Brands have invested more heavily in influencer marketing in the past 18 months but COVID-19 still poses challenges around budget, resources and activations. Tribe Dynamics’ latest report uncovers brands’ and influencers’ priorities during the 12-month period from September 2020 to August 2021 as well as its creator economy predictions for the year. It surveyed over 200 content creators and 147 brands to glean insights about activation strategies, team resourcing, social media platforms and COVID-19’s impact.
Sixty-three percent of the brands included in the study were US-based, 11 percent were UK-based and the rest were EMEA or APAC-based. Sixty-nine percent of the brands were independently owned; the rest were owned by a parent corporation. Most of the respondents worked in mid-level management or executive positions in skincare (40 percent), cosmetics (28 percent) and apparel (19 percent).
As for the influencer respondents, most lived in the US (43 percent) or UK (25 percent). Fifty-eight percent of creators were between 25 and 34 years old and created content in beauty, fashion and/or lifestyle content. Most influencers reported spending less than 30 hours per week “building their social media presence.” And of those who responded to Tribe Dynamic’s survey, 63 percent worked part-time and the rest full-time. The survey included data from influencers with a range of follower counts–89 percent had less than 100,000 followers, 9 percent had between 100,000 and 1 million followers and just 2 percent had over 1 million followers.
Brands are devoting more resources to earned media programs now that they’re seeing an increased return on investment (ROI) from their influencer marketing campaigns. In 2021, 12 percent of brands considered lack of buy-in from senior leadership a roadblock, which is down from 24 percent in Tribe Dynamic’s 2020 study. Still, as companies increase their recognition of influencer marketing as critical to their overall marketing strategy, some teams’ goals require more resources to achieve their objectives.
Throughout 2021, brand influencer budgets continued to grow. According to Tribe Dynamics’ research, 34 percent of brands made significant increases in influencer marketing budgets, 32 percent made slight increases and 20 percent made no change. Additionally, 48 percent of brands spent $100,000 or more on influencer marketing annually while 10 percent spent $1 million or more.
Some of the primary roadblocks to healthy ROI from influencer marketing initiatives include inadequate person-power (66 percent) and budgets (59 percent). Without adequate resources, some companies have had to settle on mediocre performance from their influencer marketing initiatives—especially when teams consisted of two to four people (65 percent) or single individuals (12 percent).
Influencer discovery and retention mark brands’ top priorities and challenges in the creator space. Companies cited two primary objectives when addressing the most vital aspects of influencer marketing programs: finding new and impactful brand advocates (cited by 30 percent of brands) and retaining the influencers already in their communities (cited by 48 percent of brands).
Over half (58 percent) of brands ranked influencer discovery as among the three most important elements of their influencer programs—a 24-point increase from 2020. Of those respondents, 13 percent deemed discovery as very challenging and 57 percent deemed it somewhat challenging.
It’s also worth noting that 52 percent of brands surveyed used in-house influencer marketing teams for the discovery process while 73 percent of influencers surveyed didn’t work with a talent management agency.
Building and maintaining relationships with influencers is one of the top three most important factors of influencer marketing, according to 58 percent of brands. Seventeen percent of brands cited retention as very challenging while 46 percent cited it as somewhat challenging.
In 2021, brands recognize that influencer endorsements are integral to business growth—and they’re willing to pay for that growth. Almost all of the companies surveyed paid at least a portion of the influencers whose services were engaged in 2021.
Between 25 and 75 percent of these companies’ influencer marketing budgets went toward compensating content creators. On average, influencers with less than 100,000 followers received $500 or less per post; those with between 100,000 and 300,000 were paid between $500 and $2,500 per post; those with between 300,000 and 1 million followers earned between $2,500 and $10,000 per post; and those with over 1 million followers earned between $2,500 and $50,000 per post.
Brands engaged influencers and earned their interest primarily by sourcing user-generated content (UGC), a low-cost mechanism with minimal planning demands. Forty-seven percent of brands rated UGC as very successful while 46 percent said it was somewhat successful. Also, as much as 94 percent of brands reposted influencer content at some point in 2021.
Another way brands initiate the influencer relationship is by gifting them products, a method that’s become a key pillar of influencer marketing and a successful tactic for onboarding new talent. To highlight its utility, 92 percent of brands surveyed reported sending a product to an influencer, and 91 percent of influencers received products from the brand they created the most unpaid content for in 2021. Among the influencers that created paid content for brands, 87 percent also received products.
