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Opinion

2021: the Year to Get Picky about which Influencers you Work with

If you’re a fan of Phil and Holly on This Morning then you may have seen their interview with fitness influencer Sheridan Mordew. In fact, even if you’re not a fan, you may now have seen it because it is fair to say that Sheridan’s interview wasn't entirely successful.

Searches for ‘influencer on This Morning’, practically non-existent before last week, peaked last Tuesday and have continued a steady march of interest since. Major newspapers have published stories on the interview. The ‘This Morning’ Twitter account’s video of Sheridan, Phil, and Holly has been watched upwards of 3.1 million times.

Avoiding passing judgement on any part of the interview, it would perhaps be fair to say that the influencer, in this case, did not provide the answers the audience were hoping for. Especially when discussing a highly emotive topic. This is unlikely the last time we’ll see this sort of discussion and response in 2021.

A range of factors are focusing attention on influencers

Influencer marketing as a sector has seen steady growth over the last few years. The most quoted prediction on growth was that the sector would double in size between 2017 and 2019. 

Looking further back at the figures you can see a picture of a sector that has experienced a 282% growth curve from 2016 to 2019. We’re now well beyond that, living through the stratospheric growth that was predicted in the marketplace. The gains that were already being made have been further buoyed by a new interest in the sector. It has the ability to reach audiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The media is waking up to this growth as well, as This Morning’s attention shows. These factors combined make it all the more important that brands spend a lot of time being very careful about the influencers they choose to work with.

Put simply: 2021 is the time for brands to get very picky when it comes to choosing influencers. Consider the following factors at play.

Influencers are going to come under workload pressure

As a result of the expansion in the market, there is going to be more work for influencers to do. Some will approach this in a realistic way, accepting only the right work and the right level of work, before they reach capacity. Others may not manage this. 

Any freelancer knows there is a pinch point where work quality is directly related to workload pressure. Influencers are going to begin to experience this in 2021, if they haven’t already, and brands will need to deal with the consequences. Micro-influencers, who are likely to have less downward pressure, will provide some of the answers here.

The benefit influencers provide will be openly questioned and the answers need to improve

Many critiques of influencers largely follow a standard narrative around influencers ‘not really doing much’ for the money they earn. But the critiques are getting more detailed, from more educated sources that reach more people. Influencers who provide genuine value to their audience will need to be able to defend their position with gusto.

There are many genuinely brilliant parent micro-influencers out there, for example, whose content has helped their fellow parents get through the various UK lockdowns. Providing advice, help, activities, or just a virtual ‘shoulder to cry on’. 

Consider this from a brand perspective. If there are questions about the benefit of the influencers the brand is working with, brands are going to want influencers to have answers. Some groups will find those answers easier to come by than others. Influencers need to ask ‘am I providing real value?’ because brands will certainly be asking that question.

Major mistakes won’t just be damaging to brands, they will be headline news

Perceived COVID lockdown breaches, for example, are not just going to give brands a minor reputation bump for a couple of days. Picking the wrong influencer and aligning yourself with their approach to an emotive topic could be fatal for the brands involved. Given that those are the stakes now, it’s no surprise that the selection of influencers is more crucial than ever.

Superstar influencers have a target on their back

Media attention, when it comes to influencers, will largely continue to focus on superstar influencers (Kim Kardashian) and the level of influencers just below this (The Only Way Is Essex group and their fellow reality stars). These groups generate media stories and will continue to do so far into 2021. This means that there is a risk for brands associated with working with those individuals.

‘Being picky’ for some brands may well mean that superstar and reality TV influencers get taken completely off the table in 2021. For the influencers, that is unlikely to be a problem. Many are self-promotion factories for their own brands. For the marketplace, this sort of shift will have ripple effects. Again, micro-influencers will benefit, as will nano influencers and mid-tier influencers.

2021: the year of being picky

For this year, even micro and nano-influencers will see firsthand just how picky brands are and need to be in 2021. Major corporate clients, for example, are known to carry out full background checks, including asking for a DBS certificate dated within the last six months for all influencers they work with, of all sizes. And even mainstream insurance providers are providing influencer insurance these days.

That’s because the stakes at play in 2021 are high, as are the rewards. Brands are increasingly going to need to manage both by tightening their influencer criteria, as the sector continues to develop and mature in the coming year.

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