If you’re a social influencer, whether it’s an Instagrammer, blogger, or fashion guru with 1,000 or up to 100,000 followers, you can easily get paid between $50 to $1,000 to advertise for a brand, according to influencer marketing firm Hireinfluence.
However, recently, many consultancies (name one?) have examined this new endeavor and spoke about “the myth” that working hard on a personal brand will pay off in the long run.
Chapter I: The myth that powers aspirational labor
The formula is easy: if you are putting the most creative, unique content out there, and you have a special voice, you will rise to the top. And by rise to the top, I mean you will earn an income.
The reason that it has been called a myth is that, if you look at people who have actually risen to the top —the super bloggers, the super influencers— we see them as people just like us, but they exploited some sort of human capital, call it the right connections, or “being in the right place at the right time,” or maybe have a forward-looking mind, as you wish.
So the myth lost its holy aura to a human soul of digital meritocracy
The take-away here sounds like “If we work hard enough, if we have this creative vision that nobody else has provided, we can get our dream job and do what we love and get paid.”
Oh seriously?! Is it such child’s play? (To me there are contradictions in this section. You are saying that successful influencers have succeeded because they exploited connections or timing, and not just their own ideas. This contradicts the word meritocracy. Also, I think your argument would work better if you didn’t use sarcasm in the last line.)
Chapter II From the Age of Individualism to Social Addiction
The decline of individualism is evident in practice as well as theory, in the proliferation of social networks, and not only.
For years, several successful business people had worked moonlighting as a blogger while maintaining their full-time jobs. They were essentially doing two jobs in order to make enough to subsist on. People got into this likely because they really enjoyed styling, writing, taking photos for themselves.
Thousands of people (and from now on, I bet, they’ll turn into millions) who had been doing this for years must now feel shocked at how such a culture of self-promotion eclipsed the creative elements nowadays.
Today, there’s this kind of “what is this doing for my personal life?”, or “when is this going to pay off enough for me to leave my job?”. Today, they would state:” I’m coming up with my creative product, and then I’m spending hours promoting it to others—sharing it on Instagram, sharing it on Facebook, sharing it on Twitter”.
Chapter III: Brands that make dreams come true…
Brands kind of dangle this promise of hope. You’ll see campaigns where brands will say “Hey, hashtag your favorite jeans look and post on Instagram and maybe we’ll feature your image for people to see.”
There are also more dubious promises of exposure.
I talked with peers who said the companies would not offer them any sort of financial compensation. I have one particular case of this friend of mine, who was a fashion addicted teenager, with a sizable following on the most popular social media at that time. She deliberately contacted a few companies to sometimes send her clothes unsolicited, and they replied to her: “Good one! Could you just do a solid blog about this for us?”.
She felt so in love with this part-time self-esteem game, God knows how much, that she ended up starting to work as fashion blogger, her brand-new full-time money-making occupancy.
Was she probably born to became a fashion blogger, no matter the era she was living in? Lucky or smart, the point is she envisioned how to turn her sickness into her current “job.” (So she was the lucky exception to what you stated at the top of this section, that most brands dont pay for posts and sort of exploit people’s love of fashion? This is a bit confusing. You can just fix it by making it clearer that she is an exception because the brand is paying her.)
Acceptable or despicable? Whatever the answer, chapeau!
Chapter IV: Why does Influence Marketing pay off exactly?
Honestly, the best example which pops-up in my mind is recalling when you are back in high school. You walk down the hallway or the park in front of the building, and suddenly, you stroll past the “popular crowd” of girls—who, metaphorically speaking, would be Kylie Jenner on Instagram — and you eavesdrop “Kylie” saying in passing, “Oh, I love my new Speedy”.
Instantly you feel as though you know something no one else does. You know what she wears, and what she considers to be cool. This is exactly what has happened. And from that time on, you just need that damn LV purse.
It’s not pure numbers and big promises of “impressions” what they are chasing on, but #associations.
The above example just meant to provide a case-in-point of what brands are now willing to pay big bucks for.
A recent survey revealed 84% of marketers plan on executing at least one influencer marketing campaign during the next 12 months.
It’s happening everywhere, to anyone. From multinationals to small businesses and boutiques, everyone now is willing to spend huge money for a social media influencer with a few thousand followers in their market. BUT WHY?
Easy! Because influencers are repping products and promoting brands, all the while still staying true to their unique voice and story. And what bands get in return is targeted exposure to the right kind of consumer, one who is already interested and will likely pay attention.
There’s a downside to this strategy. As China’s social media landscape is showing pretty well, the market is getting more and more saturated, while brands may risk losing out on establishing an authentic connection and building trust with their millennial audience.
