Sep 26, 2021 - Economy

Everyone wants to be an influencer

Illustration of a pattern made up of people under spotlights.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The number of people looking to become online influencers has exploded during the pandemic.

Why it matters: Almost anyone can find themselves in a position to become an influencer, and brands are throwing billions of dollars at online content creators.

Driving the news: Takumi, a premier influencer marketing agency, received twice as many applications from people looking for representation in 2020 than it did in 2019. And year-to-date, it's grown another 150-200%, Takumi group CEO Mary Keane-Dawson said.

  • The company's acceptance rate has also grown to about 30% over the last two years — a "major indication that influencers are becoming much more professional [and] mainstream," Keane-Dawson told Axios.

State of play: The pandemic expedited the shift to e-commerce and digital marketing. That's helped to lead businesses big and small to invest in more influencer relationships.

  • Advertisers "don't want to use the same influencer again and again," Keane-Dawson said, which keeps new opportunities flowing.
  • Brands are expected to spend more than $3 billion on influencer campaigns in 2021, and over $4 billion in 2022, according to eMarketer.
  • While eMarketer doesn't publish breakouts of spend by platform, it estimates that Instagram is the market leader with roughly half the market, "while YouTube and Facebook see a significant amount of spending as well. TikTok is likely smaller but growing quickly."

The big picture: Experts in the industry argue that the number of influencers continues to grow dramatically, even as the industry becomes more competitive.

  • SignalFire, a venture capital firm that invests in many creator-led businesses, estimates that more than 50 million people globally consider themselves online creators.
  • Cameo CEO Steven Galanis told Axios on HBO earlier this year that he thinks over 5 million people could be on Cameo, an app that lets users buy personalized videos from celebrities. "And we think that number is going to double in the next five years."

Yes, but: The influencer economy presents risks for both the talent and brands.

  • The vast majority (85%) of short-shelf-life consumer goods businesses have seen a negative hit to their brand as a result of an influencer association, according to a June 2020 study from financial consultancy Kroll.
  • In addition, every company Kroll surveyed that uses "nano-influencers" —accounts with fewer than 10,000 followers — has had at least one negative incident.

What to watch: The next platform to sprout a new crop of influencers will likely be Pinterest, Keane-Dawson says.

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