Facebook, YouTube and Instagram rules challenge the influencer marketplace

Shifting Terrain

For influencers – individuals who through fame, expertise or charisma are able to affect the purchasing decisions of others – the platform is everything. Who they can reach and how they reach them all depend on the set of rules unique to their chosen marketing platform.

And when the structure of the underlying service changes, influencers must recalibrate to exploit opportunities – or simply survive.

Recent changes to three of the most important online platforms for influencers – Instagram, YouTube and Facebook – are forcing them to rethink their strategy and approach.

Just Because You’re Paranoid …

Despite public denials by the company, some influencers and small businesses are feeling a cold wind of change blowing from Instagram. The company switched to a Facebook-style algorithm feed back in 2016. And although this was the last publicly announced change to Instagram’s feed, community members believe that the service is making behind-the-scenes changes to prioritize posts that become very popular very fast. The concern, as well as some pushback, is outlined in a recent Business Insider article.

“The new Instagram algorithm is hurting the artist community, small brands, and even those with lots of followers as most posts are hidden unless they spike in engagement right away,” claims Anastasia Beverly Hills, a beauty company in an Instagram post that has received hundreds of thousands of likes. The (presumed) new algorithm tweaks are, according to some influencers, cutting growth in half. Other outlets report that Instagram users are joining in groups to like each other’s content, thereby driving all the posts toward more visibility.

Focus on the Personal

Facebook has gotten a lot of attention for its alleged role in the 2016 election. Although it considers itself a neutral platform that held little sway on the outcome of the election, Facebook announced big changes back in January 2017, changes intended to blunt the effect of the now-notorious “fake news” and promote “meaningful” content – posts from friends and family.

This uptick in more personal fare on user feeds comes, as Facebook readily admits, at the expense of Facebook Pages, including content from publishers and businesses.

Some outlets saw this as a boon to influencers – after all, their personal messages about products would be given broader exposure in the absence of business content, right? Not so fast, say others; influencers also use Facebook Pages for their analytics and other tools, so the overall effect is likely to hit them as well.

Entry Barrier

Finally, over at YouTube, a recent change to the platform’s Partner Program, which allows content creators to monetize advertisements associated with their content, is also causing some concern.

Creators must now amass “4,000 hours of watchtime within the past 12 months and 1,000 subscribers” in order to join the program. The raised threshold is predicted to have a chilling effect on fledgling influencers and brands that are working hard to get their numbers up.

The Takeaway

It may be easy to forget, but online influencers are a new creature in the marketing bestiary, no older than the platforms that nurtured them. Their old ancestors – the sonorous radio pitch man, the home shopping host and the infomercial personality – evolved to meet the disruptive introduction of social media; the current crop of online influencers will surely do the same.