In 2019, being a social media influencer seems like a pretty good gig. All you need is a camera and an Instagram account and you could potentially be earning thousands for a single #ad post.
With the industry blowing up over the past few years, influencer market value is expected to reach £1.8bn on Instagram alone by 2020.
A decade ago, brands relied on mainstream celebrities such as musicians and athletes to endorse their products, but the rise of platforms like YouTube and Instagram gave early adopter bloggers and content creators the opportunity to accumulate extensive, loyal follower bases. These were ‘ordinary’ people who had built communities of hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of followers from scratch.
Once these creators had access to a captivated audience, it wasn’t long before brands started using this to their advantage, and the influencer was born.
Is The Influencer Bubble About To Burst?
Fast forward to today, and it seems like influencers are everywhere. You can barely scroll down your Instagram feed without seeing someone selling a new protein powder or tooth whitening kit.
Influencers originally gained immense popularity because they were so far removed from the unattainable and disingenuous image of celebrity endorsements. However, many of these influencers are now considered to be modern-day celebrities in their own right. No longer ‘one of us’, they have become the faces of brands, with some even running their own global businesses.
Once relied on by consumers for authentic product reviews and recommendations, today only 4% of people say they trust what influencers say online.
Nevertheless, the industry continues to grow. And as the scale of the industry rises, so does the level of disconnection between influencers and their followers. This is particularly true of larger influencers, with a significant proportion of their audience there due to the bandwagon effect.
For this reason, followers don’t necessarily translate into sales and some influencers are starting to discover that they’re not as influential as they thought.
Verified But Invalidated
Arianna Renee, or Arii as she is better known to her 2.6 million Instagram followers, recently raised questions over the selling power of influencers. The 18-year-old from Miami recently launched a clothing line, but was unable to sell 36 units, which was the minimum amount she needed to go to production.
On the surface this seems disastrous. Surely a sign that influencers are crumbling?
However, when looking more closely into the case, it seems that there was more to the failure of Arii’s brand than simply a lack of support. Firstly, she made little effort to promote her product or design a product that her customer base, and probably even she, would particularly want to wear. The brand, if you wish to call it that, was ultimately weak. Arianna assumed that her name and followers was all she needed to succeed.
Most new businesses wouldn’t expect to design a simple t-shirt, post about it twice pre-launch and attract many customers. But because of the scale of her on social media audience, Arianna assumed she was exempt.
This is just one of many recent controversies tarnishing the influencer name, and making people question if this is the end of their influence. 2019 has already been a year for influencer marketing dutifully cleaning up its act after the revelation that many influencers were buying ‘fake followers’.
Consumers are starting to become wise to influencers taking advantage of them. They’re far more critical about their credibility, and now question the shameless tactics used to make a quick profit.
After this, can influencers still successfully sell, or indeed build a business based on their own name and image?
Influence With Integrity
If a business or product aligns with an influencer’s personal brand or interests, and is therefore seen as being promoted for a genuine reason — then the answer is yes.
Michelle Phan was one of YouTube’s original beauty Gurus, and in 2011 she cleverly built upon her carefully crafted reputation by co-founding Ipsy; a sample box beauty subscription service. By 2015, the business was valued at $500 million.
More recently, UK-based social media influencers, Caspar Lee and Joe Sugg utilised their own knowledge and experience within the industry to create a successful management company, helping develop the next generation of digital stars.
There are many other influencers who have built successful businesses on the back of their new-found fame. The key difference between these examples and Arii’s failed t-shirt business, is that the successful ones understood what it takes to build a brand, and they invested a serious amount of time, energy and money (and no doubt blood, sweat and tears).
Using Influence For Good
Currently, influencers still have a lot of selling power and brands are continuing to capitalise on this.
Instagram recently enabled brands to use influencer posts as ads, therefore giving the ability to reach well beyond the original poster’s followers. By 2020, the number of sponsored Instagram posts is predicted to more than double.
However, it’s becoming acutely clear that influencers can no longer get away with abusing this power. When creating their own businesses, it’s naive to think that they don’t have to try as hard to promote themselves as any other new brand.
Consumers are more critical than ever before, and they won’t accept something disingenuous. The problem with being a huge social media influencer is that when they get it wrong they have a lot to lose. And much further to fall.