The State of Influencer Marketing

by Michael Satterfield

I had an amazing time at an Influencer Marketing conference this week where I had a chance to speak about Branded Content and Influencer Marketing to some of the top agencies, brands, and non-profits in the United States. After listening to the other speakers and reflecting on my own talk, here are my major takeaways about the current state of Influencer Marketing.

1. Agencies are driving most of the conversations with major brands. If you are an influencer, make more agency friends.

2. Even at Fortune 500 companies, the VP of marketing can’t tell you the ROI on seven-figure influencer campaign. The only metrics that they really know are the views, impressions, and engagement on the content itself, but most had no idea on if these projects were translating into actual sales, and in almost all cases the engagement is driven, not by the content, but by ad spend.

3. Most large agency’s and brand’s influencer campaigns are focused on traditional celebrity endorsements, not new media stars. Sports, Reality TV, and Film Stars made up the bulk of the examples of “Influencer Marketing” that were discussed at the conference, that is the major difference in what major brands consider influencer marketing and what many smaller brands call it.

4. Major brands are still afraid of working with new media and social media celebrities. They will spend months digging into every Post, Tweet, and Video, that a social media influencer or YouTuber has shared, looking for anything from controversial statements, anything political, or if the influencer has ever said anything negative about the brand. One of the largest YouTubers on the platform was removed from consideration for a campaign because they had complained about a service experience with the brand in a video that was over two years old.

5. No one has any firm idea on what they should be paying anyone in the influencer space, which is why we are seeing more and more agency managed campaigns, where big agencies in New York and Los Angeles are working with major brands, which are headquartered in New York and Los Angeles. Influencer and social media marketing are being quickly absorbed by advertising agencies who are attempting to impose traditional advertising models. Which many admitted doesn’t look authentic to the influencer and are less effective, but it is safer for their client’s brands than just trusting the creator.

6. The top-level CEOs, VPs of Marketing, and other executives making these decisions are still largely consuming traditional media over new media. Philip DeFranco, Keemstar, The Young Turks, and Tim Pool don’t exist in their world as sources for news or information. Instead, their impressions of what is happening within new media are shaped by traditional news sources.

Overall I learned a lot at this event and got great feedback from the audience about my presentation. However, while social media and platforms like YouTube have created a new generation of celebrities, traditional advertising agencies are still the gatekeepers to most of the advertising dollars. The “ADpocalypse” is not a conspiracy, the top floor executives are very afraid of the power that a kid with a camera can wield today. Back in the early 2000s Broadcast TV, Cable, Satellite, even Print Publications all were predictable, they had clear guidelines, and advertisers knew what to expect. In 2019, print media has died or become a niche and millions of people have “cut the cord,” forcing traditional media and the industries that support them into the online into the new media space.

Traditional media and ad agencies have brought their “gatekeeper” mentality with them to new media, resulting in major shifts on social media platforms. This has pushed independent creators in two directions, mainstreaming their content and getting agency representation, or funding their content via creating their own subscription service or joining multi-channel-network subscription services. Expect to see more “Influencers” with agents and fewer campaigns from Main Street America with more coming from Madison Avenue.