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How will the influencer sector change in 2021?

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Ian Randolph discusses the next year in influence and social media

2020 has been a big year. We have not seen such change the world over in more than a generation, and we’re all searching for answers by which to orient ourselves in this strange new reality.

This need to root in truth has driven us at Tailify to seek out answers for ourselves and our clients on how we can make lemonade out of the lemons of 2020 and thrive in the world that’s emerging. I look after R&D at Tailify, and for the last decade I’ve been focused on helping startups and enterprises alike surf the waves of technological and social change by developing products on the leading edge of what’s needed and what’s possible.

As I look to the future, I’d like to share my top three predictions for the future of influence in 2021. Spoiler alert: the shape of influence will change significantly and will be more crucial than ever.

The social empires of Facebook and Google will begin to crumble

2020 will represent a high watermark for Facebook and Google’s now dominant platforms of Instagram and YouTube. While engagement on these platforms rose dramatically in 2020, we know from our clients that the cost of acquisition through their programmatic ad platforms continues to rise as well. During lockdown social platforms hoovered up the new surplus of attention, but today they are increasingly hemorrhaging trust. As evidence piles up of widespread censorship on their platforms and collusion among each other to silence critical voices, consumers are beginning to lose faith that these firms are aligned with their interests.

Even before lockdown in April 2019, a survey by YouGov found that 19% of users trust Facebook while only 13% of users trust Google, and the privacy concerns which drove this sentiment have only magnified. As a result, more ads are being filtered out, either explicitly through ad blockers or implicitly through psychological perception. Some consumers and creators have already shifted to platforms offering greater freedom of expression and of thought.

The rise of TikTok and its clones signals an unmet need for authenticity and spontaneity as a release from incumbent platforms where it feels one must have their best face on, while the rise of alternative platforms like Parler and Rumble signals a backlash against censorship. How Facebook and Google respond to the times will shape just how much of their empires they keep, but the damage cannot be undone.

2021 will see the rise of increasingly multi-platform creators, complicating discovery, strategy and measurement and attribution. New platforms also bring new opportunities, with the best rates and rising stars easiest to capture early in a social platform’s lifecycle. Tailify is preparing for this future by expanding our tech and service capabilities to discover great influencers beyond Instagram and YouTube and deliver great campaigns across these new platforms.

Clear measures of ROI will become indispensable

2020 has brought new pressures to marketers the world over. As we move through increasingly uncertain times and face the potential of one of the biggest economic downturns in a generation, brands can no longer afford the luxury of taking punts on splashy campaigns with questionable return on investment. Tight times sharpen minds and marketers who thrive in these times will be those who confront the questions of what’s really causing results and seek evidence of impact.

At the same time, impact measurement is becoming harder and harder to do. GDPR has made it increasingly easy to opt out of cookies, while Apple’s new privacy features are poised to eliminate in-app tracking for advertising purchases. These consumer protections will prohibit collection of data that today enables attribution for all digital campaigns, including influencer campaigns.

Even with accurate tracking, research has demonstrated that direct conversions only track a small percentage of the full value influencers generate. As we’ve detailed before, a Google study found that the true conversion rate for one influencer campaign was at least five times higher than what was measured through tracking links just one week after a campaign went live. This ‘untracked majority’ does not even account for the long-term effects on consumer psychology of viewing an influencer campaign which might be realised in behaviours months later and through untrackable channels.

Tailify aims to address the ROI measurement problem in 2021 with a comprehensive framework which addresses the full range of not only the behavioural impact driven by influencer content but also the psychological impact.

The wild west will be won

Influencer marketing has long and understandably been seen as a wild west – a place of both danger and riches whose lawlessness made its opportunities accessible only to a prepared and clever few. A lack of feedback in the form of true ROI measurement has allowed pricing for influencers to vary wildly, and even with the measurement problem solved, there remains the inescapable reality that results delivered by influencers vary wildly between one another, with the top 1% of influencers delivering as much as 50% of a campaign’s results. How to find that 1% of high performers for a given brand is a titanic challenge, a problem I’ve detailed before.

If this problem could be solved however, if brands could accurately gauge the potential value of an influencer for a campaign, the west would be effectively won. If the potential returns an influencer could generate could be accurately predicted, it would put a fair price on influence, a price where both the brand and the influencer profit rather than leaving at least one party feeling ripped off or disappointed. With the capacity to find the best value influencers for their brand, marketers will have the confidence to shift budgets towards influencers, creating a thriving market for effective influencers. The influence economy will come of age.

The influence economy remains wild because we haven’t yet cracked the code of influence, but the table is now finally set for this problem to be solved. There are over 100 million influencers to choose from, making the likelihood higher than ever that the perfect advocates for your brand are out there waiting for you, if only they could be found. AI tools to trawl through this new wealth are more powerful and accessible than ever. Computer vision and NLP now make it feasible to learn influencers’ emotional patterns from their facial expressions and track the loyalty of their audiences, to name but two signals among a wealth of insights which can be gleaned automatically and at scale. The final piece is the burgeoning research into the neurological and psychological constituents of influence, which decompose the nature of influence into forces and factors which can be measured rigorously and harnessed creatively.

With the industry at a critical mass of creators, our psychological understanding mature enough to identify the components of influence, and machine learning powerful enough to infer and evaluate and the components of influence at scale, the tools needed to crack the code of influence are finally at hand. Tailify is all in cracking the code of influence with our distinct obsession with both the brain science and data science of influence. 2021 will be the year of breakthroughs which will unleash the power and profitability of influence for growing brands.

Ian Randolph is head of product and R&D at Tailify

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