Illustration by Diego Blanco
Influencer marketing is no longer limited to celebrities. Thanks to the rise of platforms like Instagram and TikTok, influence can be attained by anyone with a devoted following. And in 2021, even the largest legacy brands now want a slice of the influencer marketing pie.
However, if you’ve ever done research on influencer marketing, you know the web is filled with contradicting and confusing information on this topic. The strategies for finding and hiring influencers are often difficult to navigate and the benefits of using influencers aren’t always exactly clear.
The good news: Statistics and data can help you make sense of it all. This guide to influencer marketing trends will dig into the up-to-date numbers, explain what they mean, and even share some expert insight around the future of influencer marketing.
- What brands can achieve with influencer marketing
- Influencer marketing trends and statistics
- Influencer marketing pitfalls to watch out and prepare for
- What will the future of influencer marketing look like post-2021?
- How to get started with influencer marketing
What can brands achieve with influencer marketing
Influencers are essentially internet celebrities who collaborate with brands as an ambassador, helping them achieve a variety of goals. Here are a few ways brands are leveraging influencers’ audiences and achieving impressive results.
1. Increase in sales
Influencers have remarkable sway with their audiences. One survey found 38% of shoppers rely on influencer reviews when online shopping while 30% said they’re open to hearing from influencers several times per day.
As such, influencers can inspire their followers to take actions like visiting an online store, browsing/following a brand’s social media accounts, and even buying their products.
It works, too: HiSmile has eclipsed $130 million in sales thanks to influencer marketing. The oral care brand signed promotional agreements with three landmark influencers: mixed martial arts star Conor McGregor and Jenner sisters Kylie and Kendall.
A wave of customers flooded the HiSmile store when the brand was endorsed by these notable influencers. The Instagram campaign with Conor McGregor alone got a five-times return on ad spend along with a 90% increase in total male customers.
The brand now boasts more than three million social media followers, 5.5 billion social media impressions, and more than 1.5 billion views on its social videos across Instagram and YouTube.
2. Brand awareness and trust
Getting the word out about products or services through influencers also means tapping into the trust they’ve built with their niche audiences. As a result, rather than having to start from scratch, customers attracted via influencers are warm leads who are often ready to buy.
Tammin Sursok, an actor and content creator, posted about her partnership with Lulusimonstudio through a heartfelt story during Mental Health Awareness Week. As a result, her audience learned of the brand, already convinced of its authenticity.
Lending trust is especially important during times of uncertainty, when consumers feel unsure about their economic futures (like they did during the pandemic). One survey showed that during the pandemic, consumers trusted influencers more than brands.
The reason: An influencer’s approval feels more authentic and relatable compared to a brand’s and serves as a powerful form of external social proof.
3. Increase in earned media value
Earned media value (EMV) is a metric that helps brands understand the ROI of third-party marketing activities like influencer marketing campaigns and provides a dollar amount for the value of impressions an influencer generated. It can be tracked through page views, unique visitors, likes, shares, and comments on social media.
Influencer marketing provides a significant boost to EMV through its broader pool of potential customers. In fact, a research analysis of more than 5.5 million posts found the top 20 retailers, who collectively spent $172 million on influencer marketing, generated a staggering $3 billion in EMV.
Influencer content is excellent social proof to tie into product pages, too. Not only do they help increase time on site, but they also help drive conversions by providing more visual context that convinces shoppers to buy.
We’re seeing an average 1,000+ hours of added time on site per month after adding influencer videos to product pages, and a conversion rate increase of up to 18% after shoppers watch videos. The boost to EMV is remarkable.”
—Claudiu Cioba, founder of VideoWise
Influencer marketing trends and stats
Data provides proof that influencer marketing is a legitimate and profitable marketing channel—even during a pandemic. The numbers don’t lie:
- Influencer Marketing Hub found there were 2,163 influencer campaigns in Q3 of 2020, which jumped to 2,901 in Q4.
- The influencer marketing industry is set to increase by approximately $13.8 billion in 2022.
- 75% of companies intend to have (or already have) an influencer marketing budget in 2021.
- 33% of teams don’t measure the ROI of their influencer marketing efforts. Not tracking the ROI of influencer campaigns means it will be difficult to discern the impact of the influencer on sales or reach.
- SocialPubli found 42% of marketers consider influencer marketing their top revenue-generating marketing tactic.
- Tomoson’s study shows businesses average $6.50 in return for every $1 spent on influencer marketing.
- If you measure the ROI platform-wise, Instagram and TikTok are in the lead. The State of Influencer Marketing 2021 report found 93% of respondents use Instagram for influencer marketing. Interest in using TikTok for the same has risen by 325% in just one year, from 2020 to 2021, with 68% of marketers planning on leveraging the program in 2021.
