There’s no question that influencer marketing is growing — it’s on track to become a $5-10 billion market in the next few years. As brands and marketers begin to find new ways to partner with influencers and witness firsthand the benefits of these partnerships, influencer marketing becomes more and more vital for brands big and small. It should come as no surprise, then, that some of the world’s largest companies are looking to get into influencer marketing on a deeper level. Companies like Amazon, Time, and Adobe are finding their way into the influencer market in order to capitalize on the growing trend and push the industry forward.
They’re far from the only ones. Last year, Google bought influencer marketing platform FameBit in an attempt to get in on influencer marketing. Before that, The New York Times acquired HelloSociety.
Though each company’s involvement is different, they’re all evidence of an evolution in influencer marketing and they all speak to a single core message: Influencer marketing is exploding and everyone wants in.
Amazon’s recently announced foray into influencer marketing is something of a next phase in its affiliate program, which gives linking parties a percentage of sales. The Amazon Influencer Program goes one step further than the affiliate program, giving influencers the opportunity to create and curate their own shops on Amazon and receive a fee in return for driving sales.
The program is currently in beta and is open by invitation only, meaning that influencers must apply and be invited to join the platform. Amazon describes the platform as “exclusively designed for social media influencers with large followings and a high frequency of posts with shoppable content,” but it’s not clear how large one’s following must be in order to be accepted into the program.
Amazon’s Influencer Program is unique in that it creates a new avenue for monetization within the influencer marketing industry while also creating a new opportunity for brands. By allowing influencers to curate their own shops, Amazon isn’t just helping influencers find another way to capitalize on their large and loyal followings, it’s giving influencers an incentive to drive traffic to Amazon.
Many influencers already partner with brands to promote and link to specific products, but the Amazon Influencer Program could make that process even easier, allowing influencers to feature several brands at once. Take, for example, beauty videos wherein a creator features anywhere from 5-20 products in a makeup tutorial video. Instead of trying to devise a way to make sense of a mess of links in the description box on YouTube, a creator could simply link to their Amazon store where they’ve featured a number of the products that they recommend or that come from sponsors.
Time Inc.’s approach to influencers is radically different. Unlike Amazon, Time isn’t trying to sell products to consumers. At least, not in the same way. As publisher, Time Inc. depends on ads to survive in the digital age.
Native advertising is becoming increasingly essential in the wake of ad blocking technology and a persistent resistance to invasive advertising. Naturally, it’s in a publisher’s best interest to make sure that native ads (designed to closely match original content in tone and appearance) perform well and are effective in order to keep advertisers coming back. So Time Inc.’s built an influencer network with Speakr called Time Inc. Connect to boost the impact of its native advertising efforts. Recognizing that influencers are a highly effective way to capture an audience’s attention and turn that attention into action, Time Inc.’s getting smarter about how they target readers and sell cross-platform advertising to brands.
According to TechCrunch’s reporting, Time Inc.’s influencer network isn’t a part of its editorial operations, but it does function in concert with editorial. Influencers are approved by the editorial side of the publication while the advertising side works with influencers and communicates with editorial to make native advertising efforts as natural and effective as possible.
Adobe’s approach to getting involved in influencer marketing is different still. As a builder of software tools and solutions, Adobe’s finding its way into the influencer marketing industry through influencer tools.
The company’s most recent influencer marketing announcement came in the form of Project Fleek, an effort to connect influencers and marketers and to centralize communications surrounding campaigns. Marketers can develop campaigns and find influencers through Fleek and keep all of the campaign specifics (down to hashtags, link, and messaging points) in one place, rather than a dozen email threads, text messages, voicemails, etc.
Fleek isn’t yet widely available, though. It’s currently in beta, but we may see it on the market if the testing phase goes well.
Amazon, Time Inc., and Adobe all pushing into the influencer marketing industry is a clear indication that influencer marketing is expanding and that its expansion isn’t one dimensional. As the industry grows, it creates room for new tools like Fleek; new ways to partner with influencers; and new ways to monetize and promote content and products.
Adobe, Amazon, and Time Inc. are coming to influencer marketing from very different angles and with plans and products that are at different stages of readiness, but they certainly won’t be the last companies to enter the space. Influencer marketing is still growing and as it does, more companies and brands will find ways to become involved. It’s not a question of whether or not the world’s largest companies will find a way into the influencer marketing industry — it’s a question of when.
As the industry continues to grow, there will likely be a degree of consolidation, too. We saw it happen with display ads, which were once served by many vendors but now come from just a few. Right now, influencer marketing is booming, but somewhat fragmented. With bigger companies getting involved, we may see more those companies purchasing smaller influencer marketing agencies, platforms, and tools, much like The New York Times did with HelloSociety.
Unlike the display market, though, influencer marketing can’t be fully automated or moved to a platform. Influencer campaigns are inherently human. They’re based on the behaviors and actions of people, which means that there are dozens of variables that don’t lend themselves to automation. Instead, influencer campaigns function best when the means by which they’re managed are dynamic and changeable.
The influencer marketing industry is definitely headed for big changes. A sure sign of growth, bigger companies are going to begin taking more interest in the industry and finding ways to get involved. But one part of influencer marketing that’s unlikely to change is the need for tailored, adaptable, and adjustable campaigns run by those who know and have experience with brands, creators, and the spaces they both inhabit.