News that various Blogger-cum-Influencer Management agencies are shutting their doors across Australia and NZ next year is no big surprise. More will follow. It doesn’t mean Influencer Marketing is dying, more that it has hit a point of maturity. We timeline our take on the rise, peak and levelling out of a billion dollar industry.
When Influencer Marketing first came about, I was a Product Manager for a lifestyle company in Melbourne. The Account Juniors at our PR firm were fizzing, talking over the top of everyone else announcing ‘this is how millennials want to be marketed to’ and ‘I don’t read print anymore, I get all my news and information online.’
The older heads cast it aside and steamrolled over their excited yelps during those meetings but here we are, many years later to a time where the business of influence has become an industry in itself. Clever, strategic Influencer Marketing is powerful – it will authenticate your brand and facilitate positive sentiment.
Virtually all PR agencies in Australia and NZ have started offering an Influencer Marketing service, and dedicated agencies providing just that lone service have sprung up everywhere.
We then saw the rise of Influencer-Brand connector apps and website platforms, the management of Influencers as talent, and once audiences reached that all important 100,000 followers mark, big bucks were on the table to connect brands with that Influencer’s audience.
So Influencer Marketing reached a peak, but also a very hormonal stage.
Firstly, many Influencers weren’t getting paid, on time, or at all. In Australia in particular, it became commonplace to demand payment upfront before delivering on activity. PR practitioners and marketers valued the reach and opportunity they presented, just not enough to pay on time.
On the flip side, marketers were paying for content that was provided by Mums, models and online celebrities who had no idea how to deliver to a marketing brief. CTA’s, CX and ROI were foreign terms and generally viewed as optional.
Unmet expectations on both sides generally caused an “us vs them” perspective. Influencer-only sub groups were established on social channels as private groups, allowing disgruntled Influencers to share feedback, opportunities and horror stories. But… screenshots.
Secondly, the rise of fake followers, fake likes, bots and automated comments meant the rise of social monitoring apps and websites like Social Blade where accounts could be checked. Despite the results only being a guideline, some PR and Marketing agencies used these as a basis on whether an account was ‘legit’ or not. And allowed those tools to influence their decision making on who to spend post-GFC budget with.
On the flip side, Influencers growing authentic accounts were critical of those ‘fake’ accounts despite the fact most of them used a Followers app to kickstart their following in the first place. Not all. But if we’re being really real here – most did. Even if you feel they’ve dropped off now or you blocked them over time, you still did it. Some of the bigger ones are total pro’s, a delight to work with and have as authentic an account as they can have with such a large following to manage and weed through.
Thirdly the tide turned and Influencers grew suspicious, critical and untrusting, especially of PR companies. A wave of outrage grew at PR practitioners or Marketing Managers who dared to send product hoping for free exposure.
On the flip side, Influencers forgot that these people hold a lot of money in their purse. The key to a mutually-profitable relationship is establishing a good one in the first place. Influencers with big numbers and managers handling their requests forgot this is just Australasia. With Australasian budgets, and Australasian-sized audiences.
Lastly, we ended up in a situation where PR and Marketing people started to look for opportunities with smaller Influencers. Those who had authentic accounts, smaller audiences, but audiences that were more engaged. These Influencers had been trucking along for some time, posting the content they wanted to, accepting they might have to do something for free to prove they are worth paid work. They post for the love of it, not the industry of it.
A NEW BREED
These Influencers are generally much more tech-agile. They adapt to updates quickly, they have become stylists, photographers, writers and online community leaders.
They spend time with their community, liking and replying to comments from everywhere, not just their pods or their other cool big Influencer friends. They have integrity and won’t flog any old thing because there’s some money to be had. Some don’t charge anything at all, ever. They love free product and talking to people about things they like.
They reply to emails, they stand their ground, they know their worth, they work hard to deliver clever concepts and creative ideas that a plain old marketer couldn’t come up with themselves and certainly couldn’t translate into a banner display or a 1/3 page print ad.
In my time, I’ve been lucky to grow my relationships with Influencers. Some are now my friends, some I mentor and manage. Some I fawn over because I personally love their content, some I stay well away from.
Influencer Marketing is in that awkward, gangly stage where the boys become men but in all reality this has been happening for some time.
And companies like The Bloggers Club are closing, and their counterparts are broadening their services, and it isn’t because Influencer Marketing is dying out. It’s because it’s really hard to sustain a business model on ratecard pricing that people refuse to pay now, when the ROI is hit and miss. And that’s the reality of it.
There isn’t an Influencer issue. There’s a business model issue. Entrepreneurs don’t stay in business when the money is drying up. The rates some Influencers are charging, are frankly ridiculous.
Brands are charged thousands for a single post, plus 20% commission on top, and you don’t even get to talk to the Influencer directly, you have to go through what is effectively a salesperson who is there to reach a target at the end of the day, not help you grow your business. You fill in a brief and hope for the best. Pre-approval is supposed to happen, but the big Influencers don’t have time and don’t see why they should, so they don’t.
So perhaps its more accurate to say Influencer Marketing is now reaching a time of early adulthood. It’s a little more confident in who it is, it’s still adaptable and open to new adventures. It knows who’s a friend and who’s a foe.
And it’s happily come back to the key principles it learnt at an early age.
Build good relationships first. Take the initiative and come up with great creative and content ideas – your audience deserves it.
And it’s reached a point of maturity. Influencers who haven’t yet, need to start thinking like a marketer. Find your passion in your purpose, not in how much money you can make or how famous you would like to be. Charge what you are worth and if someone balks at paying you upfront, tell them to come back to you when they have the money available. Stay away from people that no-one else is going near – that applies to clients, agencies and Influencers alike.
And don’t expect Influencer Marketing to solve all your problems. Whether you’re an Influencer yourself, a marketer or a third-party go-between – it’s only one part of the total sum towards financial and marketing success. But one that is definitely here to stay.