Every consumer lives in a different world than the next, creating increasingly individualised realities with every new followed account, liked page, and comment. The algorithms that guide news consumption and relationships exacerbate this fractured media landscape as they’re designed to feed users more of what they have indicated they want.
The monoculture developed and refined by television in the 20th century has been supplanted by a new era of content, dictated more than ever by individuals, both in the creation and consumption.
Social media replaced our monoculture with omniculture
Just like television supplemented and supplanted radio, the Internet has similarly supplemented and supplanted television. Digital marketing spend is expected to reach $146 billion by 2023, and $15 billion of that sum will likely be spent on influencer marketing.
When each person has customised their overall digital experience, there’s very rarely a singular event or idea that everyone knows or cares about. This line of thinking directly contrasts the world of linear entertainment consumption (and thus advertising) spurred by fixed-time programming on radio and television.
Traditionally, many large marketing organisations have been structured to work with fixed media programming. This still gets results, as a flurry of “are super bowl ads still worth it?” posts consistently answer every year.
However, these large media events have become increasingly intertwined with and affected by the ephemeral nature of social media, wherein content, often regardless of quality, gets replaced in seconds.
The context in which social media users experience advertising varies far more from person to person than it did during a monoculture, and despite the hyper-targeting capabilities available to advertisers, there’s less guarantee than ever that a message will reach and resonate.
How the current perception of influencer marketing is evolving
While influencer marketing is relatively new within the scope of modern marketing practices, savvy advertisers have implemented and optimised partnerships with influential accounts and channels since the dawn of social media.
However, data published in Fast Company in July 2019 showcases how influencer accounts have seen fewer likes and comments on their posts since 2016 and only this year have these holistic results stagnated, indicating a maturing industry for these vanity metrics.
While there’s a lot more to unpack about why this stagnation happened and what it means for the future, it’s clear that influencer marketing has firmly established itself as a major marketing force.
This prominence has not come without hiccups and critics. From influencers with large followings who can’t move product and influencers needing to pay double to delight around influencer feuds (e.g. James Charles), the commentary around influencers and influencer marketing has gotten to be rather negative in the US.
More education and transparency around the world of digital influence will likely quell the disdain, as the current cultural perception categories every digital creator as an “influencer” without regard to their medium, message, or mission.
Essentially, the blanket term “influencer” has become a catch-all for everything in the world of digital content creation. And just like musicianship fragments by genre and sub-genre, the word ‘influencer’ fails to aptly describe or categorise the true, specific value this type of partner brings to any marketing collaborations.
Follow the trend from celebrity to community leader
With the traditional monocultural understanding quickly being usurped by a multitude of individually-designed cultural understandings, it’s likely that the market demand for mega-celebrities will also simmer.
While marketers increasingly understand the new media landscape, there’s still a tendency to starfuck instead of working with more niche creators whose data suggests a higher anticipated return on investment.
Per Mobile Marketer and InfluencerDB, as of June 2019, the average engagement rate for Instagram accounts with between 1,000 and 5,000 followers was 8.8%. For Instagram accounts with 5,000 to 10,000 followers, the average engagement rate is 6.3%. Any account with more than 10,000 followers evened out at roughly 3.6%.
It doesn’t take a mathematician to recognise that 10 small creators can be more powerful than a single celebrity. Influencers with strong, engaged audiences have higher returns for marketers because their communities are continuously opting into being influenced. However, it’s increasingly clear that these engaged audiences aren’t necessarily flocking to mega-celebrities. Instead, they’re building around niche creators and community leaders – people with real influence.
Ultimately, an influencer relationship is between a subject matter expert and someone interested in that subject. Vanity marketing has prospered because our current understanding of the word “influencer” does not accurately reflect this definition but that is changing.