By Baha Hamadi, Board Member for the Public Relations & Communications Association MENA
To say the least, social commerce has been invasive over the past few years. Brands and social media platforms have all undergone a major shift from influencer marketing to ‘influencer sales’, increasingly and aggressively monetizing content.
In Image above: Baha Hamadi, Board Member, PRCA
The rise of social commerce
An example is the integration of the online shopping feature to Instagram. I expect to see a boost in the monetization of social media platforms through social commerce this year, thus encouraging brands and influencers to become extra commercial with their content. While social commerce makes business sense, it can lead to a drop in user trust for both brands and influencers.
The point of no return
I believe there is no going back from aggressive influencer sales to patient marketing. Social media marketing is turning into a form of mass advertising, unfortunately, leading to a lack of credibility. PR is considered more credible than advertising because the former is not paid for. Social media is supposed to be like PR, but it too has become too commercial and will become more so this year. However, the brand-influencer arrangement can change. It needs to become more sustainable.
Will the over-commercialization of content and influencers have a negative impact on influencer marketing budgets in 2022? I believe it won’t. ‘Influencer sales’ budgets will continue to spike this year.
According to a recent report published by Meltwater, titled “Influencer Marketing in a New World”, sponsored feed posts increased by 26.7% in 2021. Keeping this in mind, we might witness optimistic social media marketing budgets in 2022. Budgets will continue to grow, except with an additional objective of forging long-term collaborations to ultimately achieve more sales and build stronger brand affinities.
Ambassadorships over campaigns
To some extent, brands have started looking for authentic long-term ambassadorships as opposed to sponsored one-off campaigns, especially strategic ambassador programs that identify existing influential customers and turn them into brand ambassadors, this irrespective of the size of their follower base.
Ambassadorships are about authenticity. A successful ambassador program will not only build meaningful relationships with existing customers, but also establish trust for prospective customers. Moreover, such loyalty programs are more cost-effective. They also result in sales from highly engaged customers, and they produce compelling user-generated content that can be repurposed by brands.
Authenticity over perfection
This year, I believe both brands and influencers will focus more on bringing an appealing believability to the role of influencers. With most collaborations becoming highly commercial, authenticity levels are dropping. Most of the time, perfection seems fake, which affects credibility. Younger consumers are progressively favoring real and organic content over perfect content. What many don’t realize is that authenticity still sells! Although many influencers are perfectionists, this year there will be a focus on authentic content at the expense of perfectionism.
Fostering thought leadership
The recent Meltwater report talks about Strategic Influencer Selection. It delves into identifying industry thought leaders through a set criteria of characteristics like true reach score, audience demographics, network interests, and relevant hashtags. LinkedIn is an example that thrives on key opinion leadership. Influencers are now using such platforms to foster thought leadership. This is an opportunity for many influencers to diversify their influence and income sources, build their professional profiles, benefit from better brand collaborations or employment prospects, and better opportunities in corporate leadership roles.
Employee-driven content is expected to increase this year, especially on platforms such as LinkedIn given the growing freelance culture requiring professionals to strengthen their profiles and credentials online, mainly from a thought leadership perspective, and to also showcase their portfolios and their profiles as key opinion leaders in their field. Perhaps thoughtful employencers will be the next big thing within the influencer marketing sector in 2022.