Founder and CEO of Sway Group, an agency that specializes in influencer marketing, branded content and digital advertising.
After another year like no other, it’s difficult to deny the increasing practicality of influencer marketing as a brand strategy. In fact, the value of the global influencer market is now worth a record $13.8 billion.
While 46% of marketing professionals plan to increase their influencer marketing investments in 2022, it can be challenging for brands to decide how to focus their efforts.
As I did last year and the year before that (rather accurately both times, if I do say so myself!), I’d like to share my best predictions as an influencer agency CEO for the influencer marketing trends we’ll be seeing in the year ahead:
Brands — and budgets — need to be flexible.
It can’t be overstated how critical flexibility has become for businesses in terms of keeping up with the many consumer switchbacks and speed bumps brought on by the pandemic. However, I’m talking about being flexible with the brand itself as well as the overall budget.
There’s no room for brands to take such rigid control of their messaging, as they have in the past — especially in a world where consumers are able to directly engage with the brands themselves. Today’s consumers are drawn to authenticity, which is why successful influencer marketing depends on flexible content prompts rather than branded scripts. Only when influencers are given flexibility by brands to be their genuine selves are they able to drive powerful, positive brand associations.
I also recommend that marketers set aside part of their influencer marketing budget for capitalizing on social media virality. Everyone wants that standout moment, but if a brand does get a lot of focused attention all at once, it’ll be better set up for success with resources for keeping the momentum going.
Like it or not, TikTok’s explosive growth shows no sign of slowing down. This short-video-focused platform that started with lip-syncing and dance trends has expanded to include any number of thriving, highly-engaged niche communities.
TikTok’s relative even playing field means that anyone can go viral on this platform, which has, in turn, sparked all sorts of high-demand moments for consumer brands and products.
My very best tip for finding brand success on TikTok is to follow TikTok’s own advice: “Don’t Make Ads. Make TikToks.” Brands should stay flexible with their TikTok content strategy and allow creator partners to do what they do best. This is a platform that rewards creativity and genuineness, and audiences actively turn away from overly polished commercial content.
Consider long-term ambassador/influencer relationships.
There will likely always be a place for one-off influencer marketing partnerships, but in 2022, we’ll be seeing more brands investing in long-term influencer relationships.
Brands can build more authentic connections to their target audiences through ambassador programs that leverage influencer expertise and credibility over time. An influencer who continues to share different aspects of their brand partnership with their audience can deepen brand associations, drive action and even prompt brand loyalty.
Here are three ways brands can get started with finding an ambassador partner:
• Identify appropriate social media influencers to partner with, either by searching social platforms, using an influencer discovery tool or through an influencer marketing agency.
• Search among devoted customers. Can an existing brand loyalist’s voice be amplified?
• Consider an employee program that authentically highlights internal brand advocates.
Make sure your influencer outreach is hyper-targeted.
Yesterday’s influencer marketing: “We need to reach moms with children.” Today’s influencer marketing: “We need to reach diverse millennial moms of elementary school-aged kids who live in Boston, Miami or Seattle zip codes, who also have food allergies, drive a mid-sized SUV, and once considered a career as a phlebotomist.” I’m exaggerating (slightly), but the point is, more and more brands are looking for very specific targeting opportunities.
It’s definitely possible to get granular with outreach by aligning with the right people, but as one can imagine, it takes more resources to handle that kind of strategic influencer recruitment and management.
My advice for brands: Plan to use a portion of your overall influencer marketing budget for paid media. Marketers can use ad management tools from platforms like Facebook to promote high-engagement social content to an even larger and more refined audience.
New college sports influencers are on the rise.
In July of 2021, the NCAA ruled that college athletes could make money off of their name, image and likeness, often referred to as NIL.
There are a growing number of college athletes who now offer exciting partnership opportunities for brands. Instead of paying astronomical fees to align with pro players, brands have the chance to get in on the ground floor with young up-and-coming athletes.
College athletes also tend to offer a lot of local influence and appeal, which gives brands access to the hyper-targeting opportunities that have become so valuable.
For marketers who may already have an eye on a college athlete who seems like a strong brand fit for sponsorship, I recommend reaching out as soon as possible. As the year goes on, these student players may be harder to partner with because of their demand.
The Final Word
This year, we saw social media creators for what they are: incredibly valuable platform and content experts whose audiences are often engaged and influenced by the information they share.
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on the marketing landscape, boosting e-commerce growth and highlighting the importance of reaching consumers through digital channels. Even as we enter into the “next normal,” connecting online will never be any less critical.
In 2022, I predict that brands will have more digital opportunities than ever to connect with their target audiences — if they don’t let influencer marketing’s incredible potential pass them by.