As social media continues to grow and dominate our free time, more of our eyes and clicks are being diverted to these platforms. Certain users and members gain popularity based on what they post, and eventually brands and companies are willing to pay them to push out their products or services. This is the marketer’s definition of an influencer. But for everyone else, an influencer represents something else: they can be aspirational figures, they can be style gurus, they can be an average joe and anything else under the sun.
Though still a young industry, “The Future of Influencer” session explored how influencers have changed drastically from even just a few years ago. The ease of entry into the field has led to an explosion of burgeoning social media stars. New regulations attempt to provide more oversight and growing consumer savviness is forcing current influencers to find new ways to reach audiences. No longer just a side hobby for entrepreneurial users, it has since blossomed into $8 billion business, and expected to keep growing to $15 billion by 2022.
And it now demands more from new entrants. A brand into themselves, influencers are expected to develop a unique brand story, organically build a following, partner with like-minded companies, and constantly churn out content to appease the masses. Done successfully, the outcome is fame and fortune. It’s no wonder why so many teens want to become an influencer in the future.
But this growth in influencers is not without its share of challenges. The panel of creators and strategists onstage talked about the rise of fake engagement, which has alarmed platforms and brands alike. There is a need to verify authenticity before it erodes the foundations of this industry; not just for key metrics, but for authenticity in storytelling as well. Transparency fosters trust and allow fans to connect on another level with influencers. The removal of “likes” from Instagram adds another hiccup to the equation as users now have less context on what’s popular—but it’s not a bad thing for creators to be more focused on other means of engagement, or for users to focus more on the content itself. In general, platforms changing at a moment’s notice is not new; changes in layouts and algorithms have disrupted creators before only to see them adapt and succeed in the new environment.
It’s hard to know exactly what will happen to the influencer industry in the future. As internal and external forces alike work to make improvements, it also serves to change the content and how people interact with it. Influencers help fill a unique void for consumers who’ve moved away from other traditional advertising, and only time will tell whether it remains in this niche or evolves into a dominant alternative for brands to pursue.