Influencer marketing has evolved significantly since its emergence a few years ago, and as with any new industry, strategies and trends come and go at first. Many of the changes are a result of influencers and the brands and agencies who contract with them developing best practices with every post, like, or comment. Influencer marketing as an industry is steadily approaching a point at which trends will galvanize as common practices, and solutions will solidify into strategies.

As the year comes to a close, we at Julius have taken time to reflect on the industry as a whole, and have put together a list of four top trends we see taking hold in 2019. Many of these trends we’ve seen grow throughout the year, and we expect them to continue, if not develop into standard practices.

Gaming goes beyond the monitor: Live-streaming is transforming how we approach engagement

The prolific growth of Twitch as a social media platform is a testament to the effectiveness of live-streaming as a form of content. Live-streaming’s main appeal is for gamers, who can watch and interact with their favorite personalities playing their favorite games. The relative popularity of esports amplifies this appeal, as viewers can not only watch professional esports athletes, but engage with them directly through chat, emotes, and donations.

Live-streaming broke into the mainstream in 2018 with influencers like Ninja playing the year’s most popular game, Fortnite, with celebrities like Drake and Travis Scott. Meanwhile, internet celebrities like PewDiePie, who often live-streams his gameplay, are becoming the most prolific influencers in the industry. Gaming’s pop culture appeal for digitally inclined generations has made it prime real estate for influencer marketing opportunities. Whereas gaming streamers used to get gaming-centric and technology brands to sponsor them (think Logitech, Razer, and Corsair) they’re starting to get higher profile brand opportunities.

As we discussed earlier this year, these opportunities are being afforded to them because of their consistently high engagement with hard-to-reach demographics. The authentic engagement that is achievable through live-streaming, as well as the popularity of gaming among Gen-Z and millennial audiences, make it a highly successful avenue for influencer marketing, and brands are going to take notice in 2019.

Closed-network “fandoms” and premium influencer content

As social networks evolve and their terms and conditions change, the way creators make money changes too. When YouTube changed its monetization requirements, many smaller channels had to find other ways to make money. For influencers on other platforms like Instagram and Facebook, making consistent returns on creative content is an even bigger gamble. While some are driven to take on more sponsorships as influencers, others look to monetize premium content through platforms like Patreon of FansOnly.

Premium content isn’t just for creators looking for supplemental income, though. Even those who make money on their streams, videos, or posts, still use premium content.That’s because premium content is a way to reward loyal fans and subscribers with creative content that isn’t always viable as social media content. Behind-the-scenes photos, unique gifts, or more creative videos or posts are part and parcel for premium content. Because this content is paywalled, and usually accessed by the more loyal fans, communities often form around it. This close-knit group of fans can engage with influencers on a more personal level, sometimes moderating their streams or even suggesting future content.

Influencers tap into this highly engaged network of fans – often with unique names for their group – for more than just their money. The rise of premium content and their associated “fandoms” is a distillation of the essence of influencer marketing: creators making content they feel passionate about for an engaged group of people who want to see it.

Lip-syncing and Tik Tok: The fun of music and the spirit of Vine

Lip-syncing videos are about as old as viral media – Numa Numa was published way back in 2004. Their resurgent popularity, however, is owed largely to content-driven social media platforms like Musical.ly and its successor, TikTok.

In June, Facebook released a challenger to the throne with its “Lip Sync Live” app, aiming to cash in on the virality of lip-syncing. That Facebook is willing to spend money securing contracts with major music agencies for royalty-free music says a lot about the sheer volume of lip-sync content produced. While lip-syncing content itself is harder to sponsor for influencers, popular lip-syncers have unparalleled viral momentum. In fact, many influencers got their start on Musical.ly or TikTok, and used their engagement to jump-start their other social media accounts.

TikTok is a wellspring for Gen-Z geared content, and brands are starting to take notice. As its audience skews younger, brands and agencies view it as an untapped resource. Branded TikTok videos and TikTok oriented content are beginning to show up on the platform. Like its predecessor, TikTok uploads don’t necessarily have to be lip-sync videos, but the platform definitely thrives on them. Given its 15-second time constraint, TikTok is taking on the spirit of the now defunct yet wildly influential platform, Vine. Expect TikTok to continue to rise in size and relevance for pop culture and for influencer marketing.

You get a podcast! And you get a podcast!

via GIPHY

Podcasts are far from a new invention, and they’re hardly taking the social media market by storm. But, podcasts are seemingly everywhere – influencers, celebrities, even former presidents have podcasts nowadays. Even we have a podcast (seriously, check it out.)

We ran a piece earlier this year discussing how podcasts can target specific groups of people based on specific interests, like true crime or ancient Roman history. As a result, podcast hosts are hybrid influencers of sorts – they can have social media channels independently of their podcast, but their shows are the primary content delivery vehicle with which fans interact.

Because podcast hosts (and their guests) develop influence, much in the same way a mommy blogger or fashion Instagrammer might, they are becoming more and more viable for brand partnerships. Joe Rogan, as we mentioned, became a spokesperson for Onnit brands through the popularity of his podcast. These brand partnerships can play themselves out beyond the usual media-buy relationship in which a podcast delivers an ad read or plays a commercial during a break. Podcast hosts can incorporate brand relationships into their podcasts for a deeper, more meaningful engagement with their audience.

The resurgent popularity of podcasts as more than just a replacement for traditional radio programming can also teach us a lot about the kinds of content people want to consume. They want to listen to stories, connect with the presenter, and hear unique perspectives. They want candid conversations and serialized schedules for their entertainment. In the digital world, the “everything now” perspective can only do so much. Podcasts in 2019 can be the staging ground for a new type of influencer content – one that emphasizes content that is not socially driven, but is still engaging.

Wrapping it up

2019 will be an interesting year for influencer marketing – it’s time for it to put its money where its mouth is. As the industry expands and budgets grow, brands and agencies are looking for the returns to continue to improve for a practice that is almost ubiquitous. If the trends listed above are any indication, the industry is wising up to what works and what doesn’t. We know social media users want authentic content, genuine engagement, and meaningful experiences. And we know brands get their best returns on influencer marketing when their sponsored content achieves those goals. The trends above all pertain to achieving those aims, and it’s no surprise. influencer marketing is in for a fun (and hopefully authentic) ride in 2019 – buckle up!