Influencers are a powerful force. Well-planned influencer campaigns are an excellent source of publicity. Consumers transfer their feelings about influencers onto your brand, whether that’s trust, excitement or relatability. It’s no wonder that influencer marketing is one of the most popular forms of social media marketing.
The influencer-consumer relationship is evolving right alongside social media (and just as rapidly as the networks themselves). Assumptions about the efficacy and trustworthiness of influencers are changing in real time, causing consumers to have higher expectations for these social media personalities. Influencer marketing is far from over—but it is undergoing systemic change.
A cultural reset
It shouldn’t be a surprise that our relationships with influencers are morphing. The signs are everywhere.
Posts highlighting the (often stark) difference between social media content and the reality of creating it have been popular for years. Last year, BeReal burst onto the scene, emphasizing unedited and uncurated social sharing. On TikTok, #deinfluencing, or posting about how a product isn’t worth the hype, is taking off with more than 500 million views.
Online culture feels different now. What happened?
Interactions between audiences and influencers are transactional by definition. The influencer creates content with the express goal of eventually monetizing their viewers. The audience demands entertainment and intimacy in exchange for their attention.
It’s a mutually beneficial dynamic, but now consumers are much more cognizant of the mechanics of the deal. The realization that someone is profiting off of their parasocial relationship can feel uncomfortable.
When the underlying implications of their relationship rise to the surface, tension is inevitable. Maybe an influencer makes a video venting about the demands of content creation. Their complaints remind their audience that the content isn’t a favor between friends. It’s an economic arrangement.
In other situations, consumers might be unsatisfied with a product recommended by an influencer. The disappointment is a reminder that the influencer’s main goal is to sell, not to suggest things they think their friends will like. Alessandro Bogliari, CEO and Co-Founder of The Influencer Marketing Factory agrees, “Consumers have less spending power right now and they’re purchasing selectively and carefully. The trust factor is so much more important when it comes to influencers.”
Misalignment and mistrust
We’re still defining what it means to be an influencer. Endorsement expectations are familiar territory for brands and marketers. Whether you’re putting a celebrity’s name on your product or sponsoring an influencer’s TikTok clip, the process is similar: You look for a partner whose values align with yours, work with them on a message that feels genuine while achieving your goals and structure your agreement accordingly. The scale and speed have changed—which bring their own complications—but the concept is the same.
On the influencer side, things are murkier. There is no industry standard for how many products to endorse at a time. Celebrities have other streams of income by design and can afford to be pickier. How do you balance publicity and integrity?
The speed that social media demands doesn’t always leave room for influencers to try products for extended periods of time before advertising them. Influencers who choose their brand partners wisely and create strong due diligence processes of their own can protect their relationships with their audiences and position themselves as a valuable collaborator.
Iva Mihovska, Senior Client Director at The Influencer Marketing Factory says savvy influencers can use this landscape to their advantage, “It’s obvious when an influencer is simply reciting a script for a paycheck. Influencers who are careful about their recommendations and honest with their audiences stand to benefit the most.”
I have been influenced
Social media is a cultural phenomenon and culture is always changing. Consumers might be adjusting their approach to influencer relationships but they’re not jumping ship.
Over half (62%) of consumers trust influencers more than A-list celebrities, according to the IZEA Insights Trust in Influencer Marketing report. Another 56% of consumers between the ages of 18-44 have made a purchase after seeing an influencer feature the product. Consumers recognize the value influencers provide, but instead of passively accepting influencer recommendations, they’re recognizing their role in the relationship and taking agency.
What comes next?
Consumer attitudes toward influencers are changing, but not necessarily for the worse. Audiences are becoming more sophisticated and taking an active role in their relationships with influencers. Marketers who listen to consumer perspectives, choose the right influencers and stay flexible in the face of changing tastes will be set up for success.
You can leverage influencers for more than marketing campaigns. Learn how these partnerships can help your business build better products.