As paid activations increase in popularity, brands increasingly use personalized discount codes and affiliate links to prompt paid content. Last year saw a particularly high rate of discount codes and affiliate links with 53 percent of respondents in 2020 and 69 percent in 2021 having reported leveraging discount codes and affiliate links.
Tribe Dynamics also found that in 2021, 94 percent of brands gave influencers discount codes or affiliate links to offer their followers—a realistic figure considering 84 percent of brands rated discount codes and affiliate links as very or at least somewhat successful.
Brands also continue to embrace Instagram Stories and TikTok as two of the top three mainstream channels for influencer marketing, adapting their marketing strategies for these platforms in particular. One way brands are adapting is by sharing more Stories and TikTok content on their owned channels. Another is by encouraging influencers to create unsponsored Stories and TikTok content about their brand.
Eighty-six percent of brands reported that Stories had impacted content about them while 59 percent reported the same for TikTok. As much as 60 percent of brands said that TikTok alone had impacted how they approach influencer discovery.
When asked about the reasons they chose to venture into an emergent (and uncharted) platform, brands regularly cited competition. Of the brands that began investing in emergent platforms, 77 percent reported doing so because their competitors were already on that platform.
It’s worth noting that Instagram Stories and TikTok are not the only emerging channels that are taking up marketing budgets. Twitch may prove to be the new frontier for influencer marketing as the live-streaming aspect of social media gains ever more traction.
According to Tribe Dynamics’ influencer survey, 82 percent of creators earned compensation from posting in 2021—up from 70 percent in 2020. More than half deemed compensation very important and 38 percent considered it to be somewhat important. Even still, only a small percentage of respondents’ overall social activity constituted paid posts.
Genuine brand affinity was another important factor cited by influencers as a consideration for whether they would endorse a product. Nearly a third of influencers only work with brands they genuinely love and 61 percent were willing to work with brands other than their favorite brands but claim having to like those brands’ products. And 7 percent said they’d work with brands with lower-quality products for the right price.
Another consideration influencers have when deciding to partner with a brand is creative agency, regardless of paid initiatives. Seventy-five percent of influencers said creative control in paid relationships is very important, 23 percent as somewhat important and 2 percent didn’t view it as important at all.
Additionally, product quality remained the main reason influencers decided to work with a brand in 2021, found the report. Other reasons like inclusivity and sustainability also ranked high in the survey, along with compensation. As for the main reason influencers stopped working with a brand, poor product quality was the most cited with 88 percent of respondents saying so. Apart from that, influencers also canceled brand engagements for inadequate or no compensation (69 percent) and negative publicity about the brand (66 percent).
Brands responded to 2021’s social and political issues in a number of ways, namely by sending more products to BIPOC influencers (82 percent), by including more BIPOC influencers in brand activations (80 percent) and by including more BIPOC models or influencers in their marketing campaigns.
Still, some influencers from marginalized groups said they still face discrimination, whether on the basis of race, ethnicity or gender identity. Of those surveyed, 66 percent were white, 22 percent BIPOC, 88 percent used she/her pronouns and 12 percent used he/him pronouns.
Twenty-four percent of influencers felt that their race and/or ethnicity had been a significant barrier to their success, while 9 percent reported being made to feel uncomfortable by brands due to their gender identity or expression. As the report notes, brands engaging in influencer marketing must align their goals with those of not only their consumers but also of the content creators they partner with.
Of the small proportion of influencers that felt excluded from activations due to race, 15 percent felt this frequently and 19 percent felt it only occasionally. As for compensation, 17 percent claim to frequently feel unfairly compensated due to race. It should be noted that 66 percent of influencers did not feel excluded and 76 percent did not feel they were inadequately compensated due to race in 2021.
- Quality products and clear values will spell success for brands.
For the past two years, Tribe Dynamics says influencers have consistently ranked product quality as the main factor in their decisions to work with brands, and this is unlikely to change in 2022.
- Compensation will stay commonplace but creative control will grow more important to influencers.
Authenticity is a key ingredient for what makes influencer content compelling to audiences, with TikTok in particular rewarding creators’ unique perspectives. Brands looking to make an impact in 2022 must cede artistic control over sponsored posts.
- Wellness and fitness brands will keep thriving.
Content creators are continuing to prioritize their well-being, boosting earned media value (EMV) for brands in categories from supplements to activewear and health-tech. Tribe Dynamics predicts wellness and fitness brands are poised for sustained growth in social coverage throughout this year.