In a world where consumers live online and interact through social media sites, it’s common sense that advertisers should be in the same places: on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms. So, in a way, it’s no surprise that the past few years have seen the meteoric rise of the so-called “influencer” market, in which popular social media users are paid to promote products and services to their followers.
In way, it’s a simple continuation of the celebrity endorsement: a popular figure promises consumers that a product or service is great. But influencers aren’t always celebrities in the traditional sense – their brands are a bit different and rely entirely on their ability to keep eyes on their Twitter or Instagram accounts.
In fact, a huge number of influencers are not true “celebrities.” Look for cosmetics tutorials on YouTube and you’ll find plenty of normal people giving out tips – and making sure that they mention which products they’re using. Check out Instagram and you’ll see models recommending beauty products, herbal products, creams, and more. You don’t have to be famous in a traditional sense to become very important online, and that means that almost anyone can be an influencer in what has long been a very unregulated market.
An end to the free-for-all
Many small-time influencers deal directly with clients or use brokerage services, but not all influencers work this way anymore. It’s not unusual for companies to now turn to agencies that specialize in influencers, bringing a structure (and a new type of middleman) to a marketplace that previously had none.
A more managed influencer experience may be a more expensive one, but it’s also more reliable. After all, there are dangers to an unregulated market – while it’s fairly obvious at a glance how many social media followers an influencer has, it’s not clear that all influencers have the same level of influence over their followers. For influencers themselves, there are risks, too – if an influencer is only as good as his or her influence, credibility is key. A bad endorsement now can mean less trust in future endorsements.
The lessons of Fyre Festival
No single event laid bare the problems of the influencer economy quite like Fyre Festival. The festival’s failure is now famous: when the high-paying guests arrived at what they thought would be a tropical paradise, they instead found a disaster zone with emergency tents, unappetizing and limited food, and – after a short while – evacuations.
Fyre Festival was able to dupe so many people because it made aggressive use of social media influencers. Photos of models in paradise promised would-be attendees that their experience would be exotic and fun. But the influencers had no particular reason to trust that Fyre Festival would come off without a hitch – and when it crashed and burned, the reputations of everyone involved took a hit.
Brave new world
Influencers that endorsed Fyre Festival will recover – in the world of celebrity PR, all things are possible – but the influencer economy itself has been changed forever. The influencer marketplace is increasingly a regulated and intelligent place. What was once a wild West of small-time models and gambling companies is now a smarter market full of brokerages and agencies. Influencers themselves, who had a front-row seat to the Fyre Festival and watched it do serious damage to their business space and their peers, are likely to be more careful in their own endorsements. Influencers must maintain their credibility even as they loan it out to clients.
In other words, the days of the free-for-all influencer market are over. Soon, only small-time companies and small-time influencers will follow the old paradigms. Big companies and big influencers will adopt a model that’s more like the one already used in celebrity endorsements: a world of agents and brokerages, careful vetting and written contracts. Ultimately, that has to be a good thing for reliable products and services, trustworthy influencers, and, of course, the people they’re all after: consumers.