Influencer marketing has become a multi-billion dollar industry in the past couple of years. Whether you like the influencer culture or not, when you venture through social media platforms, you can’t escape this part of Instagram, Tiktok & co. Between those glimpses into somebody’s life, between Tiktok dances and banana bread recipes, some voices of concern about the Social Media Marketing sphere have become louder and louder. And the main question centers on one very controversial topic: Is influencer marketing as we know it dead?
How often have you found yourself rolling your eyes when another photo with the hashtag #ad pops up on your feed? Moreover, how often have you questioned the intentions behind a perfectly polished picture with a smiling influencer holding face cream, laundry detergent, or protein powder into the camera? If the question is „Never“ then you’re probably not as immersed in today’s social media culture as most teens and young adults. As a graphic designer and social media manager, I do spend a large chunk of my day scrolling through Tiktok, Instagram & co just to stay on top of the current trends, and the controversy about influencer marketing has become bigger and bigger.
Although influencer marketing in its current form, is relatively new, it has existed in its core for centuries. Remember when Paris Hilton promoted champagne cans? Or when Michael Jordan had massive collaborations with various sports brands? Although the marketing world has looked quite different back in those days, the general scheme is not as different from today’s Influencer marketing: A well-known person who is more or less trusted by a lot of fans promoting a product to generate more sales.
In the 2010s, social media became more and more popular and influencer marketing as we know it began evolving. As of now, influencer marketing has become a billion-dollar industry with influencers of all ages, interests, and industries. Now you might ask yourself „What are you talking about then, Linda? Influencer Marketing seems like it’s absolutely thriving!“ And the answer is, well yes, but also no.
In an article about the decline in influencer marketing, Forbes magazine noted:
„Despite reports on the growth of influencer marketing last year, it appears that this marketing channel could be becoming less effective. Some research found that influencer engagement rates dropped significantly from 2019 to 2020. And some marketers reported seeing a consistent downward trend in conversion rates last year.“ — Forbes Magazine, 2020 (Read more)
And according to an article published on PRWeek, Influencer engagement rates have plummeted by an average of 10 percent in 2019. For influencers with followers of 5,000 to 20,000 the engagement rates dropped between five percent for influencers with more than a million followers it even dropped 21 percent — (Read More)
But why is that? What has changed in the influencer marketing world? Here is a list of some things that might have contributed to that change:
Change in Instagram algorithm
It is undeniable that Instagram has played a massive role in influencer marketing. Many influencers have built their businesses on their Instagram popularity. Before 2016, the engagement was very linear: If you had a massive following, your sponsored post was shown to the majority of your followers, a decent amount of those people liked and commented — and some of them bought the product. Boom, that sounds like a successful marketing move. And then 2016 came with the highly controversial introduction of the Instagram algorithm. So what happened? Suddenly an algorithm was added to the Instagram feed that ranked posts for visibility. Now suddenly it was not certain anymore that your post showed up on your followers’ Instagram feed. At its core, this algorithm dictates which content gets pushed to the top of user feeds. If the Instagram algorithm doesn’t favor your Instagram account and content, your posts will fall behind and your engagement drops. Now, this algorithm has definitely its advantages and disadvantages. But due to this change, a massive following doesn’t necessarily equal a lot of engagement, conversion, or sales. Therefore it is undeniable that it definitely changed Influencer marketing as a whole.
Stories have become more popular
What most of the recent studies on the decline in influencer marketing don’t take into account, is the fact that stories now play a massive part in Social Media. What started out as posting a little snapshot of someone’s day, has become a crucial part of Social Media marketing itself. Instagram introduced Stories as a means to follow the appeal of Snapchat’s model to post short videos that get deleted after 24 hours. While the Instagram feed of influencers often is highly curated and planned, stories on the other side show a way more lighthearted approach to content. And that’s also what makes them appealing both to influencers and their followers.
Oh boy, don’t even get me started on influencer scams. While I do not recommend you to go down the youtube rabbit hole of all those drama channels talking about influencers scams, it has become quite apparent that not every influencers business venture is legit and trustworthy. From diet teas with laxatives to buying followers, the influencer world has been through A LOT in the past couple of years. For me, reading about those headlines did leave a bad taste in my mouth. I mean by now we probably all know that most influencers don’t create content out of pure delight, but they also want to make an income out of it. Seeing how far some people would go to deceive their audience is still very scary sometimes. As always, this is not a generalization, there are obviously a lot of exceptions to this behavior, but I am a firm believer those negative headlines had quite an influence on today’s social media culture.
Glorification of influencers is dying down
I can remember when I was in my late teens and started getting more into following influencers, I also was deceived into thinking that they had this kind of picture-perfect life. I think I don’t have to preface, that I am indeed (at least a little bit) wiser and more experienced now. I cannot talk for all influencers, but I have noticed throughout all age ranges that portraying this perfect life is not as much the norm as it has been a couple of years ago. Many influencers are now talking about the downside of this industry, reoccurring death threats in their comment sections, and mental health struggles. While yes, lighthearted Tiktok dances are still trending, but even the top Tiktok content creator such as the D’Amelio sisters and Bella Poarch have talked about their mental health struggles. I think by now most of us have gotten a pretty good idea about how easy it is to portray a perfect life. So I do think that even the youngest social media users have at least some notion about not believing everything that they see on Tiktok, Instagram & co.
So do I think Influencer Marketing is dead? No, at least not yet. But I do think Influencer Marketing as we know it is at a very steep decline. I think as of now, people are demanding more than a pretty feed and a bland caption, social media have become wary of #ad posts. In my opinion, influencer marketing will always persist in some shape or form, but it will change tremendously as it has always evolved in the past. I’m definitely curious what the future brings, but if I could take a guess? I do think there is a lot of potential in micro-influencers and influencers who are in a very specific small niche and/or have expertise in a certain field.