Founder and CEO of Sway Group, an influencer marketing agency that generates exceptional content with guaranteed results.
Even during a year like no other, influencer marketing thrived in 2020. Lockdowns led to increased social media usage, a change in consumer behavior from Covid-19, there were production challenges around traditional advertising shoots, audiences turned toward authenticity and curated content, and brand budgets were upended, requiring quick-turn pivots. All of these issues and more inspired plenty of brands to partner with influencers this past year in order to get the word out in a relevant, topical and mindful way.
Of course, influencer marketing has been on the rise for a while now. According to the annual Influencer Marketing Benchmark Report, ever since 2016 there has been a yearly increase of at least 50% to the overall estimated market size of the industry. While it’s safe to say that influencer marketing isn’t going away anytime soon, today’s most brand-effective digital creators may be flying under the radar.
TikTok’s Overnight Celebrity Factor
As TikTok continues to experience explosive growth, the platform’s unique recommendation system rewards great content with great visibility. As TikTok puts it, “neither follower count nor whether the account has had previous high-performing videos are direct factors in the recommendation system.”
This is all to say you don’t have to be a hugely popular TikTok creator with thousands or millions of followers to have a video go viral. Case in point: the second most popular TikTok of 2020 was a random man skateboarding down the highway while drinking cran-raspberry juice and vibing to Fleetwood Mac.
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While TikTok is aimed at young audiences — and therefore it tends to be teenagers who receive surprise viral fame from the platform — the platform hosts an enormous spectrum of creativity that encompasses a range of niche topics and communities. A number of everyday older adults have gained viral followings in recent months simply from being their authentic selves and connecting with younger viewers.
Growing Appeal of Micro and Nano Influencers
More and more brands have been seeing the value of partnering with micro and nano influencers, whose small-in-name-only clout can far eclipse their more popular peers. These creators are often viewed as more authentic and credible than macro-influencers, and they tend to have deeper personal connections with their followers.
Celebrity-level influencers certainly have the kind of follower numbers that implies slam-dunk campaign success, but it’s the smaller creators who bring more sway to their sponsorships. Their audiences are more engaged, more loyal, and more likely to pay attention to a review or recommendation. Simply put: people relate more to “everyday” influencers than they do Kim Kardashian or PewDiePie.
Authenticity and transparency became important in 2020 as brands struggled to find meaningful ways of staying relevant without coming off as insensitive or appearing to capitalize on a crisis. This trend is likely to continue into 2021 as our “next normal” evolves throughout the year, with consumers being more drawn to campaigns that feel genuine and personal.
Niche Topic Experts
Many of today’s digital creators focus their content on the specialized topics they know their followers are interested in. Food, DIY, tech, parenting, fashion, beauty and lifestyle are all examples of popular niche categories, with subcategories that can be incredibly specific while still appealing to large audience numbers (gluten-free baking, for instance).
Information overload has led to a growing need for content curation, which has, in turn, driven interest in subject matter experts of all kinds. The events of 2020 prompted many of us to seek out trustworthy sources for reliable political and pandemic updates, turning those people into influencers in their own right.
As an example, political historian Heather Cox Richardson’s expertise and clear-headed writing skills led to enormous digital popularity and relevance during 2020’s political upheavals. Her political observations newsletter, Letters from an American, is now a Facebook page with almost a million followers.
Infectious disease researcher Laurel Bristow also gained Instagram fame in 2020, by posting Covid-related information to her Stories feed, demystifying the science and keeping audiences abreast of the latest developments. Her ability to explain complicated topics in a relatable way, on a platform that people were already on, sent her follower count soaring from a couple thousand to more than 330,000.
The point is, influencers aren’t limited to social media mavens sharing their “outfit of the day.” People across all sorts of professions and platforms can be hugely influential for a variety of reasons, which offers a world of opportunities for brands that want to leverage influencer expertise and credibility.
Influencers are often thought of in stereotypes (i.e., young blonde fashionista) but they come in all shapes and forms, across all sorts of platforms. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for finding the right influencers; every campaign is different. However, when it comes to reflecting current realities, identifying pain points and offering real value to consumers, it’s often the “everyday” creator who truly shines.
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Author: Danielle Wiley, Forbes Councils Member