Since 2017, the number of social media users worldwide grew from nearly 2.9 billion to 3.6 billion in 2020. This number was projected to go to 3.78 billion by the end of 2021.
That projection fell short – to date, there are 4.48 billion social media users worldwide. To put that in perspective, that is nearly 57% of the global population.
One of the biggest presences on social media are influencers. Influencers come in all shapes and sizes, with follower counts ranging from 1,000 to tens of millions, and represent touchstones for nearly every industry. From health and fitness to skincare to finance to reptile raising, if you’re interested in it, you can find an influencer for it on social media.
And for businesses and influencers alike, the, well, influence of influencers has revealed a new era of online marketing. Here, we’ll dive into the growing prevalence of influencer marketing, how influencer marketing looks in 2021 and into 2022, and how to best use influencer marketing for your business.
What is an influencer?
While an influencer may be easy to spot, establishing the exact criteria for what makes an influencer can be difficult. Generally speaking, influencers are people that have some kind of social media presence and following, and have an impact on trends, perceptions, and opinions of their target audience and/or followers. Influencers can be celebrities, or people who have grown their followings entirely through social media.
When it comes to identifying influencers, particularly if you want to collaborate on sponsored posts, the two primary factors to consider are:
- the size of the influencer’s social network (or, more simply, how many followers they have),
- and the authority or trustworthiness of the influencer (or, would someone trust their endorsement of a particular product?).
When it comes to marketing (don’t worry, we’ll get there in a minute), influencers are seen as third-parties who may endorse a brand or shape public opinions around a brand, though perhaps not overtly or in a way that registers like other forms of marketing.
What is influencer marketing?
Influencer marketing – also known as influence marketing – is a form of online marketing. Generally present on social media platforms, influencer marketing leverages the popularity or social influence, or trustworthiness around a particular topic, of particular influencers to promote products, services, and brands, often through endorsements and product placement in sponsored posts.
5 Influencer Marketing Statistics and Trends to Watch in 2021
- Influencer marketing as an industry is growing extremely quickly. By 2022, the influencer marketing industry is expected to hit $13.8 billion. This is over a $4 billion increase from 2020, and a $12 billion increase from 2016.
- Influencer marketing has shown strong ROI trends. According to the 2020 State of Influencer Marketing Benchmark Report from Influencer Marketing Hub, influencer marketing campaigns earn an average of roughly $5.75 for every dollar spent.
- People are trusting online reviews of products, services, and businesses more and more. According to a BrightLocal survey, over 80% of consumers report trusting online reviews as much as recommendations from friends and family. This indicates the importance of “online word-of-mouth” to the success of certain brands.
- Young people trust influencers more than traditional celebrities. According to a report published by Google, 70% of teens reported trusting influencers more than traditional celebrities.
- People are avoiding traditional advertising. With more people utilizing programs like AdBlocker every year, and 90% of users report skipping paid results in favor of organic results in Google search, the importance of sponsored content and influencer marketing is on the rise.
Influencer Marketing FAQs
Why has influencer marketing become so popular?
In a world increasingly defined by social media, trends and conversations on these platforms can carry substantial weight. As we said earlier, nearly 4.5 billion people worldwide are on social media. In the US, these numbers are even higher, with over 80% of Americans on social media. More and more, how we think (and what we think about) is shaped by the conversations and spaces we engage with online, as well as the influencers we follow – and this includes how we decide to spend our money and which brands we choose to connect with.
On Instagram alone, over 80% of users report using the platform to research products and businesses, and 50% of Instagram users have visited a company’s website to make a purchase after seeing that brand on the platform.
Another key factor in the rise of influencer marketing is the rise in mobile users online. Of the 4.66 billion active internet users worldwide, 4.32 billion – over 92% – access the internet via mobile devices. When it comes to social media, 3.92 billion users access these platforms via mobile devices. This is 99% of all social media users.
This isn’t just about people using their mobile devices for social media, but also how they use them. According to Google, smartphone users have a higher buyer intent than desktop users, and searches for product reviews have increased by over 30% over the last two years. Even further, 40% of users report that they prefer to use their mobile devices for the entire shopping process. With mobile devices projected to influence more than $1.4 trillion in sales in 2021 alone, the importance of leveraging social media marketing – and, thus, influencer marketing – is a no-brainer for several businesses.
What are the benefits of influencer marketing for businesses?
There are several benefits when it comes to leveraging influencer marketing, including:
- Credibility: When you leverage influencer marketing effectively, you are exposing your target audience to your brand through an already-trusted source. By partnering with influencers that already have established a rapport with their audience, your brand will not have to work as hard to build that rapport on its own.
- Brand Awareness: By picking influencers that are relevant to your brand or industry, you will be reaching an audience that should be in the market for your products or service offerings. Seeing your product promoted by an influencer they follow – or multiple influencers they follow – will increase brand awareness, even if they don’t rush to your site the first time they are exposed to your brand.
- Affordability: While it may seem like the more followers, the better, this isn’t always true. In fact, micro-influencers (influencers with lower follower counts) have been reported to have better engagement rates than mega-influencers (influencers with over 1 million followers) If you are a new business, or are working with a limited marketing budget, influencer marketing can be a valuable tool in marketing your brand without overspending.
