11 August 2023

Has the industry’s obsession with influencers created its very own Frankenstein’s Monster?

The de-influencer trend is popping up on industry news and social feeds, but what is it and what does it mean for brands that have become reliant on influencers as a channel? In this thought-provoking piece, our Strategy Director Charlie Smallwood, takes a look at just how far it might go and how to mitigate any potential risks.

Will De-influencing be the clean-up act social media needs to improve brand authenticity and the quality of the content audiences receive?

Over the past few years we’ve seen investment in “Influencers” as a channel sky-rocket. They've acted as bridges into switched off audiences for fatigued brands, offered invaluable reach to budding start-ups and formed the bedrock of grass-roots brand activities. For the most part however, they have been treated as another environment in which the badge slap can exist, meaning they are utilised as a way of masking the less desirable aspects of some brands and the expectation is that any affinity felt for the influencer will rub off on a brand through association.

As people have become accustomed to this approach, the likelihood it will achieve the desired effect is diminishing. People see through the mask. More important still, as the power of these influencers has grown they are far less reliant on brands to support their income. In many cases the balance of power has totally swung in the other direction, with influencers sending the likes of Unilever or other powerhouse brands packing.

What was once an area where influencers held access to audiences, but brands still held the puppet strings, is fast becoming a very risky place for anyone behaving in an inauthentic way.

The de-influencer trend is fronted by social content creators, calling out the brands that they feel are pulling the wool over consumers’ eyes. Ironically the huge investment from brands into this space has helped catapult the scale of many of these individuals’ reach, and has drawn in vast new audiences who heed their every word. It could be said that as an industry we have created our very own Frankenstein's monster.

On a deeper level though, this isn’t just about some disgruntled online personalities getting back at the brands they don’t like. It chimes perfectly with some of the main characteristics of web 3.0; increased power for the user and greater levels of transparency. Influencers themselves seem to have cottoned on to this already, the shift in terminology from ‘influencers’ to ‘creators’ is already a nod to an understanding that people don’t want to be influenced, they are there for entertainment.

How to avoid falling foul of de-influencing:

  1. Authenticity really is key. A credible link to whatever area of culture you’re looking to play a part in is vital. The red thread of why content relates to the brand promoting it is the deciding factor between success and failure. Mini has a track record of connecting its playful, design-led approach to making cars with creators that help it resonate with a variety of audiences. For the launch of their electric car they passed control over to a series of creators, who used their own lens on the car to tell a story of what it meant to them. The headline personality within this saw the return of a collaboration with the fashion designer, Paul Smith. What works so well with each of these is that the brand recognises what it needs to bring to the table, the capability to mix design and play. Assuming they stick to this rule, they really can partner with just about any creators they like. Authenticity is often seen as a scary word, brands fear it, but taking time to establish what it is you can offer will open up a world of possibilities and greatly reduce your risk of ruffling feathers.

  1. Brands must appreciate the significance of the language change from ‘influencer’ to ‘creator’, fundamentally this is about establishing balance in the value exchange between those doing the scrolling and those doing the posting. To influence sounds a bit Brave New World, we don’t want to be blamed for turning instagram into the feelies; Creator, though still not perfect, at least suggests something is being made FOR an audience that is intended to be enjoyed. It helps ensure and reassure that brands are looking to enrich the platforms they inhabit rather than just harvest from them.

  1. The harder you work in selecting creators, and working with them as partners, the less you’ll need to worry about that activity backfiring. No longer can you sweep up a long list of people that feel broadly relevant and expect great results. Not only is this likely to be less impactful as an advertising play, with the trends outlined in this article it is becoming a decidedly risky thing to do. Tech-platforms from the likes of Goat can now offer an extremely detailed view into the past performance and behaviour of just about anyone making money from their social profile. Whilst it may seem like a hefty cost, if you are a big brand with a lot at stake, getting your creator selection wrong is likely to be a far bigger dent in the brand over the long run.

The biggest underlying theme here is that whilst the world of influencer/creator marketing may be irresistibly current, it requires a great deal of care and consideration if it is to be effective for a brand. The three rules above present a good starting point, but existing in this space requires conscious effort and should be viewed as a genuine extension of a brand experience vs  another outlet for reach and ad engagement.