The Failures of the “Influencer Economy”

With the constant developments in online advertising and the widespread use of smartphones by young consumers, it’s no surprise that social media has become central to marketing. Since most teenagers and young adults are always on these platforms, the “influencer economy” is now more relevant than ever. Public online figures are being paid from companies all over the world to snap a picture with a product and share it with thousands of followers.

Instagram has led Millennials and Gen Z’s to make sharing “aesthetic” photos a part of their everyday routine. Every day there’s a new trend telling them what to post or what not to post on social media. Whether it is to wear a specific outfit, recreate a goofy dance, or post a nice photo of avocado on toast. These trends are dictated by public figures with a large number of followers who use their platforms to promote products or services. 

These influencers use Instagram to curate their idea of a perfect life. They showcase their amazing trips and their expensive outfits for the world to see. As far as Millennials are concerned, influencers post pretty pictures and earn a lot of money. Or at least that’s what they think! So many young adults and teenagers assume that making money is as easy as having an Instagram account with trendy pictures. To them, posting cool vacation photos or delicious meals means someone is an influencer who can be paid to make posts. 

Becoming a paid influencer is suddenly a dream job—oh, but if only life were that easy!

To a huge degree, this whole idea of an “influencer economy” is a scam. It’s easy to assume that if someone with millions of followers promotes one of your products, then a couple hundred of those followers are bound to purchase said product, right? 

Well, that’s not always the case. Our favorite example of this is what happened to influencer Ariana Renee, known as Arii, in 2019. Arii became famous on the app—TikTok’s predecessor—and had nearly 3 MILLION Instagram followers in May of 2019. 

Arii decided to use her large following to her advantage, attempting to launch and market a clothing line for her followers. The line was set to launch with a limited first drop of clothing items. However, the company Arii was working with was forced to shut down production of the line after she was unable to sell the minimum number of pieces to continue with the partnership. And get this—the minimum was thirty-six pieces! 

Does it still seem like taking artsy photos is an easy way to make good money?

In 2019 alone, the Advertising Standards Authority’s Annual report released statistics that attest to how this “influencer economy” can fail. The ASA report showed that around 26% of all online ad complaints were due to ads by “influencers.” These complaints included posts by influencers that did not properly display the ad hashtag to indicate that a particular post was paid advertising. 

The key thing here is that it’s important to acknowledge that even though the “influencer economy” may be taken seriously by Millennials and Gen Z’s, it doesn’t always work. Much like influencers’ fantastic portrayals of everyday life, there is a lot of fakery on these social platforms. Even though it might seem like the easy route to find an influencer with millions of followers to promote your product, remember that it is important to test, test, test! Find the tactics that work best for your campaign—even if it might not seem like the obvious choice!

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