Influencer marketing is, without a doubt, a powerful tool: relying on keen and enthusiastic influencers’ audiences can be extremely effective for companies in order to improve brand recognition, increase exposure and, ultimately, sales.
If we take a step back, the dynamic of being an influencer was generated years ago from the practice of blogging, a way for people to share details of their everyday life out of a genuine passion for giving useful insights and advice to others while building trust within an online community, that perceived the blogger more and more as a peer, a loyal and trustworthy friend.
Over the years, technology evolved, providing these people with groundbreaking tools that allowed them to share more of their experiences and, eventually, make a living out of a job that 10 years ago did not exist.
This is when marketing enters the picture: this power of influencers to affect purchasing decisions thanks to the relationship that they have carefully built with their audience was seen by brands as the perfect evolution of word-of-mouth marketing (except, this time, the advertisement does definitely not come from free, despite this is what they would like it to seem).
Quickly, the internet witnessed this new way of making a business grow at a tremendous pace, as not only more and more people started engaging with media content of all sorts, but also the brands recognized the undeniable importance of revolutionizing their marketing approach.
But does this mean that influencer marketing is here to stay?
The fact that its rise basically happened overnight, perhaps, could hint at a just as fast decline.
In fact, once numbers started getting too big and being an influencer became an actual job, it should come as no surprise that money became the number one priority for many of them: this would be perfectly fine if it did not clash with the whole concept of authenticity that they need to convey throughout their content in order for these sponsorships to actually work. In fact, consumers are more and more aware of the fact that influencers, despite what they claim, are not necessarily using their sponsored product in their everyday life, but rather they are just a spokesperson who is being paid to make an advertisement campaign, making scrolling on TikTok no different from watching TV commercials.
Moreover, it could be argued that influencer marketing has lost its grip on people: ideally, a marketing campaign on social media works better when consumers do not perceive the business side of the sponsorships; in a way, the goal is to trick followers into thinking that the piece of advice coming from their favorite influencer is absolutely genuine and selfless. This strategy worked perfectly at the early stages of influencer marketing, but nowadays these dynamics are widely known and standardized, and they can no longer be “hidden” from the public: people perfectly realize what is going on when an influencer pitches something, it’s becoming progressively harder for them to trust that advice and, ultimately, they are getting tired of being recommended a different allegedly miraculous and life-changing product every single day.
On this note, it is interesting to notice how micro-influencers (people without a huge following, more niche) potentially represent a better way for brands to reach their business goals: micro-influencers are ordinary people that don’t do it as their main job, while huge celebrity influencers, that make a living out of their online presence, certainly have a lot more views and engagement on their platforms, but everyone knows that, at the end of the day, their accounts are rooted towards money making.
Moreover, another key difference between the two categories is that social media celebrities usually rely on their unrealistically glamorous, perfect-looking life that they showcase in order to push followers to (even subconsciously) strive to emulate them. Nevertheless, it could be argued that people are slowly but steadily becoming more and more aware even of all these fake mechanisms, realizing that nobody’s life is really that perfect and therefore putting more of their trust in those micro-influencers that come across as flawed, more realistic and less out of touch: relatability, indeed, is a key factor that determines whether people are actually going to purchase that product or not.
Last but not least, another important remark that can’t possibly be overlooked is the environmental sustainability of influencing marketing: technology has evolved (and people’s attention span has decreased) to the point that trends have a shorter and shorter life and people are constantly bombarded with ever-changing viral sponsorships that they are strongly encouraged to catch up with; it is sufficient to notice that, over the years, influencers have gone from talking about a product in a 15/20 minutes YouTube video to a 30 seconds TikTok, which means that they can accept and work on several brand deals.
Additionally, whenever the influencing actually works, people will feel like they need a huge amount of products to emulate their influencer celebrity, and this automatically will translate into them leaning towards overconsumption, perhaps even of low-quality items (for instance, fast-fashion), or of items produced in an unethical and not environmental-friendly way.
Undoubtedly, influencer and social media marketing, like all things, is going to evolve, and technology will likely provide in the near future more refined tools to do so: change is not only inescapable, as the internet world is oftentimes being associated by consumers with over-saturation and lack of values, but it will also necessarily have to keep the pillars of sustainability into account in order to ensure longevity in the long run. Therefore, either influencers adapt to a public that demands and seeks now more than ever authentic, committed values and thoughtfulness towards the planet, or the figure of the influencer is likely to slowly lose the relevance it has today.