As 2016 came to an end, it seemed that the “influencer marketing bubble” was close to bursting. With 84% of marketers using the approach to reach their intended consumers, it was evident that nearly every agency, platform or investor was getting in on the game.
But as Yogi Berra famously quipped, “Nobody goes there nowadays—it’s too crowded.” As more influencer programs evolved, it became difficult to differentiate between them. Every company was promising the same thing: access to influencers who could market your product the way modern consumers wanted to be marketed to.
Since the industry was in its infancy, publishers immediately rushed to work with and put their trust in content developers with big followings. Because influencers were being viewed as “earned media” and not treated like true creatives with the ability to respond to briefs, some marketers found it difficult to leverage influencers that could both create authentic branded content and drive meaningful results.
If there’s any proof that the bubble has burst (or is on the verge), it’s the introduction of Amazon’s new influencer program, in that it represents the evolution of this field. Exclusively designed for social media influencers with large followings, the Amazon Influencer Program requires creators to apply (unlike the Amazon Affiliates program, which provides influencers commission on products sold). Aside from having “large followings,” which is not revolutionary, Amazon will take into account other metrics, like fan engagement on posts across multiple platforms, the level of relevancy for the Amazon brand, and the quality of the content they create.
These standards, in my opinion, are exactly what agencies will need to steal if they want to stay relevant in this arena. When designing a campaign, marketers want to know that the selected influencers have digested agency briefs, so influencer programs will need to prioritize experience and education, as well as develop briefing materials to ensure brand objectives are addressed.
Additionally, successful programs will want to prioritize matching brands with influencers who understand the nuances of multiple social channels, including the newer, more emerging platforms. Influencers will need to be able to create custom content for each of those platforms and think strategically about how to build and cross-promote a full digital campaign.
Lastly, as brands gain more experience working with influencers, they will prioritize relevancy over reach. If influencer programs can match like-minded brands with influencers who have a passion for their product or industry, brands will see better results. So, while this will require influencer programs to develop complicated vetting criteria, the end result will be worth the investment.
As we’ve seen with so many other developments in marketing, the path to success for the influencer industry will be with fewer and better companies who understand these nuances. As Amazon prioritizes partnering with creators who can drive meaningful results, the power of reach will become a much lower priority, and brands will require turnkey creative solutions that help drive their business forward.
Though this will, in my estimation, result in the elimination of smaller influencer programs, it will also force the remaining companies to integrate their services with other marketing efforts. And that’s a good thing because the discipline shouldn’t stand on its own.
The reality of the current landscape is this: we have too many partners that can promise influencers, but not enough that can promise significant results. The future of influencer marketing is unclear, but there’s now a path that pushes influencers to work harder for their money while ensuring the brand’s interests come first and foremost.