Humanity will shape influencer marketing in 2021

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Getty Images

As influencer marketing becomes more automated, the need for a thoughtful, human touch is critical.

Influencers are, naturally, really good at influencing people. But are they using their influence for good?

Last year, influencers recognized a new responsibility to use their influence towards our common benefit. And they’re just getting started.

Last March, we saw an all-time spike in influencer engagement, as people were inside, glued to their phones and TVs. As we got vulnerable during this time, influencers did too — directly in the public eye.

There was also a dramatic shift toward hypersensitivity in internet culture. As online conversations became more polarizing, influencers didn’t shy away from participating. In some cases, they became leading voices and advocates on important topics, from mask wearing, to supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, to encouraging voter registration. And it worked.

It also, however, created an interesting tension between influencers and brands. As influencer marketing becomes more automated in this environment, the need for a thoughtful, human touch is critical. Influencer marketing is no longer a numbers game; it’s a people game, and only brands leading with empathy will succeed. 

Listen

There is an overlap between cultural relevance and insensitivity. When working with influencers, first understand the online conversation and cultural context around what you want to say, and process what that means to their followers before acting.

Most digital agencies have teams focused on this. Marketers should also hire someone internally to listen and evaluate online conversation. 

Partner

We need to be more compassionate when sourcing influencers by recognizing their relationships with consumers and the types of conversations they participate in. Start by asking the right questions. It’s insensitive to reach out about a potential paid partnership while ignoring cultural movements that influencers may be intimately involved with. 

While automated tools can make vetting influencers easier, humans need to build real relationships with talent. Otherwise, influencers will become less responsive and willing to participate in campaigns.

Support

Influencers will not compromise on their beliefs in service of a brand. So brands must create opportunities to empower influencers to do more of what they believe in. 

Think about how you can give influencers a platform, product or message that helps them build trust with their audience. That will resonate with consumers far more than a traditional #ad.

Measure

Influencer marketing has always been about reach. But going forward, brands should focus less on impressions and more on creating lasting connections with people. 

Brands shouldn’t worry about sacrificing engagement by participating in conversations that they would normally avoid. If anything, engagement will increase by partnering with influencers who have a voice on subjects that people care about. 

The goal should be equity over impressions. Let’s strive to do meaningful work with influencers that has apositive impact on people, and adjust our measurement accordingly. This strategy is far more likely to positively impact your bottom line in the long run.

Corey Smock is VP, Business Development at Cycle

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