2018 Influencer Marketing Trends: Mid-Year Report

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TL;DR: After a rough start to 2018, influencer marketing faces growing scrutiny. From harsher vetting techniques to new payment models, we check in on five key trends and ask the tough question: What happens after everyone becomes an influencer?

Early into 2018 we examined the bad headlines influencer marketing received at the start of the year. Have things gotten any better? Did marketers get a wake-up call? We check in on five trends and predict how they’ll evolve the rest of the year.

The issue of fake followers is nothing new, but marketers are finally talking about it out in the open and putting influencers on notice.

1. Influencers Can No Longer 'Fake It 'til They Make It'

The conversation about influencer transparency is finally taking center stage. Since The New York Times exposé on the rampant trend of buying followers, Twitter has purged tens of millions of fake accounts from its platform, and marketers, it seems, are finally getting the wake-up call. In a headline-making move, Unilever CMO Keith Weed took to the Cannes Lions stage in June to announce that the company would no longer work with influencers who have purchased followers. He put the same call to action out to his fellow advertisers and Instagram itself, urging them to take action in order to preserve the integrity of the industry.

The issue of fake followers is nothing new, but marketers are finally talking about it out in the open and putting influencers on notice. Declining organic reach and constantly evolving algorithm changes place influencers under the same pressure as brands to keep their numbers from plunging. But resorting to purchasing followers or engaging in comment pods may not be a solution for them much longer.

Our prediction: Influencers won’t be able to sell themselves on follower counts alone as marketers beta test new payment models based on engagement thresholds, rather than reach. 

 2. Reckless Disclosure Violators Will Be Put on Notice

In 2017, the FTC began turning its sights directly on influencers, issuing 90 warning letters to social media stars, including celebrities and athletes about improper disclosures. By September of that year, the owners of online gambling site CSGO Lotto settled the FTC’s first-ever complaint against individual influencers. While we’re still waiting for the next big FTC hammer to drop, chatter about the fashion brand Dior is picking up steam in online spheres about a suspicious campaign promoting a new handbag. Could this be “the dress” 2.0?

Our prediction: The FTC will bring suit directly against influencers in a single industry, putting advertisers into a scramble to update contracts and institute standard disclosure tags across the board.

3. 'Influencer' Is out. 'Creator' Is in.

In a candid survey of influencers by the platform, Julius, results found that the label of “creator” eclipsed “influencer” in popularity for the first time with 50 percent of respondents preferring the former title compared to 31 percent who preferred the latter. While some may see this as influencers’ attempt to distance themselves from the souring name, it could be more indicative of the way brand collaborations are evolving. In another Ad Week report, 79 percent of influencers said they plan to create more branded content this year. For example, with the rise of IGTV and Facebook Watch, influencers are finding value (and big pay days) from producing more video content.

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Our prediction: Creator collaborations will trend towards long-term contracts that elevate the influencer’s work to platforms beyond just social channels.

4. Not Yet at the Ethical Tipping Point, We’re Bracing for the Next Scandal

Logan Paul’s New Year’s Day scandal hasn’t knocked him out yet. The infamous YouTuber has revealed to his fans that he’s filming a documentary about his very difficult months following the backlash against his Suicide Forest video.

While YouTube has updated its Community Guidelines and YouTube Partnership Program eligibility to curb monetization of inappropriate and extremist content, many critics say it does little to punish the top channels and suffocates emerging vloggers. Third-party enforcement guidelines might be one solution. Fledgling industry groups like the Influencer Marketing Association and Visit California’s Digital Influencer Advisory Board are attempting to do just that — bring greater transparency and integrity to the space.

Our prediction: Advertisers will start integrating “morality clauses” into their contracts, but some brands (and fans) will easily forget influencer missteps only to get duped again.

5. The Micro-Influencer Trend will Implode

The antidote to many of the trends mentioned above, has often been the “micro-influencer.” Touted for their smaller but more genuine engagement, micro-influencers deliver that double knock-out punch: authentic reach at a lower cost. The problem arises when the bar for micro-influence continues to rise. The limit once set as low as 10,000 to 25,000 followers is now as high as 75,000 to more than 100,000. Additionally, anyone with an Instagram account and a few hundred followers is now claiming “influence.”

A story that interviewed luxury hotel properties revealed that hoteliers are being driven crazy with an inundation of requests from everyone with an Instagram account asking for a free stay. Agencies once blamed themselves for skyrocketing influencer costs, leading to the micro-influencer’s astronomical rise. History might just repeat itself as micro-influence is eroded by everyone with an iPhone feigning social celebrity.

Our prediction: “Micro-influence” will implode as the ceiling cap on what makes them “micro” continues to rise and hacks with smaller followings (and zero clout) dismantle trust from the other end of the spectrum.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Get up to speed on the state of social by reading all our big predictions for social media in 2018.

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