It’s a complex time for brands, marketers and creators navigating the messy social-media sector these days.
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So where does that leave creators trying to make a living on social media, and brands trying to work with them to reach customers?
Not so bad off, it turns out, according to the just-released Influencer Marketing Trends Report by CreatorIQ, which runs end-to-end campaigns for big brands such as Unilever and AB InBev. The survey suggests it’s actually been a good time for influencer marketing.
“Despite signs of an economic downturn, and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, influencer marketing is thriving,” the report says. It suggests the real challenges are getting the budgets and personnel to scale influencer-marketing campaigns larger, and retaining relationships with creators.
For the trend survey, CreatorIQ talked with 236 creators and 163 brands and agencies.
Two-thirds of the brands surveyed said they increased spending in the sector over the past year compared to previously, and three in five have increased their influencer-marketing staff. Long-sought industry standards on metrics – strongly backed by CreatorIQ and some of its biggest clients – arrived this year from the Association of National Advertisers to address one of the sector’s biggest headaches: consistently measuring success.
“Over the past few years, there have been some serious strides in developing full-funnel measurement standards and solutions for the creator marketing industry,” CreatorIQ’s Chief Business Development & Partnerships Officer Tim Sovay said. “This is driving the next phase of growth for the industry, as it helps prove both top- and bottom-of-funnel ROI for creator campaigns down to the dollar, justifying the increased levels of spend going to creators and the overall sector.”
Pay to play—paying creators for a post—is “standard practice” now, according to the survey. The biggest influencers, with more than 1 million followers, are typically paid between $10,000 and $50,000 for a single Instagram post. But even micro-influencers with fewer than 100,000 followers receive, on average, between $500 and $2,500 per post.
And though it’s easy to lose sight amid the noise, established social-media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram remain massive and highly efficient at delivering tightly targeted audiences to brands, said Jim Louderback, former general manager of the industry’s essential VidCon conferences and editor & publisher of Inside the Creator Economy.
“These (established) platforms aren’t going anywhere,” said Louderback, who was part of a social-media panel I moderated last week at the virtual Future of TV conference. “There are new platforms rising up that add things that those platforms don’t have. And in many ways, we’ll see those platforms copying each other. I’m less concerned about platforms dying as I am about all the platforms starting to be the same.”
Next year will be all about video, the survey suggests, especially on TikTok and Instagram’s short-form platform Reels.
“In 2023, the creator economy will run on video,” the survey notes in looking forward. “TikTok currently leads other social platforms in terms of time spent watching video by a factor of 11. Additionally, the platform serves as a primary search engine for Gen Z, and informs purchasing decisions through popular initiatives like #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt.”
Sovay said the CreatorIQ data shows that brands and creators are already capitalizing on these social commerce trends to drive sales, with 164% YoY growth in the volume of creator content tagged #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt, and 83% YoY growth in the number of brands participating.
But the industry continues to have room for lots of kinds of content and consumption patterns. Platforms such as LinkedIn and podcasting are attracting notable audiences that brands should also embrace, members of my panel suggested.
The challenge for brands will be creating effective strategies in what likely will be a period of tight budgets, thanks to stronger economic pressures, the survey said. If every major platform has short form and long form, live streaming and games and e-commerce, as they are, the entire sector is in danger of becoming an increasingly crowded and homogenized place where brands may have difficulty differentiating the opportunities.
“From a brand perspective, what are you trying to do?” Louderback said. “Are you looking for awareness? TikTok, (YouTube) Shorts, and Reels are a great place. Are you looking for depth and conversion? YouTube still remains a conversion engine. But new platforms like LinkedIn and others are adding other ways for brands to connect to certain other audiences. I think the biggest concern is how many minutes in the day do we have to consume this content?”
TikTok took off during the pandemic and now has more than 1 billion users, showcasing a long string of viral hits and creators, especially musicians. For marketers, TikTok’s rise affected marketers’ campaigns “very significantly” or “somewhat significantly” a whopping 92% of the time.
But Instagram remains the “most integral” platform for two-thirds of brands, with the best return on investment. More than a quarter of other brands named TikTok No. 1 for their campaigns. For many marketers, TikTok was seen as “a powerful secondary program” to their Instagram-first campaigns, according to CreatorIQ’s report.
Despite the cuts at Meta, the broader opportunities for creators on Metaverse-friendly platforms such as Roblox and Minecraft are multiplying, providing brands yet another way to reach especially younger Internet users.
“We see those opportunities growing like wild, especially for the kids space, and let kids lead the way they’ve led the charge in the whole creator economy,” said David Williams, SVP and general manager of Channels for Pocket.Watch, the big children’s video programming distributor.
“I don’t think anyone should be any less bullish about the metaverse because when you look at the kids and kid creators, there’s a lot of action happening and a lot of deals,” Williams said. ”Roblox actually recently announced new kinds of monetization. They’ve released new features that allow you to … do more branded experiences. So this is a sector of the creative economy that is only growing fast.”
Williams said more broadly, it’s important for brands and creators to be “holistic,” not focused on a single platform, no matter which is the hot one of the moment.
“(At Pocket.Watch), we build these multi-platform franchises, and we have consumer products and mobile games,” Williams said. “And we have this incredible business where we distribute content harvested, essentially, from YouTube to (run on streaming) platforms like Hulu and Roku, Peacock and the rest. And from a brand perspective, I think it’s important to take that holistic view. When we’re trying to activate consumer products for another company, we have a whole internal creative agency (and) we do custom videos on YouTube, that we can actually traffic media around those custom videos.”
Multiplatform remains the best basic strategy for creators of many kinds, such as podcasters, said Sarah Penna, the head of creator partnerships for Patreon, which enables fans to directly support a given creator’s projects with subscriptions and other monetization options.
“The successful podcasters that we’re seeing are leveraging places like YouTube and TikTok, the biggest search engines and discovery platforms,” Penna said. “When we look at creators who have their significant audience on TikTok, what we recommend is that’s like the teaser, that’s the appetizer. You then need to jump onto a platform like an Instagram or YouTube.”
According to the study, about three in five of the creators are part-timers and four in five work solo, which suggests an almost artisanal approach to content creation. A quarter of the creators receive less than $500 a month from their posts, and just 15% make more than $5,000 a month. About two-thirds of those surveyed had less than 50,000 subscribers.
“Creators have become the gatekeepers for the digital world,” Sovay said. “These platforms are their native languages, and creators have a deep understanding of the tools each one offers to help brands best reach their goals.”