Influencer marketing has seen impressive growth over the last few years and, given the current climate we are in, this trend seems set to continue. 39% of all marketers have stated that their brand investment in this channel will increase in 2020 and influencer agencies (MCNs) are now part of the ad industry landscape, managing talent and turning engagements and likes into paid for and trackable entities.

Alongside this the ASA has taken a much more active role in monitoring influencer activity and ensuring complete transparency, which is no bad thing. It has catapulted this type of advertising into the mainstream.

Influencer marketing conjures up images of ex-Love Island contestants selling teeth whitening products and questionable fast fashion “outfits” to their millions of followers, however the real appeal of this type of advertising is that it is completely scalable depending on the brand. There are numerous niche tribes on social media – for all sorts of products beyond fashion and beauty – so you can, in theory, tap into the right audience by getting the right advocate to endorse what you are selling. The stats speak for themselves, with ROI often coming out either comparable or better than other existing channels.

When you peel away the technological face of the matter, we are really playing on the oldest and most reliable type of advertising – word of mouth. 84% of people still state that this is the method they trust the most and influencers have been great at building that familiar relationship with their audiences to garner their trust and attention.

As humans we crave that element of connection which is what these talented people have managed to give their followers. Whilst the big celebrities have mass appeal and deliver in terms of impression numbers and reach, it is the micro-influencers that most successfully engage their followers and see more impressive engagement rates off the back of any activity.

Looking into the future however, we have come to an interesting crossroads in the industry and I am left wondering; are we about to ruin a good thing?

The virtual influencer has long been talked about and has been creeping into our Instagram feeds, but with little success thus far. The human connection and authenticity that we crave – now more than ever – is hard to replicate. The uncanny valley metaphor is the idea that the more lifelike an artificial figure seems, the more familiar we find it up to a point. When it gets too real, we have a negative emotional response to it, a gut reaction that makes us recoil. This is what I feel is happening here.

In an effort to create cheaper influencers and give the advertisers more control over the medium, we are losing what makes it work in the first place – humans.

It’s time to go back to basics and it’s a bit like entering the Love Island villa. Find someone you click with, seek out that true connection between talent and their followers – an honest voice that can effectively represent what you want to stand for – and then let them do their thing! Influencer marketing isn’t a short-term strategy, it should be a long-term relationship – both authentic and real. That is the way to get your audience to “catch feels”.

Emma Williams, Senior Account Manager