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    Influencer marketing can get brands through the recession

    A global recession is threatening client confidence in the efficacy of marketing, but We Are Social Australia’s Suzie Shaw argues it will only strengthen social and influencer marketing.

    Influencer marketing has long been perceived as a fad, but after almost two decades of growth, brand partnerships with influencers are here to stay. In fact, brands are growing increasingly reliant on this highly lucrative and effective marketing channel. Some advertisers are even hiring TikTok influencers to manage their social media accounts, such as skincare brand Wldkat, which hired TikTok influencer Michael Dion (@michaeldoesmakeup, 37,600 followers) to take over its brand account this summer. 

    Current economic pressures are unlikely to change this growth trajectory. In this climate, brands tend to shy away from risk and the key driver of decision-making is profit. 

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    We consistently see influencers deliver strong ROI for brands. They offer value by way of powerful endorsement, quality content creation and efficient media distribution. In fact, influencers significantly outperform brands’ own channels when it comes to reach and engagement on social. Also many of the biggest influencers on social media have exponentially greater reach than legacy publishers.

    Influencer marketing not only offers brand-building opportunities and long-term growth, but it can boost sales as influencers can also drive direct response.

    But while growth has remained consistent, we have seen major shifts in the influencer sector in recent years. The pandemic proved a disruption for many creators, who had to move away from presenting a picture-perfect lifestyle and focus instead on offering something more relatable for their audiences. The rise of TikTok also changed the cultural landscape. The curated, aspirational style of social content gave way to an unfiltered, relatable, more authentic approach popularized by the platform. In addition, new ways of monetizing content, such as the membership platform Patreon, enabled influencers to earn revenue directly from their audience, which, in turn, changed the nature of the content they create, freeing them up from some of the restrictions that come with branded content. 

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    Along with those shifts, new virtual worlds have started to open up, with the emergence of web3 and the ensuing NFT gold rush. Influencers have always been pivotal to the growth of emerging platforms, from Facebook to Twitch, and the metaverse will be no different. Establishing audiences for these new worlds will depend on creators going in and building experiences that audiences want to be part of.

    All of this disruption to the media and cultural landscape has served to raise audience expectations around content. In a crowded digital landscape, the influencers with the most engaging content win. Time spent online is also spiking, and this raises the bar in terms of what followers expect from influencers.

    Today’s influencers aren’t just creators, they’re entrepreneurs. One of the beauty world’s biggest influencers, James Charles, has grown into a fully-fledged brand, releasing his own makeup lines. This entrepreneurial approach is also shaping the metaverse, with the NFT pioneers behind Bored Ape Yacht Club building a business empire out of their collection of cartoon apes.

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    Today’s brands must therefore think beyond cash for content. Brands used to only enlist influencers who aligned with their values, but many big advertisers are now looking to stretch their values by partnering with unexpected collaborators. For example, Burberry’s collaboration with @SylvanianDramas taps into the brand’s irreverent side, while Call of Duty teamed up with Saweetie to drive reappraisal of the stereotypes around its audience. Likewise, TikTok’s star trainspotter Francis Bourgeois became the unlikely face of Gucci earlier this year (pictured above).

    Influencer movements are also helping brands access communities at scale, with influencers on BookTok getting gen Z into reading and building a vast network of communities with a passion for books. Meanwhile, Bumble’s ’My Love is Black’ campaign enlisted influencers rooted in Black communities in order to tap into a Black British audience.

    Along with long-term relationships, brands should also explore more short-term, reactive influencer partnerships that help drive culture. Case in point being Calvin Klein enlisting Pete Davidson and Machine Gun Kelly to hijack its Instagram page earlier this year, which sent fans and the internet into a frenzy.

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    But while we’ve seen a lot of flux in the influencer sector, it’s worth remembering that some aspects of this sector never change. An influencer’s authenticity, ability to offer a sense of connection and compelling storytelling are, and will always be, what keeps audiences coming back for more. 

    As the market has diversified, the cost of investing in influencers is rising. But it’s an investment that can not only shift product, it can help brands drive culture and engage new communities at scale. With the mounting challenges ahead, innovating around influencer partnerships could now be the fastest route to success for brands.

    Suzie Shaw is chief executive at We Are Social Australia.

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