News article

Is influencer marketing dead in 2023?

As with most things regarding influencers and social media marketing, we need to start with Love Island. (For avid readers of the Yardstick blog, this is not my first foray into talking about that colourful villa.)

For the 2023 winter series of Love Island, ITV announced that, for the very first time, the islanders’ social media accounts would be silent during their time in the villa. For those unaware, the usual protocol involves an islander’s family and friends taking the reins on their social media accounts, usually Instagram.

Through reposting photos from the official Love Island account and encouraging the public to vote for their loved one, the islander would usually gain thousands and thousands of followers.

A perfect example of this is Molly-Mae Hague. During the 2019 summer series, the islander’s Instagram account was gaining so much traction that PR expert Francesca Britton reached out to the Hague family offering to not only help with Molly’s social media accounts while she was away, but to manager her full-time following her exit from the villa.

When she left the villa, Molly-Mae had 2.3 million Instagram followers and was approached by some of the UK’s top fast fashion brands for collaborative work, including Pretty Little Thing and In The Style.

Many people felt that the social media ban on all islanders’ accounts this year was a long time coming as, over time, the show had grown a reputation of enticing applications through not the promise of love, but the promise of becoming an influencer.

The social media ban had a huge effect on how many followers each islander gained during their time away.

The winners of the show, Kai and Sanam, although crowd favourites who won by a large majority, did not leave the villa with a million followers between them.

What does this mean for influencers? Has the interest disappeared?

What exactly is an influencer?

Nielsen defines an influencer as “a social media user with over 1,000 followers or subscribers who exercises influence, on digital platforms, over digital users and audiences”.

Traditionally, the idea of an influencer was rooted in lifestyle building – a feed curated of aesthetically pleasing content that a brand could attach itself to. The influencer needed to have enough of a voice to stand out from the masses, but not a loud enough voice to alienate potential advertising opportunities.

It was a huge juggling act which often resulted in influencers sanitising their personalities. Their online presence became bland and inoffensive in their attempts to gain a large following.

Gen Z is changing the game when it comes to influencers

As quickly as influencer marketing accelerated, a younger and increasingly savvy generation are seeing through the forced excitement and scripted dialogue.

They’re a group craving authenticity.

“Gen Z don’t care about engagement,” says Mike Hondorp, Chief Marketing Officer at Whalar, an influencer marketing agency. This can be clearly seen with the rise of short-form content such as TikTok, Snapchat (which seems to be having a revival in 2023) and Instagram stories.

Mike goes on to explain: “Who cares about engagement when it’ll be gone soon? This idea of ephemerality is mirrored in the growth of Instagram stories, the fastest growing product in Instagram’s entire history.”

Gen Z is also much more honest than previous generations. Their openness when it comes to mental health has been a huge contributor to the decline in traditional influencers. The conversations surrounding burnout gave many online creators the chance to talk about how exhausted they felt trying to keep up with unrealistic expectations.

This new generation is consuming online content, more than any generation before it, but their online idols are different to the fairy light obsessed, perfect makeup wearing, and filtered creators that younger millennials grew up with.

They’re raw. They’re unfiltered. They’re often very niche.

The rise of “micro-influencers”

Say hello to “micro-influencers”.

This is defined as “a-user with between 1,000 to 100,000 followers” and is the sweet spot for many advertisers.

Micro-influencers have a decent enough size following to attract brands, but they haven’t reached the point of oversaturation. Someone with millions of followers may appear like a goldmine, but their level of engagement is usually extremely low. Micro-influencers have an engaged audience that can be easily managed and who still feel close to the influencer.

These micro-influencers also often talk about very specific topics, as opposed to influencers of the past who would talk about very little, to avoid being unfriendly to brands. Many Gen Z content consumers are jumping to influencers that are extremely niche, talking about subjects that are personal to them and seemingly feeling very indifferent about the social media rules set by influencers of the past.

Is the influencer dead in 2023?

According to Hubspot, absolutely not! They have listed four ways that influencer marketing will change in 2023:

  1. Micro-influencers will have a greater impact.
  2. Influencer activity will extend beyond Instagram.
  3. Employees and customers will become influencers.
  4. Businesses will invest in long-term relationships, not one-off campaigns.

So, in summary, no, the influencer is not dead in 2023. However, the traditional influencer is.

As long as society is still consuming content, then influencers will remain. They just look rather different than they did a few years ago. Long gone are the filtered pictures of full makeup drawers and videos of food challenges. Instead, TikTok and user generated content are just two examples of new, authentic influencers leading the way, looking to forage their own path.

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