Q3 2023
Econsultancy provides training in social media and influencer marketing.