Week of 26 August 2019

You’re not my friend anymore

Hello, and welcome to The Deep Dive—a weekly close-up look at an idea, issue or trend that’s shaping Asia’s future. We’re happy to have you with us. Please send your comments, questions and favourite influencer Instagram feeds to

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.

However, a few cracks have started to emerge in the influencer business model. The obviously staged nature of these images is beginning to see a backlash from millennials and Gen Z, who claim to value authenticity above all else. In fact, on social media it's incredibly easy to fake entire experiences. Similarly, widespread failure to declare when posts are sponsored has hit credibility, and has prompted crackdowns in many jurisdictions, detracting from campaigns’ effectiveness.

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



17 billion

China’s influencer economy was worth US$17 billion in 2017, according to research company CBNData.


There are more than 500,000 active influencers on Instagram, equivalent to 39 percent of all accounts with 15,000 or more followers.


At the most rarefied level, social media influencers can earn up to US$250,000 for a single sponsored post, according to the head of an influencer agency.


Only 4 percent of people globally trust influencers, according to recent research from media agency UM, which asked 56,000 internet users in 81 countries.


Joe Nicchi, owner of the VCT ice cream truck in Los Angeles, charges influencers US$8, double the usual US$4, for one of his ice creams, after being asked for so many free ones in return for coverage.


5 Stories To Get You Up To Speed
  1. Instagram's Wannabe-Stars Are Driving Luxury Hotels Crazy
    The Atlantic
  2. Is It Time To Regulate Social Media Influencers?
    New York Magazine
  3. Instagram's Design Gave Rise To The Influencer Economy. It May Also Be Its Downfall
    Fast Company
  4. Meet The Unfluencers 
    The Cut
  5. The YouTube Stars Heading For Burnout: 'The Most Fun Job Imaginable Became Deeply Bleak'  
    The Guardian





We Need To Talk About Snapchat Dysmorphia

The unobtainable perfection flaunted by social media influencers is having a major impact on appearance anxiety and leading to an uptick in plastic surgery. Psychologist Jamie Chiu explains how pernicious this modern phenomenon really is


Not Quite Dead Yet

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


People at the heart of the expanding social media economy

The #OG
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 
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


Bryanboy Yambao
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.


Jovi Adhiguna
A social media star who uses his influence to spread a message of tolerance, queer icon Jovi breaks down taboos about gender and fashion in conservative Indonesia.


Liang Tao
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.




We want to hear your opinion 

Has influencer marketing peaked?


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.


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




The Price Of Popularity

Thinking of getting influencers to promote your brand? If you want to buy a sponsored post, this is what it’s going to cost you.


Sustainable Fashion

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