- HypeAuditor found that on Instagram, brands see $4.87 in earned media value for every $1 spent on influencers. However, due to its popularity, the platform is becoming increasingly crowded. It’s crucial to find the right Instagram influencers who are a good fit for your brand.
- TikTok is slowly catching up as well in the influencer marketing landscape of 2021. The State of TikTok Influencer Marketing 2021 report found 68% of users purchased a product after viewing a post about it on TikTok, giving rise to a whole new genre of content called “TikTok made me buy it.”
- The Instagram influencer market is set to grow 15% in 2021—reaching a market cap of $5.8 billion by the end of the year.
- HypeAuditor found active social media users increased by 10.5% over the last year. TikTok received the most significant boost, with a 60% increase in new users.
- The Influencer Marketing Hub report found 45% of respondents use TikTok for influencer marketing and that the engagement received on TikTok was higher than on Instagram. A study by Markerly revealed that influencers received almost double the likes and engagement on TikTok compared to Instagram reels.
- A survey by Social Media Today found 54% of marketers worry about the authenticity of influencers’ followers.
- The number of people concerned about influencer fraud has stayed consistent, at 67%, according to the Influencer Marketing Hub study. The good news: there’s been a significant drop in fraudulent activity in 2021, down to just 38% from 68%.
- HypeAuditor found that nano-influencers, with a following of 1,000 to 10,000, get the most engagement on social media. Most nano-influencers can be found on TikTok, where 53.5% of influencers have followers between 1,000 and 5,000.
- Influencer Marketing Hub found many brands continue to pay influencers in the form of free product samples rather than with contractual payments.
Influencer marketing pitfalls to watch out for
Influencer marketing—when done right—can be a goldmine of new customers and opportunities. But successful campaigns are just as much about avoiding the pitfalls as they are about taking the right steps.
Here are some pitfalls to watch out for.
1. Not choosing the correct social platform for your audience
Just because a social platform is popular doesn’t mean it’s the right one for your business. The optimal social channel should have the type of influencers you want to work with as well as the target audience that aligns with your buyer persona. The social media platform you choose should fit your brand messaging and your product.
When it comes to working with influencers, relevance is so important. Get to know the creator, their follower base, their interests, and even their geographical location. If your product doesn’t align with the content they’re sharing, viewers will sniff it out instantly. Brands should always look for creators in their niche to build relationships with.”
—Savannah Sanchez, social advertising expert
Here are a few questions to consider when evaluating social channels for influencer marketing:
- Does this platform have the demographic that my brand sells to?
- Are the users using it for shopping and discovering new brands?
- Are my competitors finding success in this space?
You may find that while most of your audience is on one platform, they aren’t active there or aren’t using it to find new brands. Be sure to do your homework.
2. Lack of transparency
The FTC guidelines explain how influencers can properly endorse products online. Aside from following all the legal aspects, it is important to remember that influencer marketing is about authenticity and transparency.
Customers trust influencers and act on their recommendations because of the rapport they’ve built with their followings over time. Your brand should continue to uphold this trust. Staying transparent about sponsored posts and paid collaborations and avoiding false advertising are simple ways to avoid damaging the trust of prospective customers.
3. Measuring only conversions and reach for ROI
Measuring ROI from your influencer marketing efforts is necessary as it helps you make data-informed decisions, helps identify what’s working, and provides insights to help you change what doesn’t resonate with your audience.
But measuring the ROI only through the number of conversions or reach is a common mistake. Sometimes customers need some time before they make a purchase. This doesn’t mean that your campaign has failed. Staying as the top choice in a customer’s mind is still making a buck in the future through influencer marketing.
Reach alone can also be a dangerous metric. While it’s tempting to hire someone with a huge following, it’s important to note the quality of engagement they receive.
Thousands of comments look great, but how many of those are meaningful interactions, and how many are just emojis or one-word compliments? Pay attention to the quality rather than the quantity when vetting influencers.
"Follower count and engagement rate don’t always indicate success, so experiment. Find the right creators. Pay the creators to produce and post Instagram stories. Give each creator a unique link to use as a swipe up. Look at each creator’s CTR relative to their engagement rate.
The better the ratio, the greater the indicator that their audience trusts them. Limit the investment required to test the relationship, get the signal you need, and respect the creators by paying them their rates.”
—Danny Desatnik, social manager at Hashtag Paid
4. Hiring the wrong influencer for your brand
Finding a relevant influencer is crucial. Many brands make the mistake of hiring someone notable and popular just because they can afford to. However, the influencer you choose should ideally be within your niche and have a community that aligns with your target audience.
