When you read articles like this one in the Wall Street Journal, Online Influencers Tell You What to Buy, Advertisers Wonder Who’s Listening , you have to wonder if your favorite Youtube influencer is about to be ghosted by brands and therefore will soon disappear from your life. A tragedy in the making since so many of us need to see and emulate these people in order to lead meaningful lives. Or do we? According to the article cited above, “Billions are paid to social-media personalities to pitch products in an influencer economy riddled with deceit,” which means a lot of our influencer idols on social media have been….faking us out? Say it isn’t so! So what does this mean insofar as our lives?!
Obviously, the article didn’t say that ALL social media influencers are fake or deceitful. In fact, there is a bevy of social media stars that continue to wield tremendous influence among their followers. Among them is Iraqi American blogger turned beauty mogul Hoda Kattan, reality tv star Kyle Jenner, digital influencer and Youtube sensation Josie Fear, Singer Selena Gomez, entrepreneur Olivia Palermo and makeup mogul Jeffree Star.
Take Huda, for instance. She has more than 40 million followers on Instagram and 3.69 million subscribers on Youtube. That’s a lot of influence. So much so that Huda was ranked as “#1 on the 2017 Influencer Rich List”; “10 of the most powerful influencers in the world of Beauty” by Forbes; and Time dubbed her one of the “25 Most Influential People on the Internet also in 2017” (Wikipedia).
What is a social media influencer anyway? How do you know who is influencing and who is being influenced? You are being influenced by an influencer if you follow someone who “has established credibility in a specific industry, has access to a huge audience and can persuade others to act based on their recommendations.” Further, “an influencer has the tools and authenticity to attract many viewers consistently and can motivate others to expand their social reach.” Additionally, “an influencer may be anyone from a blogger to a celebrity to an online entrepreneur. They must simply capitalize on a niche to attain widespread credibility.” (As explained on Digitalmarketinginstitute.com).
There is no question that Huda and the rest of the personalities mentioned above have a ton of credibility in their respective industries. There is also no question that they all have huge audiences. As huge as Huda’s is, on Instagram, say, Kylie Jenner’s Instagram audience is more than huge. It’s a staggering fucking 154 million followers as of this writing. Can you fathom this? Now ask yourself: Can she persuade her followers? Well, let’s ask COTY. The company recently paid Ms Jenner approximately $600,00,000.00 USD for 51 percent ownership rights to her cosmetics brand, Kyle Cosmetics – a company she started just three short years ago. How was Ms Jenner able to persuade COTY to cough up that much money for such a nascent brand? By showing her level of influence on social media which is measured solely by the number of followers she has and her ability to “persuade” them to buy her lipsticks and cosmetics. Does Kyle Jenner possess the requisite “authenticity” needed to “attract many viewers consistently and motivate others?” Obviously. If viewers did not think that she was authentic, they would unfollow her very quickly and certainly they would not buy her products at the rates and quantities by which they did. Of course, now that she has sold her company to COTY, the jury is out whether her followers will still think her product is “authentic” and whether they will still be motivated to buy. Case in point, COTY’S stock dived right after they closed the deal.
Another influencer who is often on the tip of everyone’s lips when they think of famous and successful influencers is Olivia Palermo. Olivia is said to have followers who basically think she is the second coming of…I don’t know, Princess Diana? She is able to motivate and inspire with each and every outfit she wears.
According to Morning brew.com Palermo’s followers on instagram which numbers 6.3 million as of this writing, “trust her like she’s a one-woman Vogue or Elle. Her following’s rapid growth reportedly inspired a case study at Instagram HQ. And brands trust her ability to push product. She’s inked clothing collaborations with Banana Republic, Westward Leaning, and the late Karl Lagerfeld. “
Wow. Must be nice for Olivia to hear that.
The thing about Jenner and Kattan (and Palermo will soon join them when she expands to branding her own products) is that both ladies were peddling their own brands. They were not hired by brands to peddle someone else’s product. This was their brand, their product. The WSJ article seems more concerned with those influencers who probably are less famous than both Jenner and Kattan (and to a lesser extent Palermo) but who nevertheless are approached by Brands to help said brands expand their audiences. It is the lesser known influencers and not the celebrities (although there have been celebrities that have been caught inflating their social media stats) that the article suggests are part of an influencer economy that is deceiving consumers. Who are these influencers they are talking about? We can only speculate because brands are not coming out and openly accusing any specific influencer.
The influencer economy is fraught with drama. This we know. In 2019, for example, a number of well-positioned and respected influencers had some rather high-profile situations occur that just rocked the social media stratosphere and jeopardized their credibility. They shall remain nameless in this article as the aim of this piece is not to point the fingers at anyone only to raise the question of whether indeed major brands are getting fed up of social media influencers and whether that is because said influencers as a group are not trustworthy. And then the question becomes whether brands should be judging the entire group because of a few bad apples and further, whose loss is it when brands paint with a broad brush and decide that because one influencer faked their stats, that the whole lot of influencers are a bunch of fakes who do not have any measurable and quantifiable influence and who, therefore, should be banished and ghosted. These, really are the questions.board