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The social media influencer economy as we know it is only about five years old, but these days influencers are everywhere—and already fatigue is starting set in.
There is no set definition of an influencer, but broadly speaking they’re people with a committed social media following that’s interesting to brands, who pay to advertise and sponsor posts, most often in areas like travel, fashion, beauty and wellness. There have been influencers as long as there’s been marketing, but the power of social media has weaponised individual influence, allowing them to talk directly to their followers.
Globally the most important influencer platforms are Instagram, YouTube and Twitter. They’re also the leaders in a lot of Asian countries, but Mainland China has its own ecosystem featuring the likes of Weibo, WeChat, Xiaohongshu and Douyin, where influencers are more likely to sell their own branded products rather than endorsing other people’s. Chinese celebs Xie Na, He Jiong, Yang Mi and Angelababy all have more than 100 million Weibo followers, while globally Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner both have more than 140 million on Instagram.
Muddying the waters even further, would-be social media stars have even been known to pretend that their posts are sponsored, to convince potential advertisers that they’re already popular with brands. And those brands are becoming wary, largely because it’s extremely easy to buy a load of followers, who are actually bots, meaning merely having a lot of followers is no guarantee that you actually have any influence. And the platforms aren’t helping: Instagram, for instance, has trialled removing likes from posts, which would remove one of the ways in which influencers are able to measure and monetise their influence. Partly as a result, there’s been a move towards so-called micro-influencers, who have a far smaller number of followers but more of a personal connection with them and are often seen as more authentic.
So is the social media economy just evolving, or are we really no longer under the influence? Let’s take a deep dive.
“There is no more trust in bloggers; they buy likes and subscribers. Almost half of them did it at least once. We cannot invest in such a shadow tool. We need to take urgent action now to rebuild trust before it’s gone forever.”
—Keith Weed, CMO, Unilever
BY THE NUMBERS
China’s influencer economy was worth US$17 billion in 2017, according to research company CBNData.
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While influencer fatigue might slow the runaway growth, at the moment the global influencer economy is still doing just fine. With a lower spend forecast at US$5 billion, it is expected the influencer marketing industry could reach up to US$10 billion over the next 5 years.
SOURCE: Media Kix 2018
MOVERS & SHAKERS
People at the heart of the expanding social media economy
The #OG Izea In 2006, Ted Murphy invented social media influencer marketing when he launched PayPerPost, the first influencer marketplace. Thirteen years later, his creation has morphed into leading influencer martketing platform Izea.
The Queen of Sales Zhang Dayi A powerhouse among Mainland Chinese influencers, Zhang Dayi, known as Big Eve, sells clothes, cosmetics and home products worth US$220 million a year through e-commerce platform Taobao. She has more than 20 million social media followers, and her store was fastest to 100 million yuan in sales on Singles’ Day in 2016 and 2017.
The Disrupter Zyper If Amber Atherton gets her way, brands won’t need influencers any more. The former star of British reality TV show Made in Chelsea’s company Zyper identifies and helps brands engage with their most enthusiastic genuine fans instead.
Gen T Spotlight
3 Honourees To Follow
A leading Philippine fashion and lifestyle blogger for more than a decade, Bryanboy has become a global fashion icon, appearing as a judge on America’s Next Top Model and getting a bag named after him by no less than Marc Jacobs.
When global luxury brands want to sell bags in China, Liang Tao, aka Mr Bags, is who they turn to. With more than five million followers on Weibo, WeChat and Instagram, he has collaborated with numerous brands, including his Wave bag with Tod’s, which sold out in seven minutes.
Thanks for all of your responses to last week's question on 5G. According to the results, 78 percent of you believe that China will become the biggest 5G market by 2025.
DID YOU KNOW?
Crumbling credibility, Instagram redesigns and pesky unknowable algorithms aren’t the only perils facing influencers. Like any other celebrity, they’re also eminently capable of blowing up their own careers—in fact, the unfiltered nature of the medium makes gaffes even more likely. Here are some who’ve done just that.