Social, Digital and Influencer Marketing Trends to Watch in 2019

January 17, 2019

We’re constantly on the lookout for social, digital and influencer marketing trends, and new ways to engage with publics. Staying ahead of innovation in this space provides a competitive advantage for Ketchum and its clients.

Social, Digital and Influencer Marketing Trends to Watch in 2019

I’ve tapped the Ketchum digital collective mind to discover the issues that our strategists around the world are thinking about in 2019. Here are our top social, digital and influencer marketing trends to watch in 2019:

2019 will be the year of 5G. Amit Wadehra (Chicago)
Each advancement in mobile bandwidth speed has led to a transformative way we use our mobile devices. From the astonishment of viewing a full website on your phone with 3G to consuming hours of YouTube content through 4G LTE, the broad roll-out of 5G will again transform how we all utilize our phones. You may be thinking that 5G is a little faster than 4G, but it’s actually a giant breakthrough in bandwidth technology (100 – 250x faster than 4G) that will change the way that we use our devices and connect with each other. While initially there will be more b2b than b2c applications, imagine going from streaming a Netflix movie in HD to being able to stream hundreds of movies in 8K… AT THE SAME TIME! So, which industries are going to be the biggest benefactors of this breakthrough technology? With almost no communication lag between hundreds of cars, traffic signals and road sensors, self-driving cars seem stand to benefit the most. From a marketing standpoint, AR and VR will go from being used as novelties to mainstream ways brands connect with potential customers.

Influencer Marketing comes of age. Kate Durkin (New York City)
It’s clear by now that Influencer Marketing is no longer a fad. In 2018 we saw nearly every major brand investing in influencer in some capacity. And what once seemed like a cute marketing tactic has now become a legitimate channel to reach consumers both on and offline. But with that legitimacy will come increased scrutiny.

In 2019 we’ll see a strong push to project and quantify the ROI of influencer spend. Influencers will need to be more accountable for their results, and I expect to see more regulatory groups (or the IAB!) stepping in to create standards, benchmarks and guidelines where they haven’t previously existed. By 2020, Influencer Marketing spend is projected to reach $5 – $10B annually, so expect lots of pressure in 2019 to prove it’s truly worth it!

Pressure for global collaboration on data protection will come to the forefront. Chris Smith (London)
In 2018, the Cambridge Analytica scandal shone a bright light on the dark recesses of the world of data, communications and politics; and the world did not like what it saw. Just a few months later in May 2018, GDPR was implemented across Europe, but this is far from the end of the story. Whether a U.S. version of GDPR will be adopted and implemented is one immediate question; but there are also much bigger issues to tackle. Expect 2019 to be the year that pressure for global collaboration on data protection comes to the forefront, and also the year that the major global technology players start working not only with governments, but with each other to implement self-regulation.

The impact on communications and consumers will be unclear for some time and we should all be tracking developments, especially given that another damaging scandal has the potential to throw all the cards up in the air once again.

Brands will turn to hyper-local influence. Jim Lin (San Francisco)
Brands have been working with influencers for a little over a decade now and, with few exceptions, it has been about going bigger. However, consumers have gotten used to mega influencers creating brand content – and because of this their impact has somewhat dampened. Brands looking for better engagement have now begun to think smaller.

First it was micro-influencers, niche influencers who are seen as the alpha consumers or taste-makers in their given topic areas. And most recently, we’ve seen an even narrower focus on hyper-local influencers – those who are influential in their local communities and “in real life” friends and family. By tapping into regular folks with audiences made up of those whom they actually know, brands not only realize that this can affect real action, but it’s also much easier to measure impact because you’re focusing on finite geographical areas. Of course, this takes a lot more work and you’re sacrificing reach, but as with all tactics, having additional options in the toolbox for specific jobs is what it’s all about.

The key to customer acquisition in 2019 is finding the next 5,000 customers in places you weren’t looking. John Ratcliffe-Lee (New York City)
As marketers who are constantly challenged with making large-scale impact, it’s easy to think the “forest” of everyone online can be a tangible audience. In our world of aggregated environments and increasing customer acquisition cost, trying to reach a lot of people at once isn’t effective. Instead, what if the challenge was to find the next 5,000 people who haven’t heard of your product instead of the next five million? Often, the biggest movements and ideas start with a small, single audience who are strong advocates to help you reach (or find) another, adjacent audience. Approaches that come from outside the PR world, like signal planning, can give us the opportunity to create scalable digital programming focused on being efficient with our clients’ budgets but also help find future customers who might be dormant in places we’re not looking – those next 5,000 customers.

