Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

Ferris Bueller on his famous Day Off.

It seems like only a few years ago that most (but thankfully not all) of the brands we talked to about influencer marketing either didn’t know how it worked or were waiting to see how it would play out before they got involved. In fact thinking about it, it probably was only a few years ago.

That is how fast this area of marketing activity has emerged, developed and firmly lodged itself in the mix of activities in which brands are investing. And with all that speed, there can sometimes be a lack of time for reflection. So we have come up with 7 trends about influencers, content creators and ambassadors that we believe will impact 2020. Of course this list is not comprehensive. If there is anything you’d like to add, we’d love to hear from you.

7 Influencer Marketing Trends 2020 in Outdoors and Endurance Sports

1) Running, cycling, adventure and snow sports are hard to fake

361° Ambassadors

Undeniably 2019 saw more attention than ever being focused on fraud in the influencer and ambassador space. Fake followers became a hot topic (more on that in a moment). As did incidences of influencers posting content that was clearly fabricated.

As far as fake content is concerned, we saw that in the running, cycling, adventure and snow sports sectors it’s incredibly difficult to fake it. The 1,600+ content creators on the Freestak platform are actively engaged in one of more of those activities because that is what they are passionate about. And they are equally excited about sharing what they are doing because they want to inspire others to get (more) active. Out simply, audiences follow Freestak influencers because they want to see them train, race and explore.

2) We All Have Fake Followers

In 2019 HyperAuditor revealed that on average, 2 out of every 5 Likes on Instagram were fake. According to Ghost Data, the percentage of ‘bot’ (i.e. automated) Instagram users had risen to 9.5% in 2019 (up from 7.9% in 2015).

A report by cybersecurity firm Cheq projects that these fake accounts could have cost brands $1.3 billion in 2019. According to a report in Wired:

In the influencer economy, you’re paid in part for the size of your audience, which means that, if an influencer’s account is swarming with fake followers, brands are paying extra to reach people who don’t exist.

Fake social media accounts are a reality. Whilst everyone who has followers is likely to have some fake followers, most influencers and ambassadors do their best to avoid them. And increasingly there are tools and practices that allow us to detect those who do not have a predominantly authentic audience. Plus in 2019, Instagram introduced a measure that could at least reduce the temptation for people to buy fake followers …

3) Hiding ‘Likes’ To Improve Creativity

From the start of last year, Instagram announced that it was experimenting with hiding the number of ‘Likes’ each post receives from the publicly visible feed.

Many people – including some influencers and brands – greeted this announcement with incredulity, anger and surprise. But then Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri started to explain this thinking behind this move;

It’s because we want people to worry a little bit less about how many likes they’re getting on Instagram and spend a bit more time connecting with the people they care about

Behind the announcement was the feeling that if the number of ‘Likes’ were hidden, there would be less pressure to hit certain numbers. And therefore less incentive to cheat, for example by buying fake followers.

The roll-out of hiding ‘Likes’ started towards the end of last year. So it’s not possible to see what effect it will have (although some initial research suggested that the number of ‘Likes’ declined slightly). However we are keen to see whether over time this move will reduce the incidences of fraud and increase levels of creativity, as Instagram has suggested they believe it will. Of course, this could simply be a cynical move on the part of Instagram to force brands to pay them to see the analytics behind the posts of their influencers and ambassadors … we’ll have to wait and see.

4) Engagement Is Key (and Quality Is Linked)

Whilst Instagram was busy hiding the number of ‘Likes’ that posts receive, many brands started to think beyond vanity metrics such as the number of followers an influencer or ambassador has. Put simply, such numbers are too easily manipulated by buying followers.

Instead brands are increasingly focused on engagement levels. After all, you could work with an influencer with 100,000 followers and a 1% engagement rate or one with 50,000 followers and a 5% engagement rate and the impact that the second one has on the brand’s business would be much greater.

One of the metrics that we often use when we are reporting on campaigns for brands is ‘Cost Per Engagement’. Because this seems to be a more accurate and relevant way to think about return on investment.

Linked to the focus on engagement rather than reach is the focus brands are putting on the quality of the content that influencers and ambassadors are producing. It is a simple equation – higher quality = more engagement and that is better than large numbers of low quality posts.

5) More Brands = Fewer Ambassadors

Throughout 2019 one trend that we saw in action was brands looking to create longer-term, more meaningful relationships with influencers. In many cases creating ambassador programmes.

From the research we have done with members of the Freestak community, we know that the majority are looking for deeper relationships with brands. After all, many influencers and content creators have as much product as they’ll ever need. They want to invest more in the brands they work with and are looking for more in return. So the emergence of many more ambassador programmes than we have seen until now must be a good thing. Right?

Actually perhaps there is an unintended consequence, linked to a focus on quality and authenticity.

The best influencers and content creators are being snapped up. And once they have committed to a brand, they aren’t available to work with any other brands during the campaign or ambassador programme. So increasingly in 2019 we have seen competition between brands to win the favour of – and retain – the best ambassadors. As the number of good ambassadors is outstripped by the demand from brands, we only see this trend continuing.

6) Increasing Scrutiny on Influencers and Ambassadors

In the US the Federal Trade Commission (the FTC) has assumed the role of policing the rules around influencers and ambassadors posting on social channels. In the UK, the Advertising Standards Authority (the ASA) has taken the same role.

Between them, these two organisations have started to devise rules. Especially around disclosing when a post is sponsored or an advert. And they’re passed down judgements, usually when an infraction of the rules has been reported to them.

In some cases the rulings seem to actually throw up as many questions as they answer. And indeed both the ASA and FTC have introduced new rulings or amended existing ones quite a lot. Probably in response to changes or challenges to their rulings or arguments put forward by brands and influencers.

2019 has undoubtedly been the year that rules have started to be enforced, regardless of whether they are confusing or not. Perhaps in 2020 we will see any better rules (at least clearer guidelines). We do know most brands and influencers are keen to stay within the guidelines. So we will keep following what the ASA and FTC publish to give our clients and content community the best possible advice.

7) Influence Beyond Instagram

This is perhaps a longer term trend that we see, that will start to gather momentum in 2020 …

It can sometimes feel that influencer marketing and Instagram go hand-in-hand. And the stats from 2019 seem to lend weight to that argument. According to a report from Klear, in 2019 there was a 48% year-on-year increase in the number of Instagram posts that were identifiable as influencer posts in collaboration with brands (being identifiable is another trend we mention below).

But that is not to say that Instagram has the field all to itself. Snapchat, YouTube and TikTok offer exciting opportunities. Each of them lend themselves to different types of content and campaigns. And, of course, they have their own users, representing different audiences for brands to talk to.

We are also interested in the continued growth of blogs. It can sometimes feel as though social channels have completely taken over as far as where influencers create and share content. But that is not actually the case. For example in the US, 10% or 31.7 million people will publish posts on their own blog in 2020.

And with the rising interest from brands in the potential for combining ambassador (or perhaps influencers) investment with affiliate programmes, blogs are even more crucial. Because of the proven limitations of social posts when it comes to affiliate activity.

The bottom line … Instagram is great. But don’t discount other channels when it comes to working with influencers.

So that is a quick round up of trends we see in influencer and ambassador activity for 2020. It certainly isn’t a comprehensive list – so if there is anything you think we have missed, please let us know. But the list certainly does go to show what an interesting sector influencer and ambassador marketing is proving to be. Here’s to an even more interesting 2020.


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