Amidst regulation, is influencer marketing still worth it?

We’re told that influencer marketing is a gold mine for engagement. But with recent changes to policies that mandate disclosure for paid social media posts, they may be becoming less powerful…

The term “social media influencer” has become increasingly relevant over the last five years, as individuals with a large number of followers on social media platforms began promoting brands and products, and offering advice on specific topics to their audience. This has opened up a whole new business strategy dubbed “influencer marketing.”

But hold on. How did we get here?

Today, with information about anything and everything at our fingertips, consumers are likely to do research before making a purchase—because they can. But rather than diving into the ocean of results on Google, many turn to influencers for this. Why? As influencers share constant details about themselves and their lives, they start to feel like trusted friends. And of course, consumers will trust recommendations from a friend way more than those from a brand itself.

Consequently, influencer marketing has grown exponentially over the past decade, to the point where businesses have started to put influencers at the core of their marketing strategies. By 2022, brands are expected to spend 15 billion on influencer branding.

But influencer marketing hasn’t been without its challenges… 

A wrench in the mix

When influencer marketing started out, not many questioned the authenticity of the recommendations they got from their favorite YouTube star. But as the phenomena took flight and we became totally saturated by sponsored posts, we stopped trusting their motives. What made them recommend this product? Are they getting paid to do it?

In response to this growing distrust, social media platforms started implementing regulations for advertised branded content. For instance, Facebook and Instagram enabled tools for influencers to tag featured businesses in sponsored posts to ensure transparency of paid partnerships. 

While better for consumers, this presents major challenges for businesses. Brands who use influencers to reach and impact consumers fear that labeling posts as sponsored compromises the genuineness of the content by revealing its purpose as an ad. After all, part of the reason influencers add value is because users perceive them as reputable sources for genuine, unbiased advice. 

As it stands, it seems influencer marketing has reached a sort of impasse.

To invest or not to invest…

There’s no doubt that influencers can help business sell, sell, sell, but the question is: how much does it help? Measuring return on investment has become a major challenge for businesses, at a time when social media platforms are testing the removal of traditional engagement metrics such as views, likes, and shares. Without these metrics, influencers can’t prove the value of a post or story, and business are left wondering if it’s even worth it.

One possible way to measure value, though, is influencers’ engagement rate. Following the regulations, Rival IQ surveyed more than 1,800 companies to analyze their social media performance. On Instagram, the leading platform for influencer-brand campaigns, influencers had a 1.97% engagement average per post. This is only slightly higher than the average engagement rate of businesses on Instagram, which puts into question the belief that influencers yield an especially high engagement on the platform. 

And here comes the kicker: the study revealed that engagement rates for influencers actually declined in 2019. It seems like the trend may be fading.

The future of influencer marketing

Brands are, of course, always looking to generate higher revenues and will likely continue to turn to social media to create brand awareness. Social media platforms will (fortunately) continue revising policies and enforcement to prioritize authentic posts. In this landscape, brands and influencers must be super vigilant of remaining as authentic as possible.

The winners will be those businesses who devote time to finding the right advertising strategies and influencers who naturally fit with their identity and mission. Brands who achieve this will stay ahead of the game, and those who won’t will be left behind.


camila headshotMaria Camila studied Business Administration, and is currently studying the Master in Corporate & Marketing Communication at the IE School of Human Sciences & Technology. Camila’s purpose and passion lies in branding, advertising, and building trustworthy relationships with those around her. For a closer contact, connect with her on LinkedIn.