The growing importance of brand ambassadors and customer advocates.

Major retailers are embracing the growing ecosystem of ambassador programs. Following in the footsteps of Macy’s Style Crew, Nordstrom just wrapped up its application cycle for the upcoming 2021-2022 mentorship. The program highlights perks such as virtual meetings with the company’s leaders and commission for items sold via creators’ original content. Independent stylists that are part of the ambassador program will have the ability to utilize selling tools and recommend curated items of their own. The retailer also announced it would create a new Livestream shopping platform to attract a younger market.

From fitness to apparel, brands have recognized the need to build community among influencer-customers—with Peloton making headlines earlier this year for its community of instructor-influencers. Even West Elm is enlisting the talents of creators across digital platforms, integrating professionals and social media influencers into its new customer advocacy program.

The numbers speak for themselves. Poshmark’s 2020 commerce report found that 41% of consumers discover new brands through content creators, and Influencer Marketing Hub’s 2021 Benchmark Report indicated that 47% of influencer budgets go toward micro-influencers. Collectively's reporting suggests that 68% of marketers are already leveraging influencers to generate awareness and UGC, two defining KPIs of ambassadorship programs.

Takeaway: The power of the customer advocates on social media is broadening the application of influencer marketing. Loyal customers with a social following are a growing base of influencers who can foster brand affinity and drive sales for retailers. Brands should build their base of influential customers and reimagine what an earned online social community can bring to their marketing mix.

Read On: Forbes, AdWeek, eMarketer, Business Insider

Mental health advocacy gains momentum from social media.

Rising mental health concerns in the United States have led to questions about the implications of the creator economy on one’s psyche. Content creators, influencers, and social media users are now engaging in discussions about the nuanced symbiosis between social media and real life.

Collectively's influencer community shows that more than 2,000 creators advocate for mental health in their Instagram bio, and more than 14,000 creators post content about mental health awareness. Even mental health professionals are taking to social media to offer messages of support and guidance along with the rise of "TikTok Therapists," who provide free therapeutic advice in 30-60 second clips.

Today, we see even more brands—powerful influencers themselves—prioritize mental health and wellness within their company cultures and corporate responsibility initiatives. Whole Foods teamed up with Headspace to design tools that directly support customer wellbeing. Unilever's Dove continues to pave the way with initiatives that directly impact wellness and rely on influencers to amplify messages. Social media influencers play an instrumental role in extending and humanizing these messages to millions of fans.

Takeaway: Mental illness is now discussed widely on social media, and creators have had a massive role in destigmatizing conversations around depression and anxiety, burnout, wellness, and work-life balance. Brands working with influencers should remain attuned to these realities and think about where they can show up as advocates for influencer partners and customers.

Read On: Talking Influence, NCBI, DSN, Instagram

Academically inspired influencers promote education.

Distance learning has left school-aged children feeling disconnected from their academics. Short-form, engaging content gained massive popularity during the pandemic, giving students a familiar platform to reflect on their academic habits.

TikTok has become a hub for those dealing with school burn-out and Zoom fatigue to cope and find community, as proven by the #StudyWithMe video trend accumulating more than 1.3 billion views. Influencers and content creators from all walks of life have spent the last year and a half documenting their study routines in the hopes of inspiring other students to excel academically, despite having to take tests in their childhood bedroom.

Teachers are also utilizing the platform to connect with parents and students. #TeacherTiktok has accrued over 790 million views, giving rise to "teacher influencers" like Sofia Bella (2.9 million followers) and Miss Franklin (803,300 followers). These teachers are igniting their followings to chip in for classroom supplies and donations and even help with student loans pointing to the economic opportunities inherent in social media,

In an interview with KTNV Las Vegas, Sofia stated, “My goal was to inspire people. I’m not only inspiring my kids, but I’m also inspiring kids all over the world to love school [...] I’m inspiring people to become teachers, which is what we need. We need a lot of teachers who love what they do.”

Takeaway: The communities we create digitally have real-life effects on our social and psychological well-being. Despite speculation that digital lives aren't "real," the relationships that we form online can transcend the screen, helping us feel less alone. Brands in the education space or advocating for education should tap into academically inclined social communities for authentic, cause-based partnership marketing.

Read On: Collectively Blog, Scientific American, Everyday Health