Second issue to not underestimate is that there’s also the potential trouble of retaining a sense of product exclusivity if the KOLs, or key opinion leaders, they’re working with are too over-exposed.
The big influencers collaborate with anyone as long as the brands pay enough money. The photos they take are not necessarily as good as the upcoming ones and the content isn’t as good either. So gradually, you find that the bigger influencers kind of lose their identity.
Some luxury brands are already recognizing the need to branch out in their social media campaigns. Ahead of its Fall 2016 campaign, Gucci collaborated with an influencer with less than 30,000 Instagram followers, a man named Trevor Andrew who used the hashtag #GucciGhost in his posts.
“The brand’s creative director Alessandro Michele has been working hard to connect the brand with a younger generation, and this way of doing so can serve as a particular lesson for brands”, says Kim Leitzes, CEO of China influencer marketing platform PARKLU.
What’s interesting about this example was GucciGhost was not a known name, but they worked with a KOL that had his own interpretation of the brand.
“And when you think about it, whether or not a brand wants influencers to interpret their brand, it’s happening anyway. By working with smaller KOLs, brands can embrace branding interpretation while still maintaining a modicum of control.” Mrs. Leitzes says.
Chapter V: Are Instagram Influencers bad for Luxury & Fashion?
Individual social media platforms appeal to different industries in different ways. Instagram has always been the most natural fit for the fashion industry because of its overt visual focus.
The platform’s distinct visual language allows clothing brands to show off their wares in adverts that don’t quite look like adverts, which tiptoes around ingrained consumer cynicism, all while saving cash that might usually be spent on billboards.
And it is this symbiotic flirtation between industry and platform has birthed one of the most notable developments on the fashion landscape of the past decade: the Instagram influencer.
In certain segments of the fashion world, the influencer has become the go-to vessel for brands to pin their latest marketing campaign on.
The reasoning is totally self-explanatory:
Influencers have large social media followings, commanding plenty of eyes that brands would like to show their products off to.
People are far more likely to buy a product if it’s suggested to them buy someone that they know, trust, admire or generally have some sort of rapport with. It’s like celebrity endorsement, but the DIY nature of blogs or Instagram breeds a false sense of intimacy and confidence that creates an illusion of direct dialogue.
A concrete example? Let’s think about when Nike seeds its latest sneaker to an influencer, seeing it pop up in your feed feels like stumbling upon a friend’s photo rather than staring at a glossy Vogue spread.
Luxury & Fashion, more than most industries, rely on aspiration, exclusivity and dreams.
Obviously influencers (Instagram, blogger, or otherwise) are useful to the fashion industry because they offer another revenue stream for brands and designers, but could they potentially be bad for the industry’s “brand.”
On the other hand, what we have is the accessible, grassroots nature of social media that makes it less prestigious by default, which risks cheapening the brands that rely on it.
Before the rise of the internet and the proliferation of social media, the bar of entry into the fashion world was much higher.
Let’s think about the mainstream example of Anna Wintour, who isn’t simply a woman with impeccable taste and an ability to articulate it in written form, she’s a qualified journalist. And again, Alexander McQueen isn’t just someone with undoubted talent for designing clothes, he was the graduate of the world’s most elite school for fashion design too.
Chapter VI: The Populist Superheroe
Influencers, on the other hand, are simply the winners of a popularity contest.
They haven’t endured the same level of scrutiny from people who know how and what to scrutinize. The keys to the door are now shared between the “establishment” and consumers, but making fashion more accessible, doesn’t risk to corrode some of its prestige?
Is this dreamed world of frills and whims evolving into a more merit-base universe? Perhaps yes, if we think that a sizable chunk of the rest of the industry comprises of hangers-on, the beneficiaries of nepotism, and people who’ve slept their way to the top.
Let’s not forget that Madame Wintour comes from a very wealthy family and is the daughter of a journalist. That’s a head start that many bloggers and influencers didn’t have.
However, I would also agree that the rise of the influencers risks compromising the creative vision of the industry. Before the digital era, there was very little discourse between the industry and outside forces: fashion professionals picked the supermodels, dressed them, curated the image and beamed it out into the world.
Their choice of influencer puts the tastes and desires of the consumer into a very public forum that the industry can observe. I have no doubt that this info comes into consideration when making creative decisions within the industry – #inspiration inevitably gets watered down by data.
But then again, fashion has always been a compromise between creativity and commerce. A painting might be a pure expression of its creator’s artistic vision, but clothes are made to be worn.
The end product is created with the consumer in mind.
So, in that sense influencers haven’t really changed anything, they’ve only made the voice of the public clearer and louder.
Is that a bad thing? Well, that depends on who you ask, I suppose.