Nov 20 • 4 min read

Bloomberg claimed that in 2016, $255 million is spent each month on social media influencer marketing. The influencer trend has continued to increase since then, as brands pay celebrities both big and small (or, as they’re now called, micro-influencers and nano-influencers) to share photos, stories, GIFS, selfies, and reviews through their own social media accounts about how much they love their products.

Social media analytics, including the impact and evolution of influencer marketing, is one of the main research areas of Dr. Subodha Kumar, a professor of marketing and supply chain management who came to the Fox School of Business this year after previous teaching engagements at the University of Washington and Texas A&M.

Kumar, the deputy editor of the Production and Operations Management Journal, is also spearheading a new PhD concentration in supply chain management and is the director of the Fox School’s new Center for Data Analytics. His other research interests include healthcare analytics, cybersecurity, web and mobile advertising, and supply chain analytics.

Given the current buzz around influencer marketing, we spoke to Kumar about where he sees the trend heading in the future. Here’s what we learned.

Subodha Kumar

Social media influencers are still a relatively new phenomenon, but what have been some of the big changes over the last year?

Until last year, somebody might tweet, “I really like Pepsi,” and it wasn’t clear if they were just giving their opinion or if it was an ad. Now there’s a federal rule that it has to be tagged as an ad; if you’re taking money it has to be clear. Companies, like Coke and Pepsi, are finding big people to tweet about their product, so when we think of big influencers, we think of Michael Jordan or someone similar, but it’s not always someone that big. You can also find people who have a lot of followers, and who may impact views, but those influencers who are relatively unknown outside of a specific community might be very relevant to the target consumer. Companies choose influencers based on many factors, like how many people follow them, how much their opinions are valued, and who follows them. The overall goal of influencer marketing is transferring the influence into dollar values.

Do you think it was a good move to make it a rule that paid influencer shares be tagged as ads?

In my opinion, it’s a must. I think it’s important, otherwise you get into problems like those faced by Amazon, which gives products for review to customers who have high reviewer followings. The rules keep changing, but they’re trying to make the role and connection of the influencer to the product more obvious. People value opinions of influencers, so it has to be made clear. We collect a lot of data from Twitter to study how this all works. I’m now trying to get data to determine how people’s perceptions of campaigns have changed since it has been required to state that an influencer tweet is an ad.

Where do you think the influencer model will go next?

One thing that will eventually change is that companies will have to decide and determine more influencer factors. Right now, it’s pretty straightforward: The company locates an influencer and pays the influencer to share X number of tweets. But soon, more attention will have to be paid to sequence and frequency. Which ad you see first is very important. If you go to a company website, for instance, the order in which you experience an ad is planned to have the best outcome. That’s not happening now with Twitter influencers, but we’ll see more of it.

Also, more attention will be paid to identifying combinations of influencers. Now, influencers are normally hired as individuals. But there will be more synergy over time, so if there are three influencers sharing, what’s the best sequence for them to share in? Some influencers will have common followers, so the tweet needs to be timed to come from the influencer the people value more, first. We’re looking into this now, but it’s a complicated situation. The influencer model is still in its infancy, but it’s becoming more refined. It will keep going in new, more interesting directions, and we’ll continue developing more sophisticated ways to research it.

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Marketing and Supply Chain Management