Once you find the right influencer, Blaire Kang McClure, Associate Product Marketing Manager at Impact, suggests you develop a long-term relationship with them rather than a one-time collaboration:
"Long-term partnerships are becoming the preferred form of engagement for brands and influencers as brands trend away from one-and-done sponsor campaigns. By engaging in a more long-term relationship with influencers, brands are able to lock in a consistent flow of content that can be repurposed across distribution channels (i.e., social media, email marketing, out-of-home). Repeating content leads to higher conversion rates and can be a cost-effective way to partner with a small number of on-brand influencers instead of spending significant amounts of budget on a broad group of partners to see what sticks.”
Shama Hyder, CEO and founder of Zen Media agrees. She believes that long-term relationships with influencers will be much more powerful.
I think we will see brands invest in more long-term relationships with key influencers, rather than more transaction project-based work. One-off sponsored posts only go so far, but engaging with an influencer on a regular basis where they truly become a brand ambassador, that’s going to be much more powerful.”
5. Creating repetitive content
A great thing about influencer marketing is that influencers already know what works for their audiences. Even so, brands often make the mistake of having stringent rules around content creation for the influencer. As a result, the message style may or may not be a good fit with the influencer’s community.
Trust that the influencer knows best. Give them the freedom to talk about your product the way they deem appropriate. This doesn’t mean you completely hand over control. Feel free to ask for a round of edits before publishing and offer a wide net of flexibility.
What will the future of influencer marketing look like post-2021?
With the influencer marketing industry constantly evolving, staying on top of constant changes and trends can be difficult.
We asked a few experts for their thoughts on how relationships with influencers will change, what trends will last, and how people can stay prepared for the future of this marketing medium.
Influencer marketing will continue to grow: Alternate sources of content and data privacy
Danny Desatnik, the social manager at Hashtag Paid, says that influencer marketing platforms will continue to flourish, as working with creators becomes an alternate source of valuable content:
"To grow, brands need to continuously reach a larger audience today than they did yesterday. As they grow, so too does the need to relate with more diverse audiences. One way to relate is through content. Specifically, content with diverse subjects and environments. Brands can do exactly this by working with a diverse set of creators to solely produce branded content. Use the content for email, SMS, online, and even out-of-home placements. Think of creators as a hybrid between a production house and a creative agency.”
There are many other reasons why influencer marketing will continue to boost. Raj Nijjer, CMO at Refersion, believes it will become increasingly necessary with massive changes coming to the realm of data privacy.
"User privacy changes from Apple and Google heightened the need for brands to work with first-party data, and the demise of cookies has caused advertising platforms like Facebook to struggle with accurate attribution. Every marketer should use influencer or affiliate marketing platforms powered by first-party tracking technology that enable accurate attribution.
The right technology partner helps brands report accurate ROI and cultivate a trusting relationship with their influencers with accurate and on-time commission payments.”
Influencer marketing will be more budget-friendly: Bringing down the cost of acquisition
Jason Wong, Managing Partner at Wonghaus Ventures, believes running influencer campaigns will continue to be more cost-friendly than running ads:
We’re seeing more influencers increasing focus on new channels like TikTok and Instagram Reels, where impressions and engagements are more favorable compared to posting on feed and Instagram Stories. Those assets are then amplified by brands through white-listing on social platforms, bringing down the cost of acquisition compared to running the ads directly from the brand itself. While white-listing isn’t a particularly new concept in the space, it’s been more prevalent in recent months from brands looking to counter the rising cost of advertising, since creatives are making the biggest difference across the board.”
ROI will evolve: Finding something more tangible and holistic from influencer marketing
Blaire Kang McClure, Associate Product Marketing Manager at Impact, predicts that there will soon be a more holistic way to measure tangible ROI from influencer marketing.
"Paying per post has been the predominant mode of compensating influencers, and engagement is still, by far, the most common metric used for measuring influencer marketing success. Now, the pressure is on to connect influencer activities to tangible ROI. But in order to accurately track and measure it, brands need a holistic view of the customer journey, from last click to conversion, and a way to programmatically monitor attribution, revenue, and influencer payout information.”
No one can predict the future with certainty, but these insights should help you start thinking and planning for the future of influencer marketing.
How to get started with influencer marketing
Influencer marketing can be overwhelming. There’s a lot to handle, including finding relevant partners, managing different campaigns, monitoring KPIs and progress, and so much more.
But it can also deliver results better than many other marketing channels combined.
Working with a marketing agency or a partner can reduce the time and cost involved (and improve the efficiency of your campaigns). Check out apps like Refersion and Impact that specialize in affiliate and influencer marketing.
Their expertise and technology can help you find the right creators at reasonable rates and run a successful data-driven campaign.