This article was originally posted on forbes.com and authored by John Hall.
Imagine what your relationships with your spouse, friends, family, or business partners and audiences would look like without trust. If those relationships even still existed, they’d probably be on thin ice, and it wouldn’t take much for them to fall apart.
Trust is critical in every part of our lives. It’s the most important factor affecting content marketing and PR today, and the ways we build that trust have changed in recent years.
For example, influencer marketing has skyrocketed in just the past year or so, and for good reason. Not only can influencer marketing help you reach new audiences, but a trusted influencer can also lend credibility to your brand and make it easier for you to build trust with his or her followers.
But you can’t just jump right in and start spending money on influencer marketing without understanding the trends that shape it. If you’re already using it or you’re thinking about adding it to your strategy, here are eight trends you need to know:
1. Greater influence will be more important than a bigger check.
Think about why you partner with an influencer in the first place: because she has something that’s valuable to you. Well, that works both ways. You have to offer her something of value to gain access to her audience.
I’ve learned that what’s often most valuable to an influencer isn’t a huge paycheck — it’s more influence. An influencer is only as valuable as the influence she has. So if you can build your own internal influence first and bring that to the table, you can offer her something very valuable: the opportunity for her to tap into your networks, grow her influence, and monetize her brand.
2. Micro-influencers will be the new influencers.
In my recent article on PR trends, I discussed how important niche and trade sites are for content because they tend to attract more engaged audiences. The same idea applies to influencer marketing. Eighty-two percent of people are likely to follow a micro-influencer’s recommendation, which proves you don’t need to rely on huge mega-influencers to advocate for your brand.
Companies tend to write off micro-influencers and focus too much on seeking out the most influential people in their areas, but that’s not always the best route. In my experience, some of the best influencer marketing strategies include a variety of smaller and lesser-known influencers who don’t let ego get in the way. As long as you work with a variety of people and place an emphasis on brand advocacy, micro-influencers can be extremely valuable.
3. Earned influencer marketing will outpace paid efforts.
Very often, influencer marketing is lumped into what most companies would categorize as “paid marketing” because they pay others to advocate for the brand. But with the continued rise of contributors at online publications who are more concerned with content for their audiences than getting paid, I see a new area of influencer marketing emerging.
4. Paid influencer marketing will become more authentic.
Getting paid to talk about a product’s amazing qualities without also disclosing that the endorsement is an ad won’t fly anymore — as demonstrated by the FTC cracking down on the Kardashians for this earlier in the year. But just because influencers will need to explicitly disclose their paid relationships doesn’t mean they can’t also truly enjoy the product, service, or brand they endorse.
It will be vital to find influencers who actually use or like the brand so their endorsements are real and followers continue to trust what they say. Stay away from those who will say or do anything if you pay them enough money, and seek out the right influencers who can offer authentic, natural endorsements of your brand.
5. Influencer relationship management teams will give you the edge.
Influencers are on their way to becoming as valuable to your brand as your customers, so it’s time to start treating them similarly. That means nurturing them and committing teams to managing those relationships.
Just as companies use customer relationship management strategies, we’ll start seeing more and more use influencer relationship management teams to focus on outreach and relationship-building with influencers. So if you’re still half-assing your approach to influencer marketing, don’t expect to see incredible results. To compete with other brands and attract the best influencers, you have to carefully manage your influencer relationships.
6. Qualitative and quantitative measurements will become more vital.
Measurement and ROI will always be critical, and performance-driven influencer marketing will allow marketers to better evaluate whether an influencer successfully boosts the brand or product. However, examining hard numbers alone isn’t the only way to determine the effectiveness of your efforts.
For example, American Express recently did a great job of consistently involving influencers in its Small Business OPEN Forum, so I used it as an example more than 20 times in different ways in my keynotes. It would be difficult for AmEx to put a number on exactly how many people I reached, but identifying that an influencer spoke to large crowds and used it as a good example would likely show a benefit to its brand.
Identifying both quantitative and qualitative measurements will be important. Did you earn links from other influencers picking up your content? Are you turning these influencers into brand advocates? Did you generate leads or form partnerships? In the past, metrics like traffic and views were the only ones teams looked at. As technology advances and we learn more about influencer marketing’s various benefits, you can measure your efforts more accurately and use it to improve your strategy.
7. Artificial intelligence will make influencer marketing data make sense.
Tracking ROI can be complicated, especially if your team is looking at both qualitative and quantitative touchpoints, so the right technology will be extremely valuable to influencer marketing. CEO Vince Lynch of IV AI, the first artificial intelligence agency, says a trend for progressive teams will be to use artificial intelligence to clarify ROI.
“Influencer marketing is very much about disparate numbers: reach, target, demographics, budgets, timing, etc., which means it presents an interesting challenge for machine learning,” he said. “It’s about asking the right questions, running the right algorithms based on the data, and using a hybrid approach to machine learning that offers new insights across entire campaigns.”
We should already be looking at the data, and this kind of technology will make us even better at analyzing it and improving our relationships with the audience as well as influencers. This will make influencer marketing more measurable than ever.
8. Treating influencer relationships like one-night stands won’t fly.
Don’t get what you want from an influencer and immediately move on to the next. Remember that the best, most effective influencer relationships happen when you commit to each other long-term, not just for one-off opportunities to get your brand mentioned.
Sure, you might see some short-term success with an approach like that, but it won’t differentiate you in the long run. The world is getting smaller, and you want these influencers to return to you, not your competitors, for partnerships. Treat them right, and they’ll be more inclined to work with you in the future.
For example, when I work with brands for an event and receive great treatment, I actively look for ways to help them. But when someone just wants to use me for an introduction or to write about a brand, I can see right through it — and I become much less likely to advocate for that brand.
Influencer marketing will only continue growing. To make the most of it, you’ve got to understand and be prepared for these major trends. What other trends in influencer marketing have you noticed? Let me know in the comments.