Employee advocacy will rise to the forefront. Frederik Tautz (Düsseldorf)
Progressive brands around the world have started to tap into a hidden form of brand advocacy wealth: their own employees. Imagine the power of a chorus of both external and internal voices driving messages for your organization! For any brand considering this approach, the building blocks for test and learn employee advocacy projects would include: an organizational culture check-up; employee advocacy training sessions; employee social media guidelines, a pool of pre-approved content to kick-off the program; and examples of employees to emulate from an employee advocacy POV on social media.

CEOs leading with transparency on social media will own the most sought-after leadership style. Doris Christina Steiner (Vienna)
In the current digital landscape, management by transparency has become the most sought-after leadership style. This brings about a need for direct, fast and unfiltered ways to communicate, and it’s the reason why CEOs are turning to social media to communicate with internal and external stakeholders. Via the chief executive’s owned social media accounts, corporate news can be shared in authentic and personal ways like never before, and with clearer insight into corporate culture for employees, potential hires, business partners, or journalists.

As CEOs are experts in their industries, personal social media accounts also provide a chance to position themselves as thought leaders and to take personal stances on key issues. Particularly in times of global political instability, clearly communicating corporate values has become a must to be seen as a trusted leader, and social media provides an excellent platform for that.

AI, attribution mapping and channel API updates will be key 2019 analytics issues to watch. Bailey Roy / Nicole Moreo (New York City)
Analytics remains a crucial and growing part of our work. We see AI, attribution mapping and channel API updates as key issues in 2019, the most pressing being API updates.

Recent data privacy issues have caused channels to make changes to their API, making it difficult to access data. For example, on December 11, access to publicly available data from Instagram changed, again. You will need to be a Facebook user who has access/admin rights to a Page, which is linked to an Instagram business account, to authenticate and collect data. This means that in 2019, one of the challenges will be to understand what data is crucial for decision making and proving ROI, and what data we can do without. Instagram is just one aspect of a sea of data available.

“Paid to stay” will replace “pay to play” on social media in 2019. Rachel Winer (Washington D.C.)
“Pay to play” will shift toward “Paid to stay” on digital platforms to spark conversions in 2019. The ole’ tale of driving website traffic lives on – like Facebook – and paid will still get you there, but with ad tactics such as paid publisher content and Instagram shopping rising, the (costing) fight for on-platform consumer attention and engagement persists.

If I were a marketing textbook: “Learn More” button begone, it’s the virtual shopping mall effect, with advertisers and consumers scrolling, swiping, and now staying, all inside the same glass doors. And hey, your CPC might in-turn decrease in the long-run.

Voice assistants are going mainstream. Tristen Sechi (New York City)
One of my observations from this summer noted that the accelerated adoption rate of smart speakers made consumers more apt to try out their smart phone voice assistants of which they were once weary. Now, according to Voicebot.AI’s most recent study, more and more, consumers are getting increasingly comfortable with using voice assistants across smartphones and smart speakers but also across hearables, cars and appliances. This will give companies developing the hardware and software that supports voice assistants way more assurance, and should spark interest in brands that are currently not playing in this space in any capacity.

Stories continue to grow. Ken Buraker (Washington D.C.)
Once upon a time, the Stories experience was exclusive to only Snapchat. Now, its popularity has grown to Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp. The Stories platform is growing 15x faster than traditional news feeds. What does this mean for 2019? I expect Stories to become even more creative and mainstream formats that we need to measure against. Brands can now leverage a smart blend of video, AR and DIY design. More than ever, we must think visually first to make a fleeting message come to life. More apps will also allow you to share content into Stories, and we anticipate that trend will only continue. Also, Stories will become more semi-permanent. Even though they disappear after 24 hours, consider that you can pin your best Stories onto your Instagram profile. The social web is more fun than ever before.

Amit is Senior Vice President, Digital Strategy, for Ketchum in the Chicago office. He works closely with teams on all aspects digital and social strategy. He’s an aspiring professional softball player and hopes to make the Champions PGA Tour. You can connect with him on Twitter @aw