When Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web over three decades ago, he couldn’t have foreseen that the Internet would evolve to be the ubiquitous phenomenon it is today, fundamentally changing the way the world functions across all spheres of life. Before the Internet, children aspired to be astronauts or doctors, and the job title of influencer or content creator simply didn’t exist. Fast forward to today and nearly 30 percent of children aged eight to twelve hope to become a YouTuber. Worlds apart, isn’t it?
Social media has undoubtedly propelled influencer marketing’s meteoric rise with brands set to spend up to US $15 billion by 2022 on these content partnerships. The market has only doubled in value since 2019, reflecting the potential of the billion-dollar influencer marketing industry. Whether it’s endorsing a much-coveted luxury item or the latest gadget, influencers have become a go-to for many brands looking to reach, engage, and appeal to their target audience.
Mastering The Monetisation Game, Owning Your Brand
The popularity of influencer marketing is not without reason. In 2020 alone, we saw the highest-paid YouTube star earn a whopping US$29.5 million, with the top ten content creators pulling in wages upwards of US$10 million. Kim Kardashian, for instance, sold out her perfume in a matter of minutes after 12 million viewers tuned into her livestream, while TikTok influencers have launched products and brands topping popularity charts. That is the story for A-listers or those who have managed to burst onto the scene, finding both popularity and success with their audiences.
However, there’s another side to the influencer narrative often neglected amid the hype and buzz of the latest and hottest influencer. For one, platform-influencer dynamics can often disadvantage newer or niche players. YouTube’s high barriers for monetisation come to mind — access to advertising revenue is only reserved for creators who have already amassed an audience of over 1,000 while the average creator earns just $3 to $5 per 1,000 video views. A pretty small sum for such a lucrative industry. Then there are those who are exploited by the brands — whether it’s stealing images, writing legally unsound contracts, non-payments, or coercing influencers to work for free. From content creation to content execution, influencers tend to take responsibility for the entire campaign, and they should be fairly compensated for their work.
In seeking to create a fairer influencer economy, how then can content creators independently build up their brand while ensuring that they also deliver on their promise?
Blockchain may be one way to go about this.
One such application of blockchain is tokenisation — the process of issuing a blockchain token that can digitally represent ownership or participation in a real tradeable asset. Tokenisation has been widely discussed in recent months, following use cases across multiple industries spanning sports, arts, finance, and entertainment. In fact, it’s recently just made its appearance on social platforms with the launch of BitClout, a blockchain-powered platform that allows people to buy and sell tokens representing their identities.
In the same way, content creators can gain greater control, autonomy, and ownership of their brand by launching their own native token — whether it’s to tokenise themselves or their ideas — and better monetise their content and brand without relying solely on advertising revenue from a platform.
Enabled by blockchain, the use of smart contracts can also help influencers ensure timely payment is made after each campaign is completed. Smart contracts are encoded with pre-agreed conditions that can be set by both brands and influencers. Once the agreement is reached, the funds can be automatically transferred without the red tape of a third party slowing down the process.
Driving Value With Transparency
As the world shifts gears, so too is the marketing industry changing. Brands have been utilising ad budgets for more digital forms of advertising in order to reach an audience who have gradually moved their lives online. While influencer marketing may be the trend of the moment, many brands have not always seen a direct correlation between influencer-based marketing and an uptick in sales, leaving advertisers sceptical of the influence of these content creators.
This is particularly so when the problem of ‘follower fraud’ is rife across the plethora of social media platforms. Take for instance an influencer with hundreds of thousands of followers. Yet, the engagement of their posts is low, barely hitting triple digits. What often happens in cases like this is that the influencer has bought their followers. After all, with sites like Social Envy and DIYLikes.com, all it takes is nothing more than a credit card number to purchase an army of bots on any social media platform. And with many social media tools designed to track success only based on metrics like follower count, this ‘fraud’ can often go undetected by brands. This can leave brands bewildered, unsure as to why what looked to be a promising influencer campaign ended up a failure.
The future of influencer ROI can be forged by blockchain, with the technology able to provide greater transparency for brands looking to authenticate influencers and validate their return on investments. In the same vein as influencers tokenising their content, brands can tokenise their transaction with content creators. For example, brands can ensure that the influencer’s key statistics, information on their reputation based on past performance, and the projected value of the partnership are locked into smart contracts agreed prior to the campaign, for a more transparent and secure exchange that promises a more successful campaign outcome. Additionally, in eliminating unnecessary intermediaries, blockchain can even help cut down extra middlemen fees and reduce marketing costs in an economy where cuts to budgets are increasing.
A Conduit Between The Worlds Of Fans and Creators
In a digital world ruled by misinformation, influencers have quickly gained a solid footing when it comes to being an authoritative voice be it promoting their favourite brand or speaking out on an issue close to their heart. The reach and impact of influencers on the public cannot be understated, with 41 percent of consumers stating that influencers should use their platforms for good. Conversely, 55 percent of marketers feel that they will be cautious of working with influencers who are vocal about social and political issues. This tension between brands and influencers means that there is a need for influencers to strike a balance between self-regulation to protect the brand’s reputation and answering to their community and the general public.
Yet, what if an influencer decides to speak out for a cause they believe in against the brand’s rules? Or what if an influencer wants to better connect with and forge a closer bond with his follower? This is where blockchain’s decentralised network can come in to bridge the worlds of fans and creators, removing the middleman — that of platforms or brands — and the need for excessive content moderation. With blockchain, content creators not only gain autonomy of their own assets but they also gain access to their community, engendering greater engagement with fans. For instance, with their own native token on the blockchain, influencers would be able to seamlessly reward and incentivise their followers directly. Similarly, the fan community can also have a say in the types of content they would like to see, further fostering a deeper level of engagement between creator and fan.
Without creators, platforms are powerless, and brands can remain in the shadows. In reimagining a fairer influencer economy for both content creators and brands, there needs to be a greater balance of power and blockchain can hold the key to a brighter influencer marketing future — one that is more transparent, autonomous, and rewarding.