Over the past few years, the rise of influencer marketing — advertising products with the help of individuals with large online followings — has changed the way internet marketing works. The trend also reflects a pivot toward more organic-feeling marketing techniques suited to the internet age.
Now, big names in internet marketing are looking for ways to create and control new influencer marketing platforms and solutions. Tech giant Amazon has a plan to shape the future of influencer marketing — and internet marketers will want to know all about it.
How traditional influencer marketing works
While influencer marketing has become a hot topic in the past few years, it's nothing new. Before the internet, influencers were almost always celebrities and authority figures.
Now, influencers are most often people with large online followings on platforms like YouTube and Instagram that have built a trustworthy reputation with their audiences. These influencers can be authority figures, vloggers, content creators or anyone who has an established relationship with a large group of people.
Some of the biggest can be mega-influencers, who have hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers. Some are micro- and nano-influencers, who have closer to 1,000 followers and may have a more intimate relationship with their audience.
Influencer marketing has made such a splash recently because marketers have discovered it can be an excellent way to reach younger audiences, who are some of the least responsive to traditional marketing techniques. Younger audiences are also almost always online and tend to trust online influencers more than older generations.
Marketers reach out to influencers who have an existing relationship with the audience that they're trying to target. The marketers then work with these influencers, who promote a good or service — by using it on their show, writing a review, shouting it out and so on. Sometimes the product is contextually relevant — kitchenware brands may work with food bloggers and online cooking shows, while cosmetics and skincare brands may reach out to YouTube beauty gurus — other times, marketers are looking for a broad audience.
Influencer marketing usually emphasizes values such as honesty and authenticity. Instead of creating ads that look and feel like ads, it's a subtler approach.
More recently, the rise of social media platforms that allow for streaming and frequent, bite-sized pieces of content — like Instagram, YouTube and Amazon's video game streaming platform Twitch — has made it both easier for anyone to become an influencer and more natural for audiences to stay in frequent contact with the influencers. Streamers and influencers can invite audiences into their lives, broadcasting themselves for hours every day.
All this makes influencer marketing a powerful tool for brands wanting to reach audiences through the internet. Now, big names in internet marketing, like Amazon, want to shape the future of influencer marketing.
Amazon opens new avenues of influencer marketing
In 2017, Amazon rolled out its new Influencer Program. The program is akin to Amazon's existing affiliate program, which allowed anyone to promote a product and receive a commission for every purchase.
The new program goes further and allows influencers to curate a storefront of products. As with the affiliate program, influencers receive a commission for every sale.
The move came three years after Amazon's purchase of streaming platform Twitch, and likely signals that the company is looking for ways to use its e-commerce infrastructure to create an influencer marketing platform.
While the program has been a success for some influencers, it's still not clear how it might change influencer marketing, even two years on. The program is an obvious win for influencers — who earn a commission off sold products and can benefit from Amazon's massive storefront — and Amazon. Whether or not it's improving influencer marketing for brands is less clear.
The program does streamline some of the logistics behind influencer marketing — no need to manage affiliate links or commission payments — but also takes some control away from brands. In some cases, brands may benefit from the influencers promoting their products, even if they have no existing relationship with an influencer.
The program can also help marketers identify which influencers they should build relationships with. Because only influencers with sizable enough followings receive invitations to participate in the program, marketers can also be somewhat sure that influencers with storefronts have a significant audience.
Brands wanting to take advantage of Amazon's influencer program can also use many of the same strategies that work with traditional influencer marketing.
At the same time, brands that already have established online storefronts may need to be prepared to shuffle some of their traffic to Amazon.
Will Amazon change influencer marketing?
The rise of the internet and streaming platforms has made influencer marketing a powerful tool for brands — which is why big names in internet marketing are creating programs to take advantage of the trend.
Amazon's new influencer marketing program may change the way influencers connect with marketers. These new influencer storefronts more clearly delineate between sponsored and non-sponsored content. In the future, other online e-commerce platforms may follow Amazon's lead — soon, it may be more standard for influencers to curate digital storefronts where they advertise products on behalf of marketers.