For major brands, partnerships with celebrity influencers have become an indispensable part of their marketing strategy, and as a result, thousands of influencers have come forward to cash in on their visibility.
Recently, however, we’re seeing signs that influencers can’t influence anymore, that the world may be done with traditional, top-down influencer marketing. In fact, new studies have found that only around 3% of consumers are influenced by celebrity influencers to purchase specific products.
So, what’s driving this change? Why are so many people switching off on influencers?
At the heart of this pattern is a huge shift in the way consumers interact with brands. Now, the age of the passive audience is over, and instead, customers are actively engaging with each other (and brands), looking for authentic and meaningful engagement, and forming their own communities based on shared interests and values - or what we like to call ‘tribes’.
In this post, we’ll take a look at the reasons why the golden age of influencer marketing, in a traditional sense, may be over, while we’ll also outline some alternative ways in which brands can engage with their audiences.
But to kick things off, let’s first dig a little deeper into what's driving people away from traditional influencer recommendations.
Why are people getting tired of influencers?
Platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook all offer a tantalizing promise for users of all ages around the world - a welcoming place for self-expression, meaningful engagement, and a sense of community.
But increasingly, social media has become a dumping ground for sponsored posts and advertising, and social media users are quick to call influencers and brands out when they sense a lack of authenticity.
Here are a few reasons we've identified:
1. A greater demand for authentic engagement - driven by millennials and Gen Z
Of all the reasons for the move away from influencers, the growing demand for authentic and meaningful engagement is the most significant.
People are sick of all the generic, cookie-cutter posts showing celebrities posing with teeth-whitening kits, boutique clothing, or even appetite-suppressing lollipops.
Instead, social media users are looking for real, unstaged content to engage with. This is particularly the case for younger users, with millennials and Gen Zers demanding real, authentic content from brands and influencers.
2. Fake influencers with fake followers, engagement, and likes
Then, there’s the problem of fake influencers with purchased engagement on platforms like Instagram and Twitter. Influencers now have major financial incentive to boost their numbers, and this has given rise to issues with bots, paid followers, and other shortcuts.
In fact, there have been several cases where influencers engaged by major brands have been found to have follower bases which are estimated to be up to 70% fake.
This isn’t just a massive headache for brands: it’s also another huge reason behind the rising disillusionment with influencers in general.
3. Cliché and repetitive influencer content
On top of the demand for more authentic engagement, user fatigue with stereotypical influencer content is also driving people away.
Every day, social media users are subjected to an unending stream of influencers peddling their wares with the same aesthetic. If it isn’t someone selling a yoga mat with a sunrise beach yoga pose, it’s someone with a tastefully-framed shot of avocado toast, or a too-perfect gym selfie.
In fact, this collective frustration has led to some amazing parody accounts (like Insta Repeat) pointing out just how samey a lot of Instagram content can be.
This is a major reason behind Instagram users abandoning the platform’s classic aesthetic and looking for something more real.
In its place, a new generation of influencers has emerged - young content creators who are willing to engage their audience in unique ways, even if it means being a little dorky. And man, do people love it.
4. Too much reliance on the big players
Another trend driving people away from online influencers is an over-reliance on the big names out there. After all, Kim Kardashian can’t sell everything.
When it comes to mega-celebrities, there’s only so much paid sponsorship an individual can take on before their audience gets tired of it. For major brands, this means there’s a limit on what can be achieved through partnering with well-known faces.
As blogger and all-round media wizard Seth Godin notes, one way to get around this is to take the opposite approach - instead of finding the largest audience out there, brands should look for ways to build meaningful communities around smaller audiences.
“Instead of trying to reach everyone,” says Seth, “we should seek to reach the smallest viable audience and delight them so thoughtfully and fully that they tell others.”
5. Appropriating social causes for commercial gain
Finally, there’s the worrying trend of influencers or brands feigning dedication to important causes around the world, just to get a moment in the spotlight.
Whether it’s slacktivism campaigns like the Kony 2012 movement or greenwashing like DuPont and Exxon Mobil’s environmental initiatives, plenty of influencers, brands, and organizations are willing to appropriate meaningful causes in the interests of building their online audiences.
Examples like these contribute to mistrust in social media more broadly, and give people an even bigger reason to be cynical about efforts to spread awareness concerning important global issues.
So, if the world is fed up with traditional influencer marketing, what does this mean for brands on social? How should you engage with your audience, and get your products in front of the right customers?
Here are our suggestions.
Re-engineer your influencer marketing strategy
I might have painted a bleak picture for influencer marketing, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no place for influencers. Instead, brands simply need to adjust.
By dropping the focus on generic, big-name influencers with huge audiences, and by focusing instead on meaningful communities united around common passions and interests, brands can increase the visibility and relevance of their products.
We’re talking about consumer tribes.
Take the time to understand your tribes
Tribes are groups of consumers which share common traits.
These individuals identify with each other through their collective interests, which could be anything from gaming or eSports, veganism, sustainable fashion, or even a love for chunky dad shoes.
The internet is filled with groups of people who are subconsciously forming tribes around nearly every interest that you can think of.
Winning brands are those which understand how these tribes are created, what defines them and how they evolve over time. This includes analyzing their language, their choice of platform/s, and their preferred methods of communication - and then matching their content approaches, so that you can position your brand as a genuine tribe leader.
This means rethinking what the term 'influencers' mean.
Rethink what you mean by ‘influencers’
Examples such as cosmetics brand Glossier illustrate another great strategy to cope with the shift away from celebrity influencers online - rethink what you mean by ‘influencers’.
By finding individuals with meaningful connections to other members of the tribe to promote your brand, you can build brand visibility and credibility.
In fact, analysis shows that individuals working on a more contained scale are often perceived as having a more legitimate voice than big-name celebrities, which can lead to a higher rate of conversion to sales.
So, when you’re thinking of your next influencer campaign, don’t automatically jump to the biggest names out there. Instead, take a look at individuals with an authentic, well-established presence on their platform of choice, and above all, a good connection to their tribe.
This also means that bigger isn't necessarily better - you don’t have to shoot for the biggest follower numbers with your influencer campaigns.
Given the rising questions around celebrity influencers, you may well be better off partnering with influencers working on a smaller, more meaningful scale, with dedicated, passionate followings.
If you can engage your tribe of brand customers and fans through respected and trusted individuals, you can reach new potential fans - and build real brand loyalty.
Get the help you need to identify your tribes
Partnering with influencers used to be simple - all brands had to do was to pull together a shortlist of celebrities and public figures with sizeable audiences, compare the reach and profile of each individual, then make a choice.
Now, consumers don't want to see the same influencer telling them which slimming teas to drink, which lipsticks to buy, and holiday resort they should go to. With the tribe mindset, everybody has the potential to be an influencer (in their tribe), which makes the influencer pool much bigger.
You need to take into account the influencer’s relevance, authenticity on the topic, analyze their content footprint, check if they have fake followers and/or engagement, out of hundreds and thousands of influencers on multiple platforms.
This analysis is impossible to do manually. You need to put big data and AI to work by identifying dedicated fans within millions of profiles. Then, you need to combine this analysis with human expertise to understand their values and match them with your brand. That way, you’ll be ready to find the right influencer.
Ditch the big names, and go for authenticity
There’s good reason why so many Instagram users are turning away from generic, big-name influencers on social media. The jig is up, and people are starting to see through the facade of samey, calculated promotional content.
In an environment where authenticity is the greatest online currency, brands need to know everything they can about their audience, and understand how to find and engage their tribes of fans online.