TL;DR – a while yet, probably
It seems the whole world wants to talk about influencers at the moment. But just what is an influencer? And how long are they going to be around for?
Influencers are just people with a large following on social media – and it’s mostly Instagram that’s got people excited, because it’s still possible to get high organic reach on Instagram.
Brands see this as a great opportunity for two linked reasons:
- The carefully-cultivated influencer audience is likely to have nice, neat areas of interest (perfect if they fit with their brand)
- They think they can access that audience for free (or, at least, for less than they’d pay on Facebook ads)
- Endorsements from influencers people trust are likely to be more valuable than those that come from the brands themselves
And Influencers can do a great job for brands – many of them get enthusiastic about the products and do indeed have large, engaged audiences.
But is it the future?
I don’t think so. The name ‘influencer’ seems to have become an aspiration in and of itself for many people – but if you think about it, they aren’t really influencers at all.
They are photographers, or writers, or filmmakers, or presenters. What I’m saying is the name influencer really just refers to the platform they are on – not what they are actually doing. And the platforms are always likely to change.
Organic reach won’t last forever
The other issue is that one of organic reach. The going is great on Instagram at the moment, and organic reach remains consistently high. But the good times aren’t going to roll forever.
Just look at Facebook (who own Instagram, in case you’ve been living in a cave). Organic reach used to be high on Facebook too. So high that brands were all investing huge amounts of time and effort in producing content to hoover up all those free eyeballs.
Then Facebook became so dominant that it really didn’t have any competition any more. Then organic reach fell off a cliff as Facebook encouraged businesses to pay for space in newsfeed.
Follow me on Facebook.
I think it’s fair to assume Instagram will go the same way if and when it’s market share gets big enough. And if that happens, influencers, along with brands and agencies and anyone else, will have to start paying more and more to access their audiences.
I also worry that influencers who are constantly hawking products might see their audiences start to get marketing fatigue – getting bored of being sold to all the time.
BUT WHAT ABOUT SNAPCHAT??
One challenger to the Instagram influencer crown is Snapchat – their more direct user-to-user platform should work well for promoting branded content. But there are a couple of problems:
- The Snap API doesn’t yet give much access for brands to measure the impact of their influencer campaigns. If they are difficult to report on, brands are less likely to use them.
- Instagram is already going after Snap’s audience. After Zuckerberg’s failed attempt at buying them, he’s simply copying their story format in the hope of knocking them out. And initial signs are it’s working – as their rate of growth slowed as soon as Insta stories launched:
So should we give up on our beloved influencers?
No, not just yet. If organic reach falls away, influencers will just go back to being photographers or bloggers or whatever it is they actually do. But that’s not nothing – and those skills will still be useful, even if Instagram stops giving away free reach.
Those that are heavily reliant on Insta might struggle as competition heats up for places in their audience’s feeds, but those on lots of different platforms will continue to do well.
Hell, Snapchat might even win the war with Instagram.
The main thing not to do is treat influencers as an easy way to buy reach. The cheap reach just won’t last – and it’s also really difficult to do any analysis on it anyway (unless they give you all their login info).
It’s far better to build lasting relationships with people who are really aligned with, and enthusiastic about, your brand. And preferably not just reliant on one platform for their reach.
That way, even if free reach disappears, you’ll be in a much better position to work around it.
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