More professionalism, transparency, channels and direct routes to the offer: According to trend reports by Reachbird and Swat.io, this is what brands expect of influencer marketing. The influencer tools conducted a survey of companies, agencies and influencers about this. All involved report a great sense of unease about the negative excesses: fake news, fake followers, purchased comments and, as a result of this, diluted reach and growing division in social areas. Companies and policymakers are growing more critical: In the 2019 election year, the EU is equipping itself with technology to combat influence over elections.
But online marketing managers want their ambassadors to provide verifiable data on fans and reach. Influencers, in turn, are confronted with new rules. “Both influencers and companies are currently in a process of increasing professionalization,” says Martin Faltl, co-founder of Reachbird. Tools provide a way to simplify posting and control. “The industry is going to deal with data networking and management in 2019,” as Florian Hieß of Swat.io, adds. “And with sharing across different systems.”
Trend 1: More transparency and efficiency
Who follows an influencer? How did his or her followers come about? Who leaves comments on his or her posts particularly often? People looking for answers to these questions often run into inconsistencies in the influencers’ accounts. Analytical tools by Google, Reachbird, BuzzBird, blogfoster or Swat.io accelerate control. They point up extreme swings in followership growth that might be a sign of sales of followers, and they also help identify which influencers cooperate with one another, for example in terms of engagement. This leads to increased use of such tools, because they also provide data on the impact of posts. Providers are working feverishly on other functions, such as comparisons of target groups. “The days of free reach and unplanned Facebook prize competitions are gone,” consultant Felix Beilharz says. “That’s why companies need to strengthen their focus on paid reach and creative, unusual strategies to achieve a respectable impact.” They are more cautious in their choice of partners, they invest more money in advertisements, and they place higher demands on influencers’ reporting. By the same token, these tools also help ambassadors target their posts more effectively, for instance, or bring their posts in line with legal requirements by labeling them as advertising. The uncertainty has been high ever since courts of law became involved with influencer marketing. “Artificial intelligence identifies the content and hence the meaning of comments, recognizes image content and can offer greater transparency in real time. This gives the good influencers better cards, leaving the bad ones with fewer and fewer bookings.” That is the hope of Sascha Schulz, Managing Director of the Influencer Marketing Academy.
Trend 2: Automated communication
The significance of Instagram for social media continues to grow while the significance of Facebook is on the decline. No wonder the latter company also wants to open its WhatsApp messenger to advertising and dovetail all the channels. Users’ attention is migrating from feeds to the live and story formats that are more elaborate to produce. Video is growing more important, along with artificial intelligence and, even more so, automation. With AI already assisting with posting and evaluating, companies can also use it to improve their communication with customers: “We’re going to experience an explosion of AI-based (or simply automated) customer communication via bots in 2019,” according to Karim Patrick Bannour, Managing Director at Viermalvier, a digital agency based in Vienna. “From consulting to support, bots are going to handle more and more communication.” And they’ll do this mainly via messenger services, increasingly even across platforms.
Trend 3: Companies are grooming their own influencers
Where their offerings are concerned, brands still rely on influencer marketing. They usually collaborate with a group of external partners for the purpose. Why not with employees or their leading figures? Grooming influencers from within companies’ own ranks is expected to advance employer branding as well as eCommerce in 2019. “Companies with a large customer base or a large workforce at their disposal recognize the potential: customer loyalty and recommendation marketing are merging somewhat,” according to Sascha Schulz of the Influencer Marketing Academy. “This gives customers and employees a greater opportunity to express their enthusiasm for their favorite products, services or employers, through words and images.” This is a trend that should benefit business platforms such as LinkedIn and Xing, perhaps opening up efficient channels to much-needed digital experts or for employer branding.
Trend 4: Hearing instead of seeing
In 2018, podcasts established themselves as a new online medium in the field of voice search and voice control. In response to this, media creators, companies and well-known influencers now offer comments, interviews and essays for users to listen to. “I myself would never have expected the topic of podcasting to become such a focus for marketing,” social media consultant Juliane Benad says. “But podcasting has great potential and generates real attention.” This development is encouraged by the spread of smartphones and users’ desire of users to isolate themselves from unrest and everyday life during breaks or on the bus. What successful podcasts offer is space not just for content marketing but also for jingles and other audio advertising.
Trend 5: Advertising and selling
The trend by which influencers develop products with brands or build their own consumer worlds is no longer entirely new. Now eCommerce and influencer marketing are converging even more closely – because technology bridges media discontinuity: thus far, buyers have been redirected from social media to online shops and often bounce off on the way. There’s a better way to do this: this is why increasingly shop functions or tracking pixels are increasingly integrated into messengers and communities: “A stored customer account integrates the payment method, billing and delivery address, and the sale succeeds without even having to leave the platform. That’s the logical next step,” according to social media expert Bannour. “This boosts impulse shopping, and probably the return rate too, but hopefully it reduces bounce rates.” Amazon relies on advertising and selling, too: the US group has just announced that it will be placing influencers and social media in its marketplace.
The bottom line
Influencer marketing is now becoming more professional and efficient: initial tools make posts measurable and controllable. Thanks to automation, influencers can also be better controlled and the impact of posts gauged. The merger of social media channels will continue to grow, and the announcement by Facebook that is linking its own community, Instagram and WhatsApp is just a first step. Ongoing legal disputes show the issues that still need to be resolved in influencer marketing. This will make it influencer marketing assessable and easier for companies to appraise; combined with entrepreneurial targets, it becomes plannable.