What to anticipate from influencer marketing in 2018
A view from Ricky Ray Butler

What to anticipate from influencer marketing in 2018

How can marketers who are ready to fully embrace influencer marketing ensure they are getting it right in the coming year? Branded Entertainment Network's global chief campaign officer has five points to consider.

Over the past 12 months, influencer marketing has opened the door to marketers looking to reach specific audiences. The brands that have succeeded in this space are typically the ones that have best understood the need for influencers to deliver authentic content to truly resonate with audiences. 

2017 was about the laying the groundwork for influencers and convincing marketing departments that this form of marketing is worth their investment. In 2018, we can expect brands to become more sophisticated with the data around influencer marketing strategies. So how can marketers who are ready to fully embrace influencer marketing ensure they are getting it right in 2018? Here are five points to consider for the year ahead.

AI can optimize influencer campaigns.
While many marketers live in fear of AI, it is not something we can afford to balk at in 2018. It is coming, and we need to embrace it. AI can combat issues such as influencer fraud and transparency, which will provide the industry with better insights to drive ROI.

AI has the ability to break down information quickly and assess it against key attributes. For example, it can show a formula of sentiment levels, engagement and viewership; it helps read and understand the reaction of comments, and it can check whether an influencer's content is consistent to ensure it was actually written and produced by that influencer. Reports can be run to determine quite quickly if views are actually authentic. 

AI can also gather data to determine why a campaign is working a certain way and optimize for success at scale. Hence it will be the future of optimization for influencer content and will help to inform marketers of the sales process from the moment a consumer interacts with a video or piece of content to the final purchase made.

Think of influencer marketing as a strategic media buy.
The Adpocalypse came hurtling into view in 2017. In the fallout of the uncovering of terror-associated groups monetizing YouTube content and anti-Semitic videos, brands became wary of buying media on YouTube for fear of the content they might appear alongside. This certainly showed itself in a sudden decline in influencers’ ad revenues. In 2018, armed with a new consciousness in media buying, brands will have the opportunity to pursue a more aggressive and strategic approach to getting inside content they trust, and not being left outside of content they don’t. 

The industry has yet to reach the end of the hype cycle, but it has definitely reached the end of the flux cycle. Brands are using influencers to appear cool. Some are actually doing it well. Some influencers are taking sponsorships very seriously and seeing themselves not just as content creators, but also as businesses. Ultimately, however, influencer campaigns that move products in a massive way will prevail. It comes down to authenticity, audience engagement and sales positioning. If a brand is unwilling to recognize an influencer buy with the same respect they would a TV buy, this lack of interest will be evident in the resultant campaigns. 

We will see mid-sized companies growing at a whole new rate because they’ve optimized influencers for ROI and not as just another metric to tick off their list. Consider 2018 the end of flux and the beginning of sophistication. Those who make a true investment and look at influencer marketing as a strategic media buy will come out on top.

Don’t turn your back on "celebfluence."
The idea that celebrities are less credible brand advocates than self-made social media influencers is increasingly being debunked. This may have been true a few years ago, when ad agencies would bring in a celebrity, hand them a product and a script full of hackneyed praises and then package up the footage as part of a campaign. Today, however, celebrities are increasingly using their own platforms to connect with fans, the prime example being Instagram Stories, and the likes of Chance the Rapper, Emily Ratajkowski and Chrissy Teigen. Thanks to the ease of execution and the natural feeling of the stories, celebfluencers can capture moments throughout their day to easily share with followers. 

Brands must tap into the celebfluencer trend as well invest in Instagram Stories in 2018 to capitalize on celebrities’ potent social influence if they want to maximize brand reach. A huge network of influencers with ready-established distribution channels lies at their disposal; these celebfluencers will be the future of content that brands can’t afford to miss out on.

Go live.
2017 was a huge year for streaming. From YouTube’s launch of live mobile streaming, Instagram’s "Go Live With" feature, to Facebook’s VR offering and the continued growth of dedicated streaming networks like Twitch.TV, Live.ly, Younow and Periscope, more and more people are subscribing to live content every day.

Naturally, one platform will emerge as the frontrunner at some point in 2018, although it’s still too early to be sure which will reign supreme. Regardless, as live video continues to grow, so too will the need for brands to be proactive in collaborating with influencers on their live video, so that they can reach audiences wherever and whenever they appear, with authentic, real-time content.

Make influencers an integral part of the planning process.
Involving influencers more in the strategy and planning process of campaigns should be a major priority for marketers in 2018. This kind of partnership has to happen earlier in the development of a campaign. Just as publishers like the New York Times are developing their own ad agencies because they know their audience best, influencers are the masters of engagement and understand best how to communicate with their audiences. Consumers look at influencers as the masters of their particular domains. 

Brand marketers need influencers to help them think about broader marketing. Allow influencers to become part of strategic teams. Use them to become strategic advisors for your brand. You can empower your content to resonate with the new generation of audiences all through the use of influencers.

There is no telling exactly what the year ahead may bring for marketers, but it is never too early to start thinking about new marketing techniques to better engage your audiences. Leveling up your influencer strategy to connect with consumers in a more authentic way should take top priority in 2018.

Ricky Ray Butler is global chief campaign officer at Branded Entertainment Network.

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