In a time of “internet-fame” and “doing it for the ‘gram,” one company is looking to the future of influencer marketing, starting with 2019.
Kyla Brennan created HelloSociety in 2011, a company that connects influencers with brands, during a time when nobody was really thinking about the power of influence. Now, it’s one of the most rapidly growing sectors of marketing, and by 2020 will become a $10 billion industry.
“When I started, the phrase `influencer marketing’ didn’t even exist,” Brennan said. “It went from being some arbitrary idea of a type of marketing to becoming a form of marketing even the biggest companies are setting aside larger and larger budgets for.”
In 2019, Brennan says the influencer marketing industry will change in many ways, including the mental image of what defines an influencer, the platform itself and the relationship between companies and influencers.
This year, the industry is set to embrace a larger scope of influencers, those that have a range of follower counts in addition to various ethnicities, ages and backgrounds. The definition of “influencer” is going to change; in addition to fashion and beauty icons and celebrities making an impact online, social media will include more moms, families and animals. Audiences should expect more video content as well as a rise in offline activity used to enhance social campaigns.
When people think about influencer marketing, they tend to think of the fashion industry. Models wearing a certain brand and posting that content to social media. However, Brennan believes that fashion isn’t the most exciting place for brands to play, and instead, HelloSociety more frequently works within other categories including auto, financial services and entertainment. “I think the more challenging and frankly more interesting categories of influencer marketing are things that people don’t necessarily think about,” Brennan said.
Nowadays, Brennan said, “you have a much larger variety of personalities and types of people with different backgrounds, who are influencers and can speak on behalf of a much larger variety of brands.” She also said the most interesting part of influencer marketing in 2019 is “the fact that it’s giving a new era of influencers a platform, it’s giving a voice to the next generation of respected people who hadn’t had a voice before.”
HelloSociety also created animal focused division WAGSociety, to represent not human influencers, but Insta-famous pups or Facebook-friendly felines. An example of WAGSociety’s work is a recent campaign with Jeep. The automobile company wanted to promote its brand at the Winter X Games, so in order to amplify efforts, HelloSociety partnered the brand with @GrayWoof, an Instagram influencer account made up of three dogs – two Siberian Huskies and a Berger Blanc Suisse.
“(Animals) get more positive engagement than their human counterparts,” Brennan said. “People are organically setting up accounts for their dogs, cats, foxes, you name it, and we realized there was a real audience.”
So, HelloSociety has tapped this audience, using animals to advertise a variety of different brands: from vacuum cleaners to driveway salt to the latest animal-centered movie. “It’s really no different than having a Tony the Tiger back in the day,” she said. “They are living versions of these animal spokesmodels.”
Brennan said animals are her favorite type of influencer to work alongside. “I love animals, and it’s really fun,” she said. “Their owners tend to be really easy to work with, more flexible.”
With the increase of influencer marketing, social media users are also looking for more transparency and authenticity when choosing personalities to follow online. Brennan addresses this by ensuring longer, deeper relationships with influencers, instead of one-off transactions.
For example, HelloSociety will often send influencers to a company’s headquarters to meet the team behind the brand, hear its story and gain an understanding of the mission behind the product. These influencers become true advocates for the brand, and are perceived as `ambassadors’ rather than “influencers.”
Brennan said there are many influencers who will advertise a product only because they realize there is money to be made. These people will promote a brand that they don’t use or haven’t even researched. “When you take (authenticity) away, you’re really undermining the entire value of this industry,” she said. “I think that’s why we’ve always concentrated so much on making sure that everything is super transparent, and it’s something that every brand and agency needs to take into consideration. Make sure you educate influencers about what it is and force them to get to know your brand.”
Another concern with influencer marketing is an increase in robot accounts and fake followers. As such, it has become more and more difficult for companies such as Brennan’s to tell the difference between a true influencer and one who bought their online fame. “There is so much room for fraud,” she said. “There’s so much of it happening, and it happens at every level.”
Just under half of marketers find fake followers and robots to be their main concern. “You have to make sure you are checking and triple-checking that their audience is in fact real, their engagement is real,” she said. HelloSociety has a whole team of lawyers who work against fraud. Especially because they are a New York Times company, Brennan aims to ensure their network is full of genuine online personalities.
One way to ensure a real audience is to use people who received their social audience because of something they did. Brennan wants brands to tap into the back story of the influencers they work with.
“For instance, somebody who is well known as a young millennial, cool chef or an Olympic athlete, and they have a huge social following because of what they’ve accomplished offline,” she said. “That’s a story they’re not making up. That is based on things they’ve actually done, and it translates to their social following, rather than the other way around.”