What Marketers Need to Know About Influencer Marketing in 2021

Marketers should keep these top industry trends in mind as they work on their influencer marketing strategies this year.

learn more about Ismael El-Qudsi

By Ismael El-Qudsi

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

What's on deck for influencer marketing in 2021?

From everything we're seeing, it should be a year filled with demands for creative production and on-point strategy. Here's what's on our radar for the upcoming year.

1. Influencer marketing gains importance for ecommerce

Covid-19 has spurred ecommerce to record levels of use. Mega-retailers like Walmart report a 97% increase in ecommerce and this acceptance will trickle down throughout the ecommerce world.

Experts suggest the pandemic has accelerated the shift towards online shopping by about five years.

Along with traditional retail, social shopping is impacting the retail market. Gen Z shoppers enjoy browsing and shopping from social sites, and 77% of them said they respond best to advertising that shows people in real-life situations.

Influencers already excel at this and they'll be invaluable for social shopping campaigns on Instagram shops, Facebook Shops, Pinterest Shopping and more.

What brands should do in 2021

With so many options currently in the market and new ones being tested and rolled out daily, it is imperative for marketers to think about how influencer marketing campaigns will drive ecommerce sales along with awareness and engagement.

Platforms are making it easier for brands to sell on social media, so take advantage of it and use your influencers' expertise to capitalize on opportunities with social media buying.

2. Influencer marketing for greater good

More than two-thirds of consumers expect brands to take a stand on important issues and to be honest and transparent in advocacy efforts. As an example, a recent "Madame President" ad from HP highlighted young leaders, and it was greeted heartwarmingly by reviewers and customers.

The pandemic only accentuated expectations for brands to be vocal about social causes, as people sought connection through their online relationships. It is likely the trend will continue through 2021 and beyond.

How brands can benefit this year

Brands are expected to have a sense of responsibility to consumers and society and act accordingly. As opinion and virtual community leaders, influencers are also being held to a higher standard.

Think about how you can prioritize social responsibility when partnering with influencers and find content creators who passionately support causes that align with your mission. Make sure your campaigns are not only sales-focused, but also purpose-driven. Keep in mind that Gen Z consumers in particular can be skeptical about a brand's good intentions.

3. Demand for video will keep growing

First, it was TikTok. Then Instagram Reels. Even LinkedIn got in the video rivalry with their Stories, and Twitter jumped in with Fleets. Facebook Live also boomed, with a 50% increase in viewership during the early months of Covid-19.

During a time when more people are feeling isolated at home, online video is helping them stave off the loneliness. People are scrolling and streaming more than ever before.

What brands should do next

Make video a priority in all your influencer marketing campaigns. Take advantage of the newness of emerging platforms and formats such as TikTok, Instagram Reels and Triller (with AI-powered video editing) to boost organic engagement and video play rates.

Because the space isn't yet saturated, you can test and experiment, finding outreach options that best fit your brand.

4. Boom of influencer marketing in new niches

Blame it on being at home all the time and needing some form of living companionship, but plant influencers have become unlikely stars on the social media scene. Their pages range from humor to guidance to comfort, but they're all at least a little green or leafy.

And they're not the only niche booming: Influencer marketing continues to expand into areas that would frequently have been considered too dry or risk-averse to consider outside partnerships. For example, TikTok superstar Charli D'Amelio recently launched an influencer partnership with Step, an online personal finance platform.

This expansion of influence means many brands who have been playing it safe and waiting to dip into the influencer pool can feel braver about gaining additional exposure.

What brands should do this year

For marketers, the opportunity to connect in new niches means you can really think outside the box, get creative, and identify parallel industries that are not directly connected to what you do but who happen to share the same target audience.

5. Esports capitalizes on a captive audience.

Esports boasts millions of players, more than 1.5 million viewers at top events and influencer collaboration opportunities that target younger demographics.

Investors are eager to get in the game (more than $9.9 billion in industry investment this year), and esports face few of the crowd-limiting and social distancing pandemic precautions currently plaguing other sports-related industries.

What brands should do next

Brand partnerships with esports influencers can include either individual players or teams.

Your brand does not have to be part of the esports industry to take advantage of this growing sector. There are millions of users accessing gaming platforms, including 15 million using Twitch on a daily basis.

Find a way to create a connection and make sure that your product is a natural fit for the gamers. Because this space is rapidly growing and its users are passionate, it's important to research and plan partnerships strategically so you can get it right and seamlessly activate successful campaigns.

6. More brands are using CGI influencers

CGI influencers continue to gain popularity and as technology improves, the lines continue to blur. In fact, 42 percent of Gen Z and millennials have followed a CGI influencer without realizing they weren't a real human.

One of their most alluring characteristics is the capability to completely control messaging. They're incapable of going off-message or taking rogue actions damaging to the brand.

What brands should do in 2021

Companies with money and design resources to spare can consider creating their own CGI influencers. Other brands may want to figure out a way to build a partnership with a CGI influencer in their niche.

CGI influencers may not be for everyone, but brands can learn from them. What are people engaging with? Is there something they're drawn in by — a look, a storyline? Consider ways you can maximize that in your own posts and real-life influencer relationships.

7. Tighter regulations

As the industry matures and the call for greater transparency increases, countries worldwide are implementing new regulations for the rapidly growing influencer industry. In the U.S., for example, the Federal Trade Commission has continuously updated its guidelines and is expected to become stricter as influencer marketing grows.

What brands should do next

Stay on top of legal and regulatory guidelines, then ensure you're working with influencers who are knowledgeable about specific industry requirements. Otherwise, you may end up with content you can't use, or a lot of headaches recreating campaigns to avoid issues.

Instead of one-off campaigns, consider creating long-term influencer partnerships so you both have a strong knowledge of the rules and a shared interest in following them.

2020 has been an unusual year, but one that's been powerful in terms of social media impact and advancement. Let's hope 2021 brings even more value from technology and influencer partnerships.

Ismael El-Qudsi

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

CEO of SocialPubli.com

Ismael is co-founder and CEO at SocialPubli, an award-winning influencer marketing platform with 200,000+ opt-in influencers across 35 countries. He was Head of SEO and Social Media at Havas Media and Search Manager for Bing (Microsoft).

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