“TikTok has changed the [influencer] space significantly,” says Robin Ward, Head of Sales for LTK – a creator-led shopping app and influencer marketing platform – when discussing the future of the industry and specifically the growing role of social commerce.

“We’ve seen how Instagram have reacted to it, and how consumers are reacting to it as well. A lot of the growth that is predicted in the creator space from now… up to 2027, is predicted to be powered by short form video content,” he said.

Social commerce is a big part of that predicted growth, with younger consumers being increasingly impacted by influencer content – a trend clearly seen in the success of #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt and shoppable and co-created ad formats. According to a report by Influencer Intelligence, 62% of survey respondents agree that social commerce will be the most popular objective for influencer marketing campaigns within the next year.

[The LTK] ‘State of Creator Shopping’ guide found that Gen Z trust creators more than any other digital placement.

Indeed, while influencer marketing has typically been used to drive social engagement, with metrics including brand awareness and sentiment remaining a big focus, Ward confirms that it has become impossible to ignore the direct impact influencers can have on social commerce sales.

“90% of Gen Z now follow creators and social channels. That’s 20% higher than the general population,” he said, “So we know that very important group are the most heavily inspired by creators and will shop through creators, and it also really highlights the power of creators when it comes to brand perception.”

“Our ‘State of Creator Shopping’ guide found that Gen Z trust creators more than any other digital placement and that creators have the biggest influence on their purchase decisions (followed by sponsored ads and celebrity posts).”

In terms of the future, Ward predicts that platforms seeing the most success right now will continue to do so (i.e. TikTok), but that ultimately, consumers will continue to want the same things from influencers – regardless of any new platform or content trends.

“From my perspective, it’s all about creating communities online where you feel like there are other people like you. And creators are very well positioned to be at the leading edge of that – whether they are virtual or whether they are real.”

Creator and brand partnerships rooted in organic performance

“We’ve seen influencer marketing become cornerstone budget within key verticals (like fashion, beauty, lifestyle, home) – and that is a very definite effect that’s happened over the last few years,” says Ward.

“The way these creator and brand partnerships work best is because the audience show signals that they believe in that partnership, and we often see organic performance as one of the first triggers.”

“Often, the creator has purchased the item themselves, and they love whatever the product is, and they’re showcasing that to their audience and then the audience responds positively to that,” he explained. “So we are guided by the most authentic content – and the content that performs the best – as a signal of authenticity.”

Furthermore, Ward says that the influencer space has grown to a point where influencers often audition themselves through organic content, “which we call the halo effect,” he explained.

“When you’ve got a brand engaging in always-on activity, other creators will see this. They’ll see brands they aspire to work with – because collaborations are still what creators want in terms of making themselves economically successful – and so they’ll just start creating organic content, because they know that we’ll start to see that in our data and suggest them to the brands.”

[C]ollaborations are still what creators want in terms of making themselves economically successful

When it comes to finding the right influencers for retail brands, Ward says that LTK’s data-led approach is crucial for successful partnerships.

“We work with 6000 brands globally and around 250,000 creators and have done for around 12 or 13 years now – so that gives us a very large data set of consumers [finding products] through creators and converting on brands… We can really use that data set to understand creator performance at the sales level for brands, for resellers, for DTC, and for competitors. And we know what works in terms of content, and so when we’re making casting recommendations to Abercrombie and to others, we’re doing it with that performance approach and that commerce approach.”

Integrated creator marketing

LTK takes an ‘always-on’ approach to many of its brand campaigns, which as Ward explains, involves “the continued use of performance marketing quarter-on-quarter in order to iterate and improve results.”

“Creator communications are really important, too, so serving creators quarter after quarter to gather feedback on what worked well for them – and that can inform our decisions and the brand’s decisions when it comes to campaign deliverables,” he said. “And also, even to the degree of supply chain decisions; ensuring there are appropriate stock levels and appropriate resources behind the products that we’re showcasing within the campaign.”

“Creator marketing always works most effectively when its actioned alongside other marketing and advertising channels,” says Ward, referring to recent work with Abercrombie & Fitch which involved LTK’s own retail media network, creator audience CRM and shopping app.

“[B]rands can give creator content a longer shelf life, and leverage the content in multiple formats and multiple platforms, such as print and digital and in-store signage, and other owned social content. So, this kind of culmination of effort led to the great results we saw.”

Econsultancy members can download the latest Social Media Advertising Best Practice Guide.