Influencer PR has been one of the hottest digital marketing topics for quite some time. That isn’t about to change. A landmark year for the sector, 2016 saw the consolidation and growth of influencers on platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, as well as the realisation that bigger influencers aren’t always better. In short, 2016 was the beginning of a period of maturation for influencer marketing – something that will continue well into 2017 and, likely, beyond.

To better understand where influencer marketing is heading, we’ve turned to our very own PR manager, Tara O’Connor, for the inside track on the industry’s latest trends and advice on how to take advantage of them.

Want to get to grips with the basics of influencer marketing before reading on? Don’t forget to read our beginner’s guide here…

Firstly, could you give us a little insight about yourself and what you do?

I’ve worked at Digital Visitor for over 18 months and I’m also a style blogger of more than 6 years, so I know how to approach influencers and if a pitch will be interesting to them. Some of the clients I’ve worked with include Destination Bristol, All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Mauritius Tourism. For our most recent campaign with Mauritius Tourism, they asked us to educate their 5 target audiences about the island and position it as a compelling travel destination for families. Our activity resulted in 40 influencer articles, with a combined traffic of 758,000 across the UK, France, Spain, Germany, and the Nordic region.

As PR Manager at Digital Visitor, I manage and implement PR campaigns for our clients. My role includes PR strategy, creating targeted lists of influencers, event management, building and maintaining strong relationships with influencers, client liaison and assisting with proposals. I’m also responsible for demonstrating the effectiveness of campaigns for clients through reporting.

What, would you say, is the state of influencer marketing in 2017?

The true value of influencer marketing is becoming recognised by more brands and, in parallel, influencers are becoming increasingly aware of their authority and worth. Long gone are the days when mass press releases are sent out to bloggers in exchange for free coverage. There has also been a noticeable shift in how influencers are compensated for work; many influencers are no longer satisfied with creating content in exchange for a free product or trip, they want their work and time to be appreciated, and want to receive payment. This has resulted in a rise of full-time professional influencers who have turned hobbies into successful careers.

Using a trusted influencer to speak to your brand’s audience can be much more effective than traditional advertising. It’s less pushy, more authentic and a great way to generate shareable content which can be used across multiple social channels.

Influencer marketing is moving away from the “celebrity” and towards “micro-influencers”. Why do you think that is, and is it a good thing?

Brands have started to realise that although the “celebrity” may have a large audience, their followers aren’t always relevant or engaged, so won’t necessarily convert. Celebrities and mega-influencers can also be extremely pricey to work with so it can be much more valuable and cost effective to work with multiple “micro-influencers”. Micro-influencers have small but highly engaged followings. They are truly influential within their community, receive good engagement and are seen as trust-worthy by their peers.

…although the “celebrity” may have a large audience, their followers aren’t always relevant or engaged…

If someone follows a celebrity or mega-influencer, there’s a chance they won’t trust their recommendations. Many consumers have become wary of celebrity endorsements because it’s likely they are just being paid to feature a brand. Even if a micro-influencer is receiving payment, they are generally more selective of the projects they work on, as they’re aware they run the risk of losing their audience if the fit isn’t right. This means their following will trust their opinion, even if the content is sponsored.

Do you have any advice for brands looking to get started on influencer PR this year?

Consider working with relevant, micro-influencers with the right audience, over expensive celebrity or mega-influencers who don’t receive much engagement. Doing so is likely to result in a higher return on investment and more genuine and interesting content. Be aware that when working with micro-influencers, collaborations need to bring value to both the influencer and their audience. We recommend giving them room to be creative so they can produce something authentic and relatable. Their followers or readers will be able to tell if a piece of content seems forced, so it’s important it fits in with their pre-existing content and tone of voice.

…collaborations need to bring value to both the influencer and their audience.

It’s also important you encourage influencers to make it clear if content is being paid for. The ASA says that if there is payment and control, it is an advertisement. If a brand is paying to be associated with an influencer but has no control, that is considered sponsored content. There’s no need for influencer to be regimented about how they disclose but it should be clearly labelled and any links should be “no-follow” as per Google’s guidelines.

Where do you think influencer marketing will be this time in 12 months?

More brands will want to advertise at grass roots levels to target small pockets of highly engaged audiences across multiple channels. We’ll see an increase in influencers using live video on Instagram Stories, Facebook Live and potentially, after last month’s announcement, Twitter. Collaborations will get smarter and more creative as consumers become turned off by advertising which is seen as overly salesy.