With the rise of ad blocking and brands publicly demanding transparency in advertising results, added with the concern around where ads will be placed through new automated processes online, 2017 is the year 'Influencer marketing' goes mainstream in a big way. And with that comes a new buzz term than can easily be misunderstood and importantly misused.
The world of influence is complicated, with partnerships come in all shapes and sizes - from those who influence culturally through to those whose influence can be bought. So, this world of 'influencer marketing' should not simply translate into to a new alternative broadcast channel or be bucketed as one size fits all.
Those who truly influence, connect and engage with their cultural community, and they do so because they love what they are doing. In turn, their community can become advocates for any project / brand that person works with, sharing their experience across social (increasingly through dark social) and good old fashioned word of mouth. That association and advocacy is coveted and priceless and of course, hard to measure. After all, people trust people, not brands.
Brands engaging in 'influencer marketing' need to positively contribute to that culture - it's not enough to simply be on the sidelines or to try to buy or force your way in. Having a point of view, a purpose that the brand stands for and is relevant to that culture is key. Activities need to resonate with that community and usually does not involve overt branding - clear association is enough for their audience and needs to be enough for brands.
In my experience, the best way to do that is to work closely with those who shape that culture, those that authentically influence the community - it's about creative collaboration and mutual benefit, not simply pure financial transaction.
For brands, flexibility outside of the brand guidelines can be a scary thing. But it really doesn't have to. Ensuring that the choice of cultural partners and brands are matched by their values, characteristic and/or purpose, usually results in even more impactful activity and subsequent content.
By no means does this negate the need for traditional bought media or branded content - in fact, it's the orchestration of bought, owned, earned (fuelled by search and paid social) and shared media that can make a brand truly fly and connect with both the cultural community and the wider audience.