Headshot of David Armano

Influencer marketing is no longer in its infancy and has instead reached its somewhat awkward and gangly teen years. Like social media marketing before it, marketers know intuitively that it deserves a dedicated place in the ever-changing marketing mix, but how much of marketing budgets to invest and ways to execute are still emerging.

However, influencers and audiences themselves are providing clues to where this fast-growing form of marketing is going next. From the death of the near-perfect and glossy traditional Instagram aesthetic to a return to the real, influencer marketing in 2020 is poised to become not only an integrated part of the broader marketing mix, but an increasingly trusted one.

Influence gets real or gets lost

In the world of influencers and influence, it’s hard to tell what’s real from what’s staged. Either way, if an influencer doesn’t come off as authentic to audiences, it can seriously damage their personal brand and the brands they partner with. In 2020, influencer trust will no longer be just nice to have.

In a recent influencer marketing survey of 18-34-year-old consumers, only 18% indicated that a huge influencer following was something they looked for in an influencer, but 34% expressed being able to relate to an influencer as a top priority.

The rise of influencers may have first started with text then became mainstream with video, but it’s breaking new ground in audio.

Chipotle demonstrated a grasp of this cultural shift by harnessing the momentum first generated by an actual employee who posted a video of himself performing what the brand now calls the #ChipotleLidFlip. The employee’s video ended up being their most liked video on Instagram. To extend the popularity of what the employee started, the brand then partnered with known YouTube personality David Dobrik who translated the phenomenon onto Tik Tok. Sometimes the best way to show authenticity is to work from the inside out and accelerate momentum.

The rise of authentic audio influencers

According to the 2019 Infinite Dial Report from Edison Research, the leading podcast research company, more than half of people in the U.S. have listened to a podcast and nearly one out of every three people listen to at least one podcast every month. In 2018, it was about one in four.

Unlike social platforms, such as Instagram, podcast influencers command the attention of their listeners for an extended period of time such as at the gym, during their daily commute, at home or at the office. And they are able to integrate native ad formats, like brand interviews or round table discussions, into their content rather than traditional pre-roll, mid-roll and post-roll advertising formats.

What we’ll see in 2020 is more of what we’ve just started to see in 2019. Influencers are building their brands through audio, often on focusing in the niche. Jay Baer, for example, focuses on the social media marketer audience through his Social Pros podcast, and Paulina and Bricia Lopez fuel their Super Mamas podcast, which focuses on women empowerment topics and has cultivated a powerful community. The rise of influencers may have first started with text then became mainstream with video, but it’s breaking new ground in audio.

Industry transparency and the rise of accountability

With a growing number of companies selling fake followers and fake engagement in return for modest amounts of money, influencer fraud has become a structural problem industrywide that’s expected to cost businesses $1.3 billion in 2019. While it’s true that effective influencer platforms and tools can provide marketers the ability to spot and avoid such accounts, they haven’t offered a permanent solution to this problem. That’s because the increasing number of API and algorithmic changes that platforms such as Instagram enact can remove the ability to fully evaluate and measure the true viability and effectiveness of an influencer.

David Armano is global strategy director for DJE Holdings.