- Engagement: Social media as a whole provides a unique opportunity for consumers to interact directly with brands, celebrities, and, of course, influencers. Through influencer marketing, your brand can receive more social media signals and engagement, which can increase brand awareness, as well as have a positive impact on your SEO and online reputation efforts.
How can you identify influencer marketing?
Due to regulations from the FTC, influencers are required to clearly disclose business partnerships and sponsored posts. Different social media platforms have different requirements for influencers to highlight sponsored posts. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram require that influencers clearly tag posts as advertisements.
As with any sponsored content, influencers are required to disclose that the content is sponsored, whether it is an endorsement, product placement, partnership, etc. However, also like with other forms of sponsored content, influencer marketing is meant to be difficult to distinguish from non-sponsored content, and these indicators can sometimes be subtle or difficult to identify.
How do you decide which influencers to collaborate with?
If you have decided to implement an influencer marketing strategy, you will need to consider a few factors to get the most out of your partnerships:
- How many followers do they have? Influencers are generally put into categories based on follower counts. These categories are mega-influencers, macro-influencers, micro-influencers, and nano-influencers, with mega-influencers being influencers with follower counts in the several millions, and nano-influencers being influencers with smaller followings, closer to 1,000 followers. While it may seem that the more followers are better, that isn’t quite the case: Depending on your budget, industry, and target audience, the level of influencer you need won’t necessarily be those with the most followers. If you have a limited budget, or a niche industry, you are likely better off working with influencers with smaller audiences.
- What is their industry, or what topics do they cover? What are they known for? One of the greatest criticisms influencers receive for sponsored posts is that the post seems irrelevant or unrelated to what they regularly post. Posts that stick out in an influencer’s feed or to an influencer’s audience can backfire on both the influencer and the brand they are promoting. To avoid this, identify the industry or areas of focus of influencers before you partner with them. Who else have they partnered with? What are their areas of expertise (or, what are they an authority on)? Influencers that are considered credible in certain industries carry extra authority when they choose to promote a brand, so doing your research can not only save you from missteps, but can also help your brand get the most out of an influencer marketing strategy.
- What is their tone, or vibe? When it comes to your online strategy, it is vital to maintain your brand voice when it comes to your own social media, and the same is true for the influencers you partner with. Influencers that align with your brand voice, mission, and overall feel or vibe are more likely to appear authentic and to reach your target audience. Avoid collaborating with influencers that may not align with your brand, or who could have a negative or confusing impact on your target audience.
- Is this influencer credible? It’s likely that you wouldn’t choose an influencer with naturally straight hair to represent your curly hair products. In addition to choosing influencers that align with your industry and brand voice, be sure to partner with influencers that can genuinely represent your brand. Identify what you hope to highlight about your brand with your influencer marketing strategy, and find influencers that represent that image.
- How much will it cost to collaborate with this influencer? There is a wide range when it comes to the cost of influencer marketing. Nano-influencers can make as little at $10 a post, while mega-influencers can make over $10,000 a post. Determine what you are willing to spend, and find influencers that match your budget. As with any marketing strategy, this can be iterative – as you see which posts and influencers benefit your product, brand, or business the most, you can adjust your budget and spend accordingly.
Are there any pitfalls when it comes to working with influencers?
There are a few less-than-ideal aspects of influencer marketing to take into account when incorporating influencer marketing into your online marketing strategy:
- Fake influencers: Fake influencers are generally considered to be influencers who have inflated their following, either by paying for followers or through the use of bots. While these influencers may have impressive follower counts, you may not be getting what you paid for when you collaborate with them. Not only are influencers who use these tactics less credible or authentic (a key factor of influencer marketing), but with audiences made up substantially of bots or paid-for followers, you likely won’t reach your target audience like you would expect. One way you can check for issues like this is to compare follower counts with engagement on influencer posts – if there is a large discrepancy, there may be reason to be cautious when it comes to working with that particular influencer.
- Choosing the wrong influencer: Influencers who promote brands or products that do not align with their non-sponsored content, or influencers who partner with brands that their audiences may be skeptical of, risk backlash for sponsored posts that may result in their audience thinking negatively about your brand. This can also cause influencers to lose credibility.
- Partnering with a PR hit: Because influencers are not your employees, but are more collaborators, partners, or ambassadors, you can be surprised or caught offguard by influencers doing something, unrelated to your brand, that harms their reputation. While it can depend on your involvement with the influencer, if your brand is associated with an influencer that is experiencing a PR crisis, this can reflect poorly on your brand.
While these pitfalls can be intimidating, they can largely be avoided by developing a deliberate influencer marketing strategy and staying informed on the influencers you work with.
As 2021 comes to a close, it’s important to look at the trends from the year and where those trends seem to be going. And when it comes to influencer marketing, it looks like an industry that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. For brands and businesses in 2021 and beyond, staying up-to-date on changes in consumer behaviors, and who consumers are taking shopping advice from, can help ensure that your marketing strategy is working best for you.