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Goodbye influencer marketing. Hello friend marketing?

We are barely at the crest of the wave of influencer marketing – many traditional marketers still haven’t adopted the phrase in their daily parlance. Now people are already discussing the possibility that influencer marketing may be over.

David Prior says, on Prolific North, “Authenticity can’t be bought; it isn’t about the size of an influencer’s following or how many zeros are in a budget. It’s about combining the right blend of creativity with a strategic understanding of brand, influencer and audience to bring about genuine behaviour change.”

David was commenting on the emergence of fakeness online. There are “fewer and fewer sources of information that can be trusted”, he writes. “Influencers rely on trust and authority and that’s the nub of the issue: without trust, influencers lose power.”

Fake news, alternative facts and scam micro-influencers?

Writing on Digiday, Hilary Milnes quoted one influence marketer who said, “Micro-influencers are the biggest scam.” Mavrck describes micro-influencers as “everyday consumers who have 500-5,000 highly engaged followers around relevant topics”.

Milnes’ interviewee explained his cynicism. “It’s the biggest scam started by the countless influencer marketing platforms that popped up, who find it easier to recruit and work with super small influencers who will do anything for a $100 gift card. Who cares about a 20 per cent engagement rate on a post when only 10 people liked it? [It’s] totally hit or miss.”

Facebook’s news feed change could change advertising

Mark Zuckerberg announced on 11 January that the time has come to change what appears in people’s news feeds. He wrote on Facebook, “We’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content – posts from businesses, brands and media – is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.

“We feel a responsibility to make sure our services aren’t just fun to use, but also good for people’s well-being. So we’ve studied this trend carefully by looking at the academic research and doing our own research with leading experts at universities.

“The research shows that when we use social media to connect with people we care about, it can be good for our well-being. We can feel more connected and less lonely, and that correlates with long term measures of happiness and health. On the other hand, passively reading articles or watching videos – even if they’re entertaining or informative – may not be as good.”

Adam Mosseri, VP of News Feed at Facebook, explained to Wired that content would be weighted differently and posts by their friends and family would not be dominated by posts from brands and publishers. He said more value will be given to long comments than to the likely length of time that someone might watch a video.

Advertisers will need to re-think Facebook strategies

Brand owners and publishers are already of the view that Facebook limits visibility of content to make brands pay for wider exposure. This change to the scoring of content will make it harder for brands to be seen. And you can bet the same ethos is likely to apply on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.

I applaud Facebook’s thinking behind this. Social media is a dark place and full of depressing negativity. If the company wants its platform to be good place, it has to find ways of suppressing the darkness – the fake news, the fake political agitators and the hate talkers. You can block your friends if they start supporting bigotry but you have limited control over how Facebook’s algorithm decides what is good enough for you to watch or read.

Without seeing the changes, I can only guess at how this could affect advertisers and publishers on Facebook. Here are some suggestions:

  • Fewer ads being shown in a feed will mean more competition for space and, potentially, higher costs.
  • Content posted on Facebook pages may need to work harder to get seen.
  • Publishers whose feeds are full of negative news (and most of it is) will need to look for positive as well as negative content.
  • Brand publishers should try to encourage more people to share content personally with their friends.
  • While video is still likely to become the most powerful form of content, Facebook’s devaluing of ‘watchability’ will mean that the real measure of success might be comments, likes and shares rather than viewing length.

What does the Facebook News Feed pivot mean for influencer marketing?

Anyone can be an influencer – a brand, a publisher, a vlogger or an individual with a sizeable audience. The influencer marketing ethos is about finding those people or entities that have an influence on the consumers you are trying to reach.

If your influencer marketing strategy is targeting brand owners and publishers, including vloggers and bloggers, that strategy shouldn’t need to change. Your exposure would be affected, though, if those influencers struggle to achieve the same visibility they had before.

If Facebook (and Instagram) is an outlet for the influencers on whom you rely for promotion, fewer of their messages may be seen by individuals.

Advertisers and marketers should think about new ways to engage direct with individuals to encourage dialogue. That will be hard for some old-fashioned brands who think it’s best to control the message and suppress complaints.

Brand owners will need to be laid-back, fun, fallible, friendly and positive. They will also need to understand the difference between discourse and broadcasting; between conversation and control.

Influencer marketing lives on, but friend marketing is now a thing

You may have heard of dark social. It’s that part of social networking that you can’t track. The online equivalent of friends at a dinner party talking about your product.

The Drum said that 87% of content shares are un-tracked because of dark social sharing. Dark social describes any web traffic that is not attributed to a known source, and Hootsuite says marketers cannot ignore it. If you want to read more about dark social, I recommend this post on eConsultancy.

For the purpose of this post, however, suffice to say that we are all trying to sell to individuals, right? In the old days, billboards, posters and cinema ads reached everyone. Then it was radio commercials on a handful of stations. Then it was TV, with ads and sponsored content.

We now have a multi-dimension, multi-segment, multi-channel world where it is hard to reach everyone. Combine that with the social media revolution of the past decade and you arrive at influencer marketing – a perfect way to reach many people by just targeting a few people.

The new challenge for brand owners is going to be about generating word of mouth at an individual level, not just through influencers.

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