Hats off to the trend-setting expert who gazed into their magic crystal ball around this time last year and told us exactly what was coming in 2020. Said no-one, ever. But some predictions did come to pass. "The media landscape will become even more fragmented": check. "Consumers will increasingly turn to their digital devices to shop": check. "Social media will take the world by storm": check.
It’s true that all of these things happened; just perhaps not at the speed or scale we imagined. Amid the backdrop of a global pandemic, along with social and political unrest, the social media landscape transformed dramatically, bringing massive changes in how and where people find inspiration, consume content and purchase goods.
Just look at the explosive growth of TikTok and Twitch, the introduction of Instagram Reels, endless IG Lives and the barrage of baking how-tos and virtual fitness classes… and that’s only scratching the surface.
But in the fickle age of influence, how can brands ensure content is cutting through the noise?
Fewer, bigger, better: the era of true authenticity in brand partnerships
An increasing movement towards conscious and inconspicuous consumerism means people are buying less and investing with more consideration. Flashy, excessive displays of wealth and gleeful unboxing videos just aren’t resonating with a population that is locked down. Engagement is a key indicator of consideration and can increasingly impact conversion but to show true resonance between talent and their audience, brands need to invest time listening to audience conversations and analysing user behaviour to create better informed strategies and relevant creative content that resonates and feels truly authentic.
An influencer’s real value lies not in the size of their audience but their impact and actual influence. True authenticity is achieved when both brand and influencer approach their engagement with a mentality of fewer, bigger, better, and carefully select relevant, relatable partners for longer-term projects that deliver better results. Brands need to set incredibly clear objectives from the outset to yield the desired results and ensure there is a smart strategy in place that includes the right mix of creators, storytellers, advocates, referrers or loyalists.
Advocates with a voice, not just a face for hire
Consumers (Gen Z in particular) have a greater awareness and interest in social and environmental causes and want brands to stand for something more than just the products and services they provide.
The social justice crisis of 2020 saw the rise of the advocate - change-makers who influence through their values and use their platform for the greater good; focusing on human-centric stories and change-agendas, rather than product-driven narratives.
These figures have actual influence within communities and can drive tangible change in behaviours - becoming valuable long-term ambassadors for brands with a voice, not just a face for hire. Transparency and open conversation about key values with these advocates has become an increasingly relevant part of any partnership.
Make way for the rise of 'genuinfluencers'
In a world of fake news and heightened anxiety around economic, environmental and political uncertainty, genuine influencers (“genuinfluencers” - as identified by WGSN) are those who use their platforms as tools to combat misinformation. They are increasingly being engaged by public bodies in an official capacity with the World Health Organization and the UK and Finnish governments recognising the power of influencers to spread truth among targeted communities.
This is just the beginning as these institutions start to recognise that with even larger budgets they can deliver more scale and impact. Key to this is not taking a “one size fits all” approach and ensuring that thorough research goes into really understanding the issues at hand with careful consideration in how this information is collected, to craft and communicate the right messages to the target demographic.
Emma Shuldham is the managing director of ITB Worldwide