High-profile individuals have long influenced consumerism and marketing decisions. The advent of YouTube in 2005 led to lifestyle bloggers pursuing leisure, fashion, tech, and adventure avenues, and Twitter followed close behind in 2006. However, the term “Influencer” as a job title, has only properly emerged since the creation of Instagram in 2010.
Instagram has transformed influencer marketing, growing from around 100 million users in 2013 to over a billion today. Accordingly, influencer marketing has become a billion-dollar industry, with early adopters building huge followings by creating a more personal relationship with fans than that possible through celebrity endorsement. Influencers thus became the middle-man for fans to access a huge audience.
Come 2020, influencer marketing grew further following the rise of TikTok, a platform where algorithms are based on content, not follower count. Having a TikTok platform now comes hand in hand with gaining Instagram influence, brand deals and sponsorships. This trend is set to continue, with the ‘influencer marketing industry’ predicted to grow to $15bn by the end of 2022.
Social media provides platforms through which individuals can achieve fame quickly. Molly Mae Hague, had acquired 150,000 admiring followers by the time she was a Love Island contestant in 2019, which has since rocketed to 6.2 million. She attributes her success to maintaining an authentic relationship with her followers, being transparent about her sponsorships (famously turning down a £2 million brand deal for a company she didn’t shop at) and posting YouTube vlogs that share an insight into her life with Tommy Fury, who she met on Love Island.
However, a quick rise to fame based on internet presence can run its risks, as in Molly Mae’s recent scandal regarding her “24 hours in a day,” interview in which she was branded “out of touch,” and lost thousands of followers. So, the life of an influencer is not all extravagant dinners and glamorous trips to Dubai. As well as hours of photo shoots, striving to drive up follower counts and negotiating the crowded influencer market, an influencer can have their very ‘influence’ revoked at the touch of a button, losing the followers and relationships they have strived to attain.
Influencers can nevertheless be genuine role models, sharing inspiration and advice, using their platforms for good, be this for charity, body positivity, or other causes. However, with great followers comes great responsibility, and the rise of influencers presents a multitude of issues. Influencers have been scrutinised for promoting products with potentially questionable results; slimming teas, at-home teeth whitening kits, hair gummies, and protein powders, from people with the dentistry qualifications or nutritional knowledge often no greater than the consumers themselves. The rise of influencers has also seen a mass promotion of fast fashion acquired through exploitative child labour and unethical environmental practices. To put it simply, the mass consumerism that social media marketing promotes comes at a nauseating price.
Additionally, influence is no longer necessarily quantifiable, with fake follower farms affecting the supposed authenticity of once trusted influencers, and sponsored content introduces issues of transparency. Regardless, influencer marketing remains a prominent feature of social media, and brands continue to allocate funds for influencers. While lots of brands will continue to monetise large numbers of followers, more knowledgeable consumers may feel most connected to individuals with more authentic, relatable content, so perhaps we will see this shift in marketing in the near future.
Image courtesy of Mary Buchanan