Influencer marketing has rocketed in recent years. Google “influencer marketing”, and you’ll get more than 70 million hits on how you too can be a successful influencer, or how your company can make best use of one. And the phenomenon shows no signs of waning just yet. According to the Digital Marketing Institute, turnover from influencer marketing increased by almost 200 per cent in 2017 and is projected to reach USD 10 billion by 2020.

Influencers have been given a platform where they can do and say almost whatever they like, much to the liking of the younger generation. Influencers may have thousands, or even millions of followers who are completely indifferent to traditional media and advertising, but who will happily spend hours and hours following their favourite influencer, who they see as a friend and someone they can trust.

Naturally, advertisers were quick to spot the potential value of that for marketing, now being able to reach the young people in a completely new way. Where traditional media and banners rarely have much impact, influencers have the trust of the target audience. And many of them are open to being associated with a range of brands.

But there are downsides to the phenomenon, for example from a legal aspect. In many countries, influencers have been accused of unlawful marketing since they have failed to tag sponsored posts. And parent groups and the general public are increasingly concerned about the message content and the fact that children are exposed to clandestine advertising.

From a marketer’s perspective, the question is what the influencers will do for, or to, your brand. As free agents, they can basically do what they want. There are numerous examples of influencers appearing in campaigns in some channels, while backstabbing the brand in other. And while credibility is the influencer’s biggest asset, lately it has been tarnished by revelations of both fake followers and fake photos. “They were just pics on Instagram, you can’t assume they are genuine”, as one of the Swedish Instagrammers put it when confronted with photoshopped vacation pictures.

So what will happen in the future? Most probably, as long as advertisers see influencers as viable channels for brand engagement and reach, they will continue to work with them. But in order to exert a better control over the brand publicity, the companies will ultimately need to turn things around; setting up their own channels and inviting influencers to get involved. And in the other end, to really regain the trust in influencers, we need a change of technology. For instance, moving to crowd-funded platforms where the personal opinions can be published, away from controlling commercial interests. When, and if, this will be, is a nut waiting to be cracked. Until then influencer marketing will remain an important but uncontrolled asset.

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