2021 Influencer marketing trends

April 28, 2021
Kaleigh Moore
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Have you noticed a subtle shift in the way people talk about discovering brands? 

It used to be: “I read about…” 

These days, you’re more likely to hear: “I heard about…”

Why the difference? 

The answer is simple. We like to say “heard” when we’re talking about something we learned socially. Influencer marketing (see also: Creator marketing) plays a huge role in this shift: while it used to produce $500 million in annual revenue, it’s now grown to a nearly $10 billion (yes, billion) industry

Even with its popularity, we’re not near the saturation point yet when it comes to influencer marketing. The field is large enough to support trends, trends-within-trends, and even micro-trends. Any more trends, and we’ll have to start inventing new words.

So how can brands stand out within an increasingly popular marketing approach? 

Look to the creators.

As eCommerce expert Chris Cantino said: “Creators have an edge that comes from thinking unconventionally. They’ll play everywhere their competitors can’t.”

What does that mean for creators and their partners? What are the unorthodox trends gaining traction in 2021? We’ve sifted through the data to uncover exactly what’s going on.

Live stream shopping

Live stream shopping is not just for QVC and late-night TV anymore. 

Companies like outdoor furniture brand Outer are regularly live streaming sales events. All the while, they’re bringing in a surprising amount of audience engagement and retention (and seeing ROI as high as 10x.) Who knew high-cost items like outdoor furniture would sell like hotcakes via livestream? 

Turns out: it does.

Sales from live events doubled between 2020 and 2019, and this one-time side-trend now encompasses nearly 9% of all retail sales online. 

Why is live selling so impactful? It goes back to that social element we talked about earlier. People aren’t saying: “I read about…” these days. They’re saying: “I heard.” 

Live selling is unique. It’s engaging. It feels like real interaction—because it is. 80% of people would rather watch a live video from a brand than read a blog.

Live stream shopping is a trend that rides one of the biggest trends in all of digital media. 91% of people plan to continue streaming after the pandemic. And it’s not going anywhere. Now, a full 81% say it will be their priority going forward.

Our conclusion: The COVID-19 pandemic helped reset our shopping habits, and online live selling is now full steam ahead.

How to act on the trend

One way to incorporate the live streaming sales trend into your efforts is to combine it with social selling and social listening.

Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube make it easy to run live video for sales events. This approach also eliminates the “bottleneck” of rerouting visits to your site first. 

Consider how easy it is: During clothing brand Sozy’s live streams on Facebook Live, customers can make a purchase just by commenting “SOLD” and then sending payment.

Performance-based influencer marketing 

Do you give people a reason to talk about your brand? If not, performance-based influencer marketing can help you do that, which is why more and more brands are putting both affiliate and referral programs to work.

Consider CBD brand Equilibria’s referral program: Every time a user refers a new order via a specific order code, and it generates $20 in-store credit for the referrer. Equilibria even offers instructions on how to create a shareable Instagram post.

The result is a stickier brand that promotes loyalty through social sharing. They’re recruiting customers...to be recruiters. 

And it works: People want to hear from sources they trust. 83% of customers say word-of-mouth influences the way they buy. Programs like the one Equilibria uses are systematizing that effect.

Think of performance-based arrangements like these as micro-influencing. Companies don’t have to engage mega-creators with massive audiences to impact, but they do have to incentivize people to start talking.

This approach is both budget-friendly and underdog-friendly. Influencers and creators only earn referrals when they make a sale, which means no upfront financial commitments from the brand.

How to act on the trend

There are two styles for performance-based arrangements you can use:

  • Affiliate. Pay commissions or discounts to people who make referrals that result in sales. You’ll only pay as you get results. Low-budget brands can start influencer marketing without committing to a large, up-front flat fee.
  • Paid campaigns. Are you partnering with a specific creator? You might encounter a flat fee plus additional performance money. For example, consider a popular influencer who charges $2,000 per post. That flat fee may not include other commissions for sales and clicks.

If it sounds complicated, you’ll need a platform. You’ll want a dashboard for working with your influencer marketers, and creator marketing platforms like #paid let you talk directly with creators and style a campaign as you both see fit.


A bit confused by talk of NFTs? It doesn’t help that even the definition—non-fungible tokens—offers little clarification. 

A good way to think about non-fungible tokens is that they’re digitally exclusive property. The “tokens” in this case are built on blockchain technology. Blockchain is good at maintaining exclusive digital ownership to the original buyer. 

It’s created an entirely new market. You can now digitally own...well, just about anything.

People are now making collections of NFTs akin to art collecting. Some art is being sold this way. The trend is making headlines already. A digital collage of artwork called “The First 5000 days” set the NFT record by selling for $69.3 million.

That’s not an isolated event; the entire NFT market tripled last year on a quick ascendance to $250 million, and the number of active NFT wallets doubled.

How to act on the trend

What’s the use case for influencer marketing, then? Well, creators with a sizable following can monetize their content. Consider the case of creator Matty Mo, who’s sold approximately $15,000 worth of artwork since February 6. 

