A recent survey revealed 84% of marketers plan on executing at least one influencer marketing campaign during the next 12 months.
But what exactly is “influencer marketing”? Well, it’s the grey territory between an official testimonial and a subtle product mention, which is done almost in passing.
The best example is to imagine that you are back in high school. You walk down the hallway, backpack straps pulled tight. And suddenly, you stroll past the “popular crowd” of girls—who, metaphorically speaking, would be Kylie Jenner on Instagram.
You hear Kylie say in passing, “I love my Fashion Nova jeans.” Instantly you feel as though you know something no one else does. You know what she wears, and what she considers to be cool.
This is exactly what has happened. Kylie Jenner partnered up with affordable clothing brand, Fashion Nova, and in one Instagram post made this clear point (the photo gathering a stunning 2.2M likes): you don’t have to buy designer clothes to look like a superstar. You just need Fashion Nova.
The above example is a perfect case-in-point of what brands are now willing to pay big bucks for. It’s not exposure they want. Pure numbers and big promises of “impressions” are only half the value.
The other, more important, half comes from association. It’s happening everywhere, from a-list celebrities all the way down to tiny niche thought leaders. Even small businesses and boutiques will spend a bit of money for a social media influencer with a few thousand followers in their market.
Because what they’ll get in return is targeted exposure to the right kind of consumer, one who is already interested and will likely pay attention.
This is opposite of what’s happening with television right now, on which commercials have officially become background noise. Think on your own life. When was the last time a commercial came on and you didn’t pull out your phone?
The only difference is that now, as you scroll through your Instagram feed, you are still seeing advertisements. You just can’t tell right away. Your favorite influencers, who you already follow, are repping products and promoting brands, all the while still staying true to their unique voice and story.
Social media influencers exist on all the primary social platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. Even the smaller social platforms like Musical.ly have given birth to Internet famous celebrities and influencers down in the single-digit age group.
These are the child stars of the modern day, and they are becoming more and more savvy about how to properly collaborate with brands for their own creative campaigns.
Another interesting stat is that 47% of online consumers use ad blockers, giving brands and businesses even more reason to put their dollars behind influencers instead. Influencers are the ones holding everyone’s attention.
They are the ones people actually spend time watching. And as long as all eyes are on them, more and more brands are going to see value in paying these people to represent their products.
This trend is not limited to mainstream and popular markets such as fashion, athletics, or entertainment. There are influencers in markets centered around everything from bass fishing to hot yoga to mindfulness and spirituality.
In fact, to call it “influencer marketing” is really only the beginning. What’s truly happening is a broader shift, as more and more people are discovering the art of personal branding.
When you have a personal brand, when you have an audience and people see you as a thought leader in your specific niche or market, you have something no one else does: you have people’s attention.
And that, in itself, is highly valuable, not just to brands but to other thought leaders as well. Having a personal brand opens doors of opportunity. Now more than ever we see a rising amount of influencers who are starting to understand their value.
Five years ago, it would have been thought ludicrous for a teenager to have a million followers on Instagram. Now? Those same teenagers are negotiating with big brands and calling the shots, always careful to ensure that they don’t “sell out” and just become a product pusher.
The best influencers work to integrate their branded campaigns into their unique stories without skipping a beat. They know their audiences are fickle and can quickly leave, so they treat each and every post with care.
In 2017, these sorts of collaborations between big brands and influencers are only to increase. So much so, that if influencer marketing is the beginning, then what’s next is the shift from social media to social marketplaces.
Original article on Forbes.com by AJ Agrawal