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What’s up in the world of influencer marketing? As you’ll see, this year’s trends focus on brands getting smart and strategic. With experience comes knowledge. Brands are starting to realize that they need to find what works best for them rather than copying what everyone else is doing. Learn about these influencer marketing trends in 2019 to stay ahead of the curve.

Top Influencer Trends

A Focus on Engagement Quality Over Follower Quantity. As more data on influencer marketing comes in, brands are seeing that follower counts can easily be artificially inflated. Don’t be fooled by follower count alone — go deeper and examine engagement quality. How much are people actually interacting with the influencer’s content? That’s a better estimation of what kind of ROI you can expect.

Better Content. Content that seems like less of an advertisement and more of a story does better with audiences, and brands are taking notice. Influencers will be most successful if they start being more careful with the ways they present branded content, thinking more about a quality finished product.

Emphasis on Metrics Other Than Reach. We know that engagement quality is more important than reach alone. Brands are likely to look into KPI metrics that go beyond mere exposure. Drill down on details and find out whether you’re actually getting a return on financial and time investments in your influencers.

Celebrities Becoming Influencers. The marketing industry has used the word “influencer” instead of something like “celebrity spokesperson” for a reason. Most people who’ve been known as influencers don’t have fame outside of social media, and they typically go from relative obscurity to relative fame. Brands are starting to give big-name celebrities the influencer treatment as people like The Rock and Will Smith dip their toes into digital content production.

Micro- and Nano-Influencers. While some big-name stars are getting into the influencer game, there’s a growing trend at the opposite end of the spectrum. Continuing the quality-over-quantity approach, some brands are focusing their efforts on up-and-coming influencers who currently have small but loyal followings. This could be a way for growing brands to get in on the ground floor with influencers who will continue to grow their audiences.

Local Influencers. Depending on your brand, it might make more sense to work within a niche geographic market than to cast the widest-possible net across the globe. For example, influencers who focus their content on a particular city or state may be most likely to gain followers from within that local area. They may not be the most popular, but again, the quality of their engagement can be more effective for a local brand.

Cultivating Long-Term Relationships. Authenticity is important in the social media space, and savvy audience members can tell when an influencer is being insincere. A lot of brands have treated influencer marketing largely as a transactional opportunity to get their names out there, a quick bang for the buck. Smart brands are moving away from these speedy, impersonal transactions. They’re moving toward the slow building of strong, personal relationships for more authentic content.

Ready-Made Fans. One way to ensure authenticity is to find an influencer who’s already aware of and enthusiastic about your brand. Brands may begin to look at their own mentions and comments to see if there are any potential influencers showing support.

Bigger Pools, Smaller Names. As brands begin to focus on quality over quantity in different ways, they’re likely to find that their ROI hopes are paying off. They’ll also find that their influencer campaign strategies are working. This will likely translate to brands working with larger total numbers of influencers.

Emphasizing the Right Fit. Savvy brands will start focusing on pitching to people who make sense for their brand personalities. It doesn’t matter how engaged an influencer’s audience is if that audience — and the influencer — aren’t your brand’s ideal customers.

In-House Teams. As fit and relationships become more important, direct influencer-to-brand interactions will come to the fore. This means that more brands will create in-house influencer marketing teams to help foster more-personal connections.

Influencer Accountability. At this point, it’s clear that influencer marketing isn’t a flash-in-the-pan way to make a quick buck. This is a viable strategy for long-term growth and stability. Accordingly, influencers may find that brands are stricter about accountability. Influencers are business partners now, not just fun avatars that brands can experiment with.

Influencer Scandals. Growth in the industry means there will inevitably be some missteps. Influencer Olivia Jade Giannulli, daughter of actress Lori Loughlin, was one of the kids who benefitted from the college admissions scheme that became huge news in March 2019. She lost brand deals as a result and probably won’t be the last influencer to get swept up in scandal.

Character Vetting. In addition to vetting follower authenticity and engagement quality, brands may start to carefully vet the influencers they choose to work with moving forward. Looking for skeletons in the closet before making a deal can be a good way to save headaches down the road.

Careful Disclosure. The FTC sent letters to influencers in 2016, warning them that they needed to make clear disclosures when their posts were sponsored. Not much has happened since then, but there’s some buzz that the federal org will start cracking down soon. Expect brands and influencers alike to be more careful about disclosures this year.