In just a few short years, influencer marketing has established itself as one of the most prominent digital marketing channels for consumer brands. By one estimate, businesses spent more than $2bn on influencer marketing campaigns in 2018.

What does 2019 hold for the channel? Here are five issues in the space that should be on marketers’ radar screens this year.

The emergence of fake sponsored content

Given the large sums of money some influencers are paid to promote brands and their products, it’s no surprise that a growing number of individuals are trying to become influencers. Put simply, becoming an influencer is the 21st century equivalent of becoming a Hollywood celebrity, especially among
members of younger generations.

Unfortunately, in an effort to kick start their careers, some wannabe influencers have resorted to publishing what purport to be sponsored posts on behalf of brands that they are not actually working with. In some cases, the influencers engaging in this dubious behavior are reportedly then using their
fake sponsored posts to dupe brands into believing that they have a proven track record.

Fake sponsored content obviously has the potential to create headaches and risk for companies whose brands are hijacked and associated with individuals they aren’t really working with, but it could also present broader challenges for influencer marketing. After all, if the volume of this content grows, it could become increasingly difficult for brands to perform due diligence – something that many already struggle with, if they do it at all.

A fake sponsored content plague could also force brands to more closely monitor social media postings for deceptive content and contemplate taking action against individuals who might also be fans of their products – an obviously thorny situation.

Fake follower purges and algorithm changes

Under scrutiny from lawmakers over the use of their platforms to spread disinformation and interfere in elections, social media giants were forced to take action in 2018. Among the actions that appear related to this: purges of fake accounts and changes to the algorithms that determine what content their users see.

These kinds of actions impact influencer marketing.

For example, removal of fake accounts can reduce follower counts and result in lower engagement metrics. While brands obviously don’t want to pay for followers and engagement that aren’t real, the problem is that the influencers they choose to work with, and how much they pay, is often based on metrics
supplied by the social platforms themselves.

When these metrics change, it can create problems, especially when marketers learn that follower counts and engagement might have been lower than previously thought.

Because the circumstances that influenced fake follower purges and algorithm changes are still being dealt with, it stands to reason that similar actions could be seen in 2019.

Agency drama

While some brands deal directly with influencers, many influencer marketing campaigns are executed through agencies. This is often the case for campaigns involving micro-influencers, which have become increasingly common.

Because so many influencer relationships are facilitated through agencies, brands’ ability to efficiently work with influencers at scale depends on these agencies to a large degree. That has the potential to create risk.

Case in point: late last month, it was revealed that one of the biggest influencer marketing agencies, Speakr, had failed to pay some of its influencers. According to reports, in an effort to keep some of its influencers happy, the agency had at times been making payments to influencers before it was paid by clients, and as a result, it eventually ran into financial problems.

Speakr has promised to make things right and change the way it operates going forward, but its woes highlight the fact that even the biggest agencies can find themselves in trouble. The fact that its financial problems apparently arose because of actions it took to please influencers also suggests that
agencies’ relationships with influencers are, at least in some cases, not particularly strong.

These issues should be top of mind for brands relying on influencer marketing agencies in 2019.

The continued rise of the influencer entrepreneur

Influencers with significant followings are increasingly deciding to launch their own businesses instead of working with existing brands. With success stories like those of Huda Kattan making headlines in 2018, there’s every reason to expect that this trend will not only continue, but could even intensify in
this new year.

That could make life more complicated for marketers, especially when they seek to develop campaigns with mega-influencers. In some cases, they might find a smaller pool of candidates to work with. In others, they might find that closer, longer-term relationships are a necessity for both parties.

Increased focus on ROI

Social platforms are where consumers are and influencers offer one of the best means to speak to them, so all indications are that influencer marketing budgets will continue to grow in 2019.

But for all the faith that many brands clearly have in influencers, measuring return on investment continues to be a problem. In fact, according to research published by Influencer Intelligence and Econsultancy, less than a fifth (18%) of companies say that they are able to integrate influencer marketing into their broader ROI calculations despite the fact that the vast majority believe it will be critical to their success going forward.

While many companies still struggle to evaluate the returns on their marketing spend across even established digital channels, the rising potential of an economic slowdown in the next year or two could lead some marketers to tighten the purse strings and/or demand more from influencers who are not necessarily going to be able to deliver the goods.

In other words, the days of five and six-figure paid posts being common could be numbered.