NFTs may also have a democratizing effect. It’s a shortcut to creating a sense of “community ownership.” Rather than merely buying your product, NFT buyers are buying a piece of something. That has huge implications for the kind of brand loyalty you can inspire.

How do we know this? Some NFTs are selling on “secondary markets,” according to Forbes. In a way, it’s like people buying and selling stocks. 

People feel a sense of brand cooperation and ownership when they buy-in. Do you have NFTs interesting enough to own? Work with an influencer to connect with the audience who wants to own them. 

You can also create more engaging campaigns with NFT giveaways. “Brands should engage current as well as attract new clients/customers by offering NFTs that can unlock special giveaways, rewards or pricing,” writes Andrew Faridani. Faridani suggests brands sell individual NFTs, with one embedded with a prize to meet a particular influencer. 

User-generated content on product pages

Leveraging user-generated content from creators on product pages brings all sorts of advantages: It adds the social proof of the influencer, and it adds credibility/visual context to the product page. Whether it’s gifs, videos, or static photos, this material is value-packed.

60% of consumers prefer videos over reading product descriptions. What’s more: 74% of people are more likely to buy a product if it has an explainer video, and eCommerce pages with any video content convert at 80% higher rates.

How to act on the trend

Think about matching influencers with specific products for high-quality user-generated content your brand can use across social channels.

Clothing brand With Jéan, for example, leverages user-generated content from creators as Instagram posts spotlighting new and popular pieces from their store. They also embed this stream of content on their product pages, which adds even more visual context for shoppers.

If you don’t have influencer partnerships already in place, apps like Reeview automatically search for YouTube video reviews so you can find and use organic user-generated content that’s already “out there.”

Gamification and contests 

Influencer marketing should do more than court the attention of viewers. It should engage them on a more human level. It should draw attention and encourage people to interact with brands. 

Consider when creator and YouTuber Marques Brownlee launched a $1,000 smartphone giveaway in conjunction with MKBHD and Dbrand. Who would turn that down?

This type of collaboration is a great way for brands to generate engagement.

Contests create goodwill for the influencer and the brand since something is being given away for free. And because games and contests/giveaways are so valuable for the audience, they’re happy to engage. 

It’s an easy way to create engagement with users without seeming overly salesy. In this case, the partnership is there in plain sight, and yet it doesn’t feel gross.

How to act on the trend

Use specific goals. With contests and giveaways, you’re essentially buying engagement. Use that to your advantage. Especially effective here are goals you can measure. Site goals, product launch goals, or conversions all make great benchmarks.

You can use a giveaway to encourage people to retweet, for example, boosting a social media account profile. Like commission-based marketing with an influencer, this trend makes it possible for marketers and brands to measure their ROI directly.

You can also encourage influencer involvement with targeted giveaways. Beats by Dre used this strategy when they gave away headphones to Olympic athletes, hoping to drum up buzz during the 2012 Olympic games.

Brand/Media/Retail partnerships

In influencer marketing, there’s always an opportunity for creative partnerships. Two brands can team with one influencer, or one brand can reach out to multiple influencers. 

That’s what Hampton Farms did. First, they knew they had a seasonal product: MLB-branded peanut bags. But rather than reach out to a major league player, they decided to partner with micro-influencers instead.

It wasn’t just a partnership of two or three influencers. Hampton Farms brought in nearly a dozen influencers creating over 60 display ads. Hampton Farms tested the best-performing ads, then ran them on influencer social media pages. The result was a 7x return on ad sales.

The takeaway? Even smaller brands can use partnerships to test and leverage new ads. In Hampton Farms’ case, they incorporated partnerships with social media, micro-influencers and brought in their retail expertise. 

Smaller brands can access brand/media partnerships. This has given rise to a new trend: identifying those useful partnerships that even small brands can afford. 

How to act on the trend

Larger brands with big budgets can use smaller-scale partnerships to test out specific ad messaging. Then, they can move across media platforms to scale. Smaller-budget brands can talk to micro-influencers to create cross-media partnerships. 

Take the example of Hampton Farm. They took a “test-first” approach to influencer marketing. Their strategy? “Budgets shifted quickly to the best performing content in real-time for peak efficiency,” said Forbes’ writer Michelle Greenwald. 

They used multiple partnerships. That gave them the capacity to amplify and test their message. And that effect multiplied their ROI. Their 7x returns show the power of working with more than one influencer in one medium.

Influencer marketing trends: Be ahead of the curve

If mass media changed the potential reach for yesterday’s brands, digital media is changing the type of reach for tomorrow’s. 

That’s why we see smaller brands experimenting with influencer marketing in exciting ways and still finding plenty of room in the market. Whether it’s setting up partnerships with influencers for live stream shopping or reaching out to create unique contests, there are burgeoning markets still ripe for experimentation. 

In time-tested influencer marketing trends, there are multiple platforms to explore. Small brands can use social media to find limited-reach influencers. They can experiment with new campaigns. Large brands can leverage micro-trends to test out bigger ideas. 

Ultimately, the digital marketing opportunities aren’t going to be a piece of the marketing pie; it will be the way business is done.

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