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Is 'influencer fatigue' signaling the end of influencer marketing?

By Brian Casey

Is 'influencer fatigue' signaling the end of influencer marketing?

Influencer marketing has become a popular strategy to tap into the loyal audiences of trusted thought leaders.

For many businesses, spending previously allocated to traditional paid advertising focused on brand awareness has shifted to sponsored posts. The expected trade-off is that by working with individuals to promote their products in a more organic fashion, companies and brands would build trust more effectively with a target audience.

But, that isn't always the case.

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The fact is, only 4% of people believe that information shared by influencers on social media is true.

A recent article by Joei Chan, global head of content at Linkfluence, posed the question: “Are we done with influencers?” The author also referenced the concept of influencer fatigue. Consumers are getting worn down by the number of ads and sponsored posts. 

Since the beginning of 2019, the percentage of ads and sponsored content has been slowly increasing. Some users are reporting that one in every four posts is some type of paid content.

With the influencer market expected to be worth up to $10 billion in 2020, it’s safe to say influencers aren’t going away any time soon, but influencer fatigue is a very real issue that companies need to understand before locking in their marketing budgets.

What causes influencer fatigue?

The abundance of sponsored posts cluttering social feeds, combined with the desire for authentic connection has led to influencer fatigue. David Meerman Scott sums this up perfectly in his new book Fanocracy

In a digital world where our lives are increasingly cluttered and superficial, we’re missing something tremendously powerful: genuine human connection. 

The fact is, we know that sponsored posts are inauthentic. And the more we see them, the more we are forced to react to this inauthenticity.

An increase in sponsored posts

If you feel like you’ve been seeing more influencer content on social media of late, you’re not imagining it. A 2019 study by Klear found that the number of sponsored posts increased by 39% in 2018, with increases each consecutive month.

In addition to your newsfeed, more sponsored posts are showing up in stories as well — a trend that is likely to continue.

In this same timeframe, the monthly average users of platforms like Facebook have declined, and Instagram's growth has slowed. The increase in ads and the decrease in engagement highlight a decrease in the user experience on these platforms. 

Consumers are losing trust in influencers

Before influencer marketing, we had celebrity endorsements that attempted to capitalize on fandom for business growth. Looking back, we were gifted with some strange but memorable marriages: Danica Patrick and GoDaddy, William Shatner and Priceline, and 50 Cent and Vitamin Water to name a few. 

Influencer marketing was a welcome iteration for consumers that focused on relatable people promoting products. Instead of celebrities that consumers couldn’t relate to, they could see a real-life correlation and value to promoted products.

However, the reality in 2020 is that consumers have come to distrust influencers.

Some statistics from ad agency Carmichael Lynch show that this distrust may be well-founded.

23% of influencers admitted they did not feel authentic about the brand-sponsored content they were paid to post. 15% went so far to say they did not even like – let alone genuinely recommend – the brand they posted about.

An important element to any online sale is a level of trust between the buyer and the seller. When Americans are shown to distrust information and news published on social media, it’s imperative that businesses find authentic ways to connect through these channels.

Investing in influencers who don’t believe in and can promote your product in a genuine way causes more harm than good.

Sponsored content often looks and feels similar

Sponsored posts often lack authenticity and originality. Influencers check the boxes of product placement, brand mentions, and branded hashtags. This templated approach has taken a toll on consumers. 47% of consumers are fatigued by repetitive influencer content.

influencer marketing repetitive content

Engagement rates for influencers are dropping

For sponsored posts, engagement rates fell to 2.4% in Q1 2019 from 4% three years earlier. This drop in engagement rates wasn’t specific to any one industry. The engagement rate for every influencer industry category fell in 2019. 

Travel influencers, who typically have the highest engagement rates, saw an average drop from 8% in 2018 to 4.5%. Engagement rates were also noted to be lower for influencers in beauty, fashion, food, lifestyle and sports, and fitness.

This signals that influencer marketing might be on its way out, or at the very least in need of a major facelift. So, while budgets in 2020 have influencer marketing as a line item, this may not be the case in the future.

ROI from influencer marketing will drop

In 2020, 73% of marketers claim to have a budget allocation for influencer marketing. 67% of marketers also state that their influencer marketing spending will increase in 2020. A decrease in engagement rates, coupled with more spending, will yield a lower ROI from influencer marketing strategies. 

With tactics like branded hashtags and unique discount codes, it’s easy for marketers to accurately track the reach, engagement, and return of influencers. Knowing that the expected ROI of influencer marketing is likely to drop, marketers need to heavily focus on understanding this channel 

Is influencer marketing still a viable marketing strategy in 2020?

If utilized correctly, influencers can still be a valuable commodity to reach new audiences and create new customers.

However, online content consumers are jaded by a glut of sponsored content and disingenuous influencers. In order to cut through the noise, businesses need to begin to think of influencers as true partners and extensions of their brand. This is truly a situation where ‘quality over quantity’ will add value to your brand online.  

Influencers who use creativity and authenticity truly stand out from the pack. One great example is Paige Arminta Watts who follows up every photo post with a video showing you how it was captured.

This behind the scenes look breaks down the barriers of mundane and seemingly forced sponsored content and truly engages consumers online. 

The highest engagement rates with sponsored content now lie with nano-influencers — those with 5,000 or fewer followers. These influencers tend to have a smaller but more loyal following. The relationships they create with their fans and followers are more genuine and authentic than bigger influencers.

That’s why engagement rates for nano-influencers are more than double the rate of influencers with larger followings.

The common principle that exists in every online sale is some level of trust. In order for influencers to be a successful extension of your brand, they must believe in your brand. They also need their fans to trust them as a genuine and authentic person. 

Influencer fatigue is real, and it requires a shift in influencer marketing strategy. The only true future-proof strategies for selling online are centered around building trust and focusing on credibility. Influencers cannot be an expert on every product — only the ones that they connect with and see the value in. 

When your community of online influencers truly uses and believes in your product, they’ll be able to honestly speak to the benefits and value. This requires a higher threshold for businesses as they look for influencers, one that looks beyond followers and potential reach.

Focus on building a connection with the users of your products who can be influencers that can represent your brand in an honest way. Building trust online is the guiding principle that will stand the test of time — in influencer marketing and any online promotion.

Join the IMPACT coaches for a deep dive on a new topic every month in our free virtual event series.


Social Media Marketing
Marketing Strategy
Published on January 30, 2020

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