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Like Brands, Influencers Will Be Held to Higher Standards of Transparency in 2020

Millennials and Gen Z consumers are pressuring businesses to be more authentic and ethical, resulting in a ripple effect that’s changing the apparel industry and its marketing strategies for the better.

A new Influencer Intelligence report by U.K.-based marketing intelligence company Xeim, identifies seven influencer marketing trends to watch out for in 2020. Unsurprisingly, the same attitudes and societal factors shaping fashion trends are the ones molding the way it’s marketed.

Here’s what the report listed as the future of influencer marketing.

Talent and expertise

Today, what makes an effective influencer has less to do with flashy filters and enormous follower counts and more to do with a content creator’s area of expertise.

When Refinery 29 named beauty watchdog Estee Laundry “Influencer of the Year,” it signaled that knowledge sharing is more powerful than a unattainable aesthetic. Some of the account’s most recent posts venture to areas other influencers previously never touched on: It exposes waste in the beauty industry, discusses controversial news and calls on authentic reviews from followers who have used trending products. While Estee Laundry posts aren’t necessarily the most beautiful, the account educates followers and promises in its bio to never post ads or sponsored content—the type of honest content consumers want from influencers in 2020.

Purpose-led marketing

The new year also marks a rise in ethical marketing. At the end of 2019, there were numerous reports about the wasteful tendencies of companies recruiting influencers and sending unsolicited gifts in the hopes that their products would be featured. In response, a wave of influencers have condemned the practice, vowing to be more conscious of what and how they post.

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So begins a new year full of more purpose-driven accounts. The report predicts 2020 events such as the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, the 26th Climate Change Conference and the U.S. presidential election to be used in marketing campaigns from some of the “bravest brands” and influencers looking to do more than sell a product. Climate change, inclusivity, sustainability, zero waste and veganism are expected to be the biggest areas of focus.

Governance and regulatory control

Get ready to see fewer detox teas on your Instagram in 2020. Organizations like the FTC are cracking down on misleading language and cryptic ad disclosure in the new year—and the notorious slimming products seen on a number of influencer accounts are some of the biggest offenders, the report states.

However, it isn’t an easy fix. Companies are choosing to work with niche influencers that do not have agents, and therefore may be less familiar with commercial partnerships. Additionally, they will often work with influencers who are already fans of a certain product, deeming it not necessarily illegal to post without disclosures and formal language. Identifying malpractice is messy, but the industry is attempting to clean it up.

Fewer fake followers

The industry is also cracking down on accounts with fake followers. Over the years, technologies that identify bots and fraudulent activity have emerged. But as the identification technology has evolved, so did the bots themselves. Fraudulent accounts have become better at mimicking human accounts, meaning there’s a growing need for more precise detection methods. The report noted that 2020 is the year the industry develops new ways to identify even the most sophisticated fraudulent accounts.

Xeim published its Influencer Intelligence report documenting seven influencer marketing trends to watch out for in 2020.
Instagram account Kaspars Grinvalds/Shutterstock

New platforms

According to the report, “it’s not just about Instagram anymore.” The platform may have reached its influential peak in 2019, when its number of sponsored posts doubled. Now, brands and influencers need to more evenly distribute their presence, and many of them are seeking refuge in video platform TikTok. The platform, which currently boasts more than 1.5 billion downloads, is known for its bite-sized video clips that appeal to short attention spans and a desire for creative content. In response, Instagram is currently testing a similar tool, Reels, in Brazil.

New KPIs

The ambiguity of the influencer industry trickles down to its metrics: It’s unclear what to pay for a campaign and how to determine its success. Engagement trumps follower count, meaning a micro influencer with a solid niche could be more effective—and expensive—than a more general influencer with twice the clout. Similarly, a post with great reach and minimal engagement is not necessarily a success.

As influencer marketing grows—and it’s projected to do so, as the report indicates influencer spend to reach $2.3 billion in 2020—so will the demand for more accurate metrics.

Virtual influencers

It’s not an episode of “Black Mirror”—it’s real life. Virtual influencers such as Lil Miquela, Shudu and Blawko emerged in 2016, and opportunities to expand their reach has increased ever since. The report predicts that 2020 will be the year virtual influencers are given more human components, including relatable backstories.

Creators are already beginning to do so, and they’re quickly learning what not to do. Lil Miquela recently received major backlash after detailing her sexual assault—a move many are calling insensitive, considering the context in which some real-life testimonies are wrongly met with skepticism.

As more creators humanize virtual influencers, they will need to do so strategically and sensitively.

“The change that we will see in 2020 is an increase in VIs being created from scratch for brands based on the emotional needs of the target audience,” Dudley Nevill-Spencer, founder and strategy and innovation director at the Virtual Influencer Agency, said in the report. “Within this construction, a backstory and narrative will be created that allows the consumer to become engaged in the life of the influencer and within key moments of their life—which the brand can be part of.”