In this edition, we're exploring how influencer culture shows up in three major pillars of American life: commerce, politics, and entertainment. As the world begins to slowly come back from the economic pause of the past few months, we're noticing trends that have shifted, expanded, and supercharged.

Summer is upon us, and for retailers, this usually means products focused on weddings, vacations, and outdoor fun. Consumers' ability to engage in typical summer activities has changed, but they still want to feel relief after months inside.

The challenge for brands: help customers understand how new products can work for them in this altered summer state. Backyard weddings, A/R powered vacations, and laid-back summer styles (purchased online, at a discount) are the reality this year. Brands are increasingly turning to influencers to demonstrate new cultural practices, and ultimately shape resulting commerce.

Outside of the retail realm, influential voices are getting louder when it comes to meaningful conversations around politics, activism, and change. Influencer activism is now ever-present and gaining momentum as we head towards the 2020 election.

And when the world's woes become too much, tuning into TikTok provides a much-needed distraction to lighten the mood. The app's explosive growth during quarantine has minted thousands of new creators and millions of new users.

01: Redefining retail.

From April to May, US retail sales set records when they dropped 16.5%. As brands scurry to shift to e-commerce, creators are playing a critical role, and platforms are also stepping in. Facebook launched Shops (slated to bring in billions) designed to help businesses pivot, Alibaba opened its platform to US merchants, and TikTok began testing new shop features that split revenues with creators. Whether it’s a co-branded product collaboration, affiliate partnerships, or a creator-developed line, retail paired with the power of influence is sure to come out ahead.

Brands should beware of pushing their agendas without doing some good, though. Retailers donating percentages of sales to charity or merely discounting merchandise to make it attainable are being rewarded with sales and positive attention. Rag & Bone drastically cut prices and raised more than $300K for City Harvest via mask sales. Small businesses and mega brands are following suit.

DTC is no longer relegated to traditional merchants of consumer goods.
Creators have solidified themselves as the hot new product, fully commoditizing their presence without requiring a brand deal. As brands pull marketing budgets and affiliate commissions sink, creators can find patronage through a slew of direct-to-influencer payment methods a la Patreon, Buy Me a Coffee, or OnlyFans. Instagram’s getting on board with the trend and offering new ways for influencers to charge directly from the platform and monetize their IGTV posts, giving them more agency over their product.

Brands should consider ways to incorporate meaningful charitable initiatives and credible influencer endorsements as they focus more on e-commerce. Furthermore, brands should build authentic relationships with creators now because their reliance on brand deals may diminish, making the partnership a matter of choice versus necessity.

Read on:
Forbes / Bloomberg / Digiday / USA Today / AdAge / The Verge

02: Shaping culture, advocating for change.

Activism has flourished on social media, with platforms providing new reach for critical new ideas and propping up movements and their leaders. In today's polarized political landscape, taking a stance has become more prevalent within influencer culture. At its worst, influencer-activism presents as misinformation. At it’s best, it shines the light on democratic values, gives back, and pushes society to reconsider their values.

Our politicians know how valuable influencers are, and candidate strategies continue to include some level of influencer endorsement and social media presence. As we move into the second half of the year, we’re predicting more politics to show up in your feed, which may polarize creator communities and the audiences that follow them.

Politics is showing up in influencer culture more and more, which reinforces the importance of creator vetting. Avoid the pitfalls of #CancelCulture and brand backlash by adopting a thorough strategy for pre-screening talent who may not reflect your brand values. On the flip side, aligning with the right voices can bolster your brand’s values-led messaging.

Read On:
Mandana Dayani / Tubefilter / Talking Influence / Digiday / Daily Beast

03: TikTok gains momentum.

In less than two years, TikTok has redefined pop culture. What started as cute lip sync videos and viral dance trends (created and viewed by a mostly GenZ audience) has morphed into a new media channel for entertainment even millennials can’t get enough of. With a surge of new users during quarantine and a hefty valuation in the making, the video streaming app is commanding attention spans. Brands and creators are working together in totally new ways as a result.

TikTok has given way to cult-like fandoms (and actual, self-proclaimed cults) and real-world style “Collab Houses.” A far cry from the polished, curated feeds of Instagram, and somewhat raw Instagram Stories, TikTok is full-on primetime entertainment that meets an insatiable need for humor, belonging, and drama. The show now continues IRL as top creators bunk up in multi-million dollar MTV Cribs style mansions—courting brands for house sponsorships. There’s a serious "cool” factor associated with TikTok right now, so it’s no surprise it’s where A-lister’s kids are spending their time.

TikTok is leading the pack when it comes to innovation, and marketers should embrace new opportunities for integrated sponsorships that tap into the cultural zeitgeist associated with the app, like fandoms and TikTok houses.

Read on:
Adweek / Tech Crunch / Bloomberg / NY Times / NY Times / Mel Magazine

Additional Reads

  • Influencers Say Instagram Is Biased Against Plus-Size Bodies, And They May Be Right (Buzzfeed)
  • Supporting Well-being with Guides on Instagram (Instagram)
  • Instagram Wants Its Influencers to Make More Money (NY Times)
  • Continuing Our Work to Fight Online Bullying (Instagram)
  • Behind The Sponsorship Scramble (AdAge)
  • #PridePledge Asks Corporations to Pivot Funds They Aren’t Using on Pride (Adweek)
  • The Appeal of the TikTok Everyhouse (Curbed)
  • TikTok Wants the Class of 2020 to Attend #TikTokGraduation (Adweek)