The past few years brought seismic shifts to the social media landscape, thanks to the rise of TikTok, Facebook’s massive rebrand initiative as Meta and Elon Musk’s rocky acquisition of Twitter.
De-influencing, defined as the act of telling people what not to buy on social media, is trending after the now infamous Tarte Dubai trip, despite the industry growing tenfold since 2016. Is the influencer a dying breed? No, but the state of influencing is changing. Here’s what agencies can expect in the year ahead.
The state of influencer marketing 2023
Although the influencer marketing industry was valued at $16.4 billion in 2022—an 18.8 percent increase from 2021 — it pales in comparison to the 42.3 percent increase from 2020 to 2021. Still, when people ask, “is influencer marketing on the decline?,” the answer remains a firm “no.”
Here’s why: The huge spike in influencer marketing from 2020 to 2021 is largely credited to the pandemic, so those numbers would be hard to replicate in a year of standard consumer behavior. Still, the average growth rate per year from 2016 to 2022 actually exceeds it, at 46.9 percent, according to a recent Oberlo report.
That’s not to say influencer marketing doesn’t have its controversies. At the end of January, beauty influencer Mikayla Nogueira rattled TikTok with a controversial sponsored post for L’Oreal where she was accused of wearing fake eyelashes to show the “after” of a mascara product, and has since been accused of editing other images on Instagram. It all raises an eyebrow towards the future of influencer marketing.
So, what will influencer marketing look like in 2023?
Partnerships might look different than they did in years past, but there are still opportunities to work with influencers. Here are some influencer trends to help your clients nail their social media strategy in the current climate.
The rise of micro-influencers and nano-influencers
One of the reasons consumers used to trust influencer recommendations is because influencers on social media felt like people they know — like friends. Once considered more trustworthy than traditional celebrities, many have since amassed enough of a following to elevate their status to something of a mini-celeb.
To that end, it’s not always the biggest stars with the largest following that will have the greatest impact on your campaigns. Reach influencers with smaller audiences that best align with your target demographics. Micro-influencers (between 5,000 to 100,000 followers) and nano-influencers (fewer than 5,000 followers) operate within niche communities and typically receive the greatest levels of engagement. Indeed, brands exhibit a strong preference for working with nano- and micro-influencers over macro-influencers and celebrities, according to Influencer Marketing Hub’s State of Influencer Marketing 2023: Benchmark Report.
Thankfully, those are easier to find and connect with now than ever. The influencer pool only continues to expand — with some estimates putting the count at 37 million influencer accounts on a single platform today — and people continue to carve out more and more specific topics to specialize in.
Agencies shouldn’t have a difficult time locating the best match for their clients, no matter how narrow the scope. Even better, sticking with smaller influencers is also friendlier on your clients’ budgets than trying to pin down those competitive celebrity accounts. It also enables you to work with more than one influencer, branching out by targeting different niche markets with different collaborations.
AI influencers and computer-generated spokespeople
Who can forget when Microsoft released Tay seven years ago, only to rescind the Twitterbot just 16 hours after launch when it started posting inflammatory and offensive remarks? More recently, LensaAI, an app that produces ‘magical avatars’ based on ten user-provided images has been accused of demonstrating sexism in AI.
There’s still a lot to figure out in this space. The plus side of working with a virtual influencer is that you can fully control brand representation from these artificial entities if you oversee their output and don’t leave anything to automation. As the technology (and subsequently our collective understanding) develops, this may be something agencies and their clients will want to consider.
User-generated content (UGC)
Do you need to pay an influencer to become a fan of your client’s brand … or can existing fans and followers become your influencers? In some cases, fantastic testimonials and outspoken fans resonate so deeply with prospective customers that they can play a major role in decision-making and significantly increase conversion. Not to mention, this is a more authentic expression of your brand since you’re featuring people who truly want to share their positive experiences as opposed to people you’ve paid to do so. Start by interviewing real users, then turn their stories into influencer-worthy content that you can promote across social media.
The longer-term collaborator
It’s not uncommon for clients to jump at the opportunity to work with big, recognizable names. But their budget may only cover a one-time sponsored post.
Instead, discuss the potential benefits of finding an influencer who is passionate about your client’s brand and willing to work with the company on a longer-term contract, involving multiple posts and mentions over time. Consistent content featuring your client’s brand will make the relationship feel more authentic to the influencer’s followers and generate stronger interest and higher conversion.
For example, your influencer might share a post featuring your client on their account — and a few weeks later, appear at one of your client’s events (and post from it). This is especially useful if you find local influencers who can make regular appearances or those who have lots of connections within the community your client is targeting. Some ways to find them:
Browse LinkedIn to learn who’s connected to your client’s industry-relevant groups
Research local events and learn about keynote speakers and organizers; attend those where networking might help you get a better grasp of the key players are in the local area
Monitor what your audience is sharing and talking about; your perfect influencer might not have the highest following on a personal account, but they might still be generating buzz among the groups that best represent your demographics
These deeper relationships can go beyond a series of social media posts, developing into long-term brand ambassadorships. Such influencers can also provide valuable insights for new product development and offer creative input for marketing campaigns.
Who says companies can’t create their own influencers? Put an existing employee in the spotlight on social media and boost their presence among the brand’s target audience.
In some cases, a clear candidate might come to mind — whether it’s an entry-level hire with an acting background, or a particularly charismatic CEO or other senior leader. Agencies can offer their assistance in assessing the best candidate to ensure their personal brand aligns with the needs, values, and messaging of the company.
For B2B marketing, this strategy is commonly employed by having senior leadership teams post “wins” and industry insights on LinkedIn — it can be further amplified by appearances at conferences, webinars, and other events.
For B2C marketing, highlighting one individual’s presence across customer-facing channels and encouraging direct engagement between the in-house “celebrity” and customers can enhance trust. It’s always easier to connect with an individual than a company, but no one says that individual has to be a stranger with 30K followers and a mastery of Instagram filters. Sometimes, it's better if it’s someone less known - but more real.