Influencers have lost their influence

They offer a glamorous lifestyle, but is it relatable? Founder of fashion tech startup Mys Tyler, Sarah Neill, examines the state of the influencer and what needs to happen next.

Influencer marketing is booming. In 2020 the industry is projected to hit $10 billion while 2019 saw 380 new influencer-focused marketing agencies join the scene, and the stats say there are 20 million influencers out there (on social media). Brands have embraced influencers to “activate” their campaigns, and are increasingly allocating a larger and dedicated budget for this channel.

But influencers are losing their influence.

When I was growing up I remember “Rob the dentist” that endorsed the Oral-B power toothbrush. Back then, brands would borrow credibility from a professional. Or they’d hire credibility from models who could depict the lifestyle their audience wanted. I too would like to be a model-esque girl, living a carefree life, with a bunch of other popular looking people on the beach drinking Coca-Cola. But then we all started getting cynical. Were these people paid? Do we trust them? I never actually saw Rob’s face after all.

Meanwhile, personal recommendations from friends, aka “word of mouth” marketing, was always the marketing pinnacle, but until social media amplified the reach it wasn’t a scalable part of the marketing mix. Enter influencers – “real people” using products, wearing brands, sipping cocktails, socialising at venues, and followed by billions!

Instagram’s algorithm has been making popular people more popular and made it really hard for us mere mortals to grow an audience. And in this age of the influencer, your audience is your worth. Brands have paid people with reach, and, well, if brands trust them they must be “in the know” and as a result we’ve created a story that popular people are more credible. Being famous for being famous has become a thing – beginning circa Paris Hilton, continuing into the late Kardashians, and bringing us into current times and a booming $1 billion industry.

But unless you wake up, step out onto the deck of your yacht, drink your macrobiotic smoothie to maintain that 20-something glow, you may find that the influencers we think of, the ones that have been getting all the attention, may not be all that relevant to you. And that’s the thing: influencers aren’t bad, they just aren’t relevant for 99% of us.

That irrelevance means we might look to them for inspiration, but not for action, because they aren’t accessible after all. Brands have started to cotton on to this. If you’ve seen influencers offer up personalised promo codes, that’s just a simple way for brands to see the ROI. And especially in a post-COVID world, where sales are down (albeit online sales are up), and budgets are getting tighter, my guess is that influencers will need to start proving their worth with results, not audience.

I think campaign fees will turn into affiliate commission, and I think we’re going to see a rise of the micro, nano and self-proclaimed “non influencer”, who will find smaller but much more engaged audiences to speak to. And people like you, reading this, will seek out people with aligned interests. After all, who will be more invested in solving your problems than someone else with your same problems? Micro-influencers come in all different heights, sizes, shapes, ages and ethnicities, with different values, budgets and preferences, and so while macro-influencers don’t represent the general population, micro-influencers do.

This is not the end of the influencer, it’s just an end to influencers as we’ve known them. Glossy, filtered, perfect! You can already start to see influencers showing you the “non filtered” photos, the picture of their hot bod, taken from the less flattering angle, and starting to peel back the aspiration to reveal something a little more relatable. Influencers will need to do this – they’ll have to adapt, and to do that it will mean engaging with their audience in an authentic way, and monetise it in a way that’s aligned with their beliefs, not just their personal ROI.

Sarah Neill is the founder of fashion tech startup Mys Tyler.


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