• September 28, 2022

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By Joe Gagliese, co-founder & CEO of global digital and social innovation group Viral Nation.

The influencer space was always going to take off. Then the pandemic came along and added serious fuel to the fire for those creating online content and those stuck at home consuming it at levels previously unimaginable. As a result, more than 50 million people around the world now consider themselves to be influencers (or creators). Investments into the creator space totaled $5 billion last year alone. Meanwhile, Influencer Marketing Hub estimates the total creator economy market size to be around $104 billion, with a substantial growth trajectory on par with the gig economy—noting this projects a future valuation in the trillions of dollars.

This immense cultural and financial momentum will inevitably further power the growth of the influencer arena. And as this happens, influencers will increasingly go mainstream, touching our everyday lives and shaping the future. But don’t just take it from me. Nicole Quinn, general partner at the global venture capital firm Lightspeed Venture Partners, summed up the scene at a recent industry event, telling audiences: “In the same way we used to talk about technology eating the world, well, now it’s creators eating the world.”

So here are my predictions for ways that the continued rise of the influencer economy may change the world as we know it:

1. Social influence will be the new bachelor’s degree. For decades, the BA has served as a prerequisite for many types of well-paying, sought-after jobs. But in the not-too-distant future, a similarly widespread prerequisite will emerge: social influencing. Whether an aspiring politician, singer, marketer, realtor or small business owner, the ability to build a social brand will determine whether many are positioned to succeed in their careers. It’s important to note here that having a massive number of followers or visibility isn’t necessary. As we are now seeing reflected in the rise of micro and nano influencers, simply being able to leverage social media to engage a relevant audience will serve people well.

2. Social media influencers will become the new mega celebrities. When we conjure up some of the biggest celebrities today, we think of people like Leonardo DiCaprio, Scarlett Johanson, Tom Hanks and Jennifer Lawrence. But in an eventual shift in the not-too-distant future, social media influencers will replace them to become the new household names.

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With the world accelerating into digital and social, top influencers already have bigger, more engaged audiences and higher visibility versus many “traditional” celebs. Consider that a star like Leonardo DiCaprio currently stars on average in one movie a year. When it comes out, millions of people see it, and Leo’s fandom becomes invigorated by that event. Meanwhile, the many influencers who have millions of followers are engaging with their audience every single day. It’s an exponential difference in frequency and visibility that will inevitably lead to a switch where social media influencers will become the A-list celebrities in popular and mainstream culture. YouTube’s chief business officer, Robert Kyncl, recently shared his vision with the Hollywood Reporter that the influencer economy can eventually “easily rival Hollywood in terms of economic impact and job creation.” I couldn’t agree more.

3. A live-streaming commerce trend will sweep North America, driven by influencers. Streaming and live-streaming are seriously poised to take off in the future state of influence in North America. We’ll especially see a surge in the growth and popularity of live-streaming for e-commerce, echoing what has already taken place in Asia. In China, for instance, live-streaming commerce was a nearly $300 billion market last year, and by 2023, that figure will more than double. This phenomenon has largely been catalyzed by social influencers, with Chinese live-streamers raking in as much as billions of dollars in hours. It’s only a matter of time before the trend catches on more widely in the West, as more people realize the potential in building streaming audiences, whether for entertainment or profit.

4. All companies will have an influencer strategy. A couple of years ago, Walmart launched Spotlight, a novel initiative that aims to turn its own employees into small-scale influencers on platforms like TikTok to advocate for and on behalf of the business. Dunkin’ Donuts and Dell are just two other major brands that in recent years have also launched similar employee influencer programs. Naturally, top brands are ensuring they reap all the rewards of influencer marketing, whether hiring external influencers for campaigns or, in this case, building their own internal influencer armies.

Why? Influencers help brands engage with audiences and customers in a highly authentic way, building levels of trust that far surpass what traditional, glossed-over types of campaigns were capable of. And all of this can be done far more economically and at scale. It’s only a matter of time before every brand will have an influencer strategy and influencers representing them to the degree that we will have forgotten a world where this was not a standard business practice.

Bonus Prediction: The word “influencer” will go extinct. You heard right. I’m the CEO of an influencer company, and I want to make the term “influencer” disappear. The primary problem with calling people influencers is that it doesn’t come close to capturing the diversity of people being lumped into the category right now. The term also doesn’t represent the sheer amount of work, passion and dedication that goes into building a following and being accountable to it on a regular basis. Stay tuned. I’ll be talking more about this in the future.

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