As a marketer, I have a very nuanced relationship with influencers. On the one hand, creating relationships with influencers has been an immensely important part of my success as a marketer. It has expanded the once analog word-of-mouth channel and allowed people to share their favorite brands and products with their communities en masse. On the other hand, becoming an ‘influencer’ has become an odd aspiration that has deviated entirely from its original (and much more organic) concept and resulted in rampant imitation, self promotion and lack of authenticity.
In the modern context, an influencer can be defined as someone that has:
cultivated a lifestyle that is enviable and posts about it publicly
amassed a large amount of ‘followers’ on social media
managed to regularly get free product from brands
(perhaps) sold their soul and isolated their original group of followers by consistently posting paid content in an unoriginal way
This is in contrast to the origins of influence. At one point being a tastemaker meant having a unique take on the world. However, our commercialization of social media (of which I am admittedly a part of as a marketer) has resulted in a sea of sameness. A quick scan on most Instagram feeds would result in seeing the same pouts, insertion of Outdoor Voices product placement and 90s hair clips. Girls in the same ‘undone’ beauty look with excessive Glossier, bike shorts that have never seen a proper bike seat and small pointed sunglasses. Boys in the same dad hats, wearing the same ironically tucked shirts and feigning a straight face. Influence, in our modern context, has become its own monster. An avenue of fame and free product versus a creative outlet for unique curators. Fashion is now formulaic. A perspective that has become iterative. What was once a method of finding esoteric designers has become the same influencers wearing the same brands posing in the same way and going to the same cities and shows.
This has led to the growing distance between ‘influencers’ and ‘followers’. Inevitably, the influencer loses touch with their audience (or perhaps never had it). A beauty Youtuber starts partnering with dental companies and all discretion seems to be lost. Their posts become crowded with disgruntled comments on ‘selling out’, etc. Usually, this cycle negates any marketing hopes of bonding a brand with an influencer and having them casually share it with their like-minded followers who would also objectively benefit from using said product (the purest form of influencer marketing in my experience).
So where to go from here?
I’ll concede that money has arguably the greatest influence. Once marketers spend their budgets intentionally, and support influencers that are actual tastemakers with a real perspective of the world and rooted connection with their communities, followers and brands alike will be content with the social media content. This is possible, but requires the discipline of everyone. Brands will be tempted to approach the influencer with an impressive amount of followers and a grid of posts with haphazard sponsored content. Or faced with a smaller budget, brands will be tempted to approach micro-influencers that are just mimicking the influencer algorithm (insert pout here, crop top there). Withstand the urge. Seek out the people that truly give a damn. Those that don’t follow the Instagram cliches and seem to lack discernment in fashion trends (and instead follow them all in hopes of gaining some ‘likes’). In the same vein, content creators would also benefit from steering clear of the influencer machine. There is no harm in making money from product placement and sponsored content. However curating paid partnerships in a thoughtful way and maintaining your point of view, will keep you connected to your community, which was perhaps the initial reasoning behind joining social media in the first place.
There is no art in pure replication. No heart in recitation. And there should be no money in imitation.