Opinion

A New Era of Influence: Converting Likes into Sales

As influencer marketing alters the way consumers shop, social platforms have been slow to take advantage of the changing behaviour. But will shoppable influencer content drive commerce? Angela Seits, director of influencer marketing and branded content at PMG investigates.

Shoppable social media is growing in popularity as consumers continue to ditch retail stores and traditional authorities on fashion in favor of mobile shopping and curated influencer looks. Audiences want to “shop the look” or “like to buy” from their favorite creators – making “where is that item from?” one of the most frequently asked questions filling up influencers’ direct messages.

Like it or not, influencer marketing has altered the consumer journey and changed the way that consumers shop – adding yet another complication to an already fragmented landscape of digital brand-user interactions. It’s clear that influencers are driving brand and product discoverability via their content. But social platforms have been slow to catch up and take advantage of this shift in user behavior.

It’s not because creators weren’t driving value for social platforms like YouTube and Instagram. Rather, it’s because, in a pay-to-play ecosystem of social advertising, influencers were essentially cannibalising advertising dollars that could have been invested in paid social as brands temporarily found a new way to gain organic reach through creator content.

Yet from a retailer perspective, there’s been a serious disconnect between influencers’ ability to drive brand awareness and engagement – and converting likes into sales. Limitations in attributing direct revenue from creator posts have made it incredibly challenging for e-commerce marketers to accurately assess the ROI of influencer marketing and continue investing heavily in the channel.

Shoppable influencer content

Enter shoppable influencer content. rewardStyle and ShopStyle were early pioneers in creating seamless user experiences for consumers to discover brands via influencer-generated content and instantly shop via their app’s built-in tools. But both platforms require users to take a few extra steps beyond a social platform to complete their purchase.

The dual launch of Instagram Checkout and Shoppable influencer accounts are long-awaited features that help close the gap in creating mobile, social-first storefront experiences. Instagram is testing this out in a closed beta with 23 retailers and 55 influencers announced in March. Some marketers are speculating that Instagram Checkout will revolutionise influencer marketing and finally provide the data to correlate influencers to sales.

The impact on driving commerce

It’s too early to tell what kind of impact these features will actually have on driving commerce. Influencers won’t receive commissions from Instagram Checkout at this stage, possibly tipping the scales in favor of affiliate networks like rewardStyle and ShopStyle that enable influencers to monetise their content across multiple platforms. But it’s a clear signal that social platforms, which previously invested their focus heavily on paid advertising products, are increasingly looking to capitalise on influencer content to increase user engagement and drive advertising sales. This has created new opportunities for retailers to test organic and paid formats that marry influencer content and advertising features in a seamless experience that drives users from inspiration to purchase.

Instagram’s new shoppable features aren’t a substitute for the scaled influencer programs that brands can create to drive commerce – rather, an optimal e-commerce strategy involves investing in and testing shoppable influencer content across the entire social ecosystem. From shoppable product integrations on YouTube and TikTok to “Shop the Look” pins on Pinterest – there are more and more features available for creators to integrate brand products into their content.

Focusing less on superficial engagement

From a business perspective, Instagram’s move to rollout shopping features via Checkout while simultaneously testing hiding likes may push influencers to focus less on superficial engagement and prioritise growing followers who actually click tagged brands and shop. More than ever, brands want to see conversions resulting from influencer partnerships, especially as influencer rates become increasingly expensive.

This is with good reason: influencers saw the opportunity to make careers out of online impact and realised they could turn a huge profit from taking a number of brand deals. However, as influencers produce more sponsored content, their audiences have become accustomed to seeing sponsored posts. Influencers and brands alike need to work to stand out from their competitors and make campaigns that resonate and inspire action from their audiences.

The year over year growth of influencer marketing, projected to reach $100 billion by 2020, has demonstrated marketers’ belief in influencers as an effective tool for promoting brands and products. However, this will only be effective if brands learn how to better co-create with influencers in line with their objectives. It’s crucial for influencers to be incentivised to align closely with a brand’s success whether that’s driving brand awareness or sales because the type of content that drives each objective differs. Not all influencers are effective in driving actions and commerce. This will likely start to help separate the content creators from the e-commerce mavens.

Will networks become more transparent?

As shoppable features continue to evolve, we’ll also see both established and emerging networks expand their offerings and become more transparent about how influencers can monetise their content. We’ve already seen the beginnings of this: ShopStyle recently announced they would open up tools for influencers to see how they’re driving revenue from their content. And rewardStyle announced they would expand shoppable content on YouTube. These efforts to remain competitive are a win-win for both influencers and brands.

Influencers know how to connect with audiences better than anyone else, and they’re creating content for them on a daily basis. They’re a valuable resource when brands want to increase consumer engagement, acquire new customers, and drive sales. Shoppable social media formats make up just one of many avenues that demonstrate the immense potential in influencer marketing and collaborations. With increased efforts to integrate influencers within the digital shopping ecosystem, brands have been given the opportunity to monetise the social media era and turn likes into profit.

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