For many, influencer marketing may be viewed as a new-age marketing vehicle built on social media celebrities that have millions of followers eating out of the palm of their hand. But this type of marketing has always existed; if you put it into context. In the past, influencers – in the way we view them now – existed more as traditional celebrities who promoted products in ads through the vehicle of their popularity. Respected and esteemed writers wrote about products in blogs and articles both offline and online. Over time, influencer marketing as we know it today began to creep in with the rapid growth of social media.

Social media influencers have been making their mark on the advertising world over the past several years. These online creators are celebrities in their own right, albeit on networks like Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc. While television is in decline in many senses, it’s still a benchmark for ‘celebrity’ in many ways. But that is changing very quickly. It’s understandable that influencer marketing seems like a recent advent, simply observing the massive growth of networks like Instagram. However, while the belief exists that ‘anyone can become an influencer’, it’s far more complex than that.

Influencers And Analytics

Once upon a time, in a land of advertising far far away…ok, ok, so it wasn’t really that far away. Regardless, there was a time when successful advertising was built on the backbone of artistry, creativity, and financial resources. The model was relatively simple; partner with a red-hot advertising agency, contract them to produce an entertaining 30-second ad, spend an ungodly sum of money with TV broadcasting and newspaper owners, and boom! You make a big splash on the scene, and gain a little bit of instant brand recognition. We all have the image emblazed in our thoughts; the ‘Mad Men’ we see on television and on Madison Avenue were about the glitz and glam, the sizzle. They weren’t even vaguely interested in the science of advertising.

Fast forward to the present day, and it’s a totally different story. The internet has changed everything, evolving into the fundamental aspect of the modern world as we know it. In 2020, more and more brands are turning to data, analytics, and algorithms to influence their advertising decisions (no pun intended).

 

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Google and Facebook have all but taken a stranglehold on the marketing world as we know it, mostly through the simple-yet-ingenious method of making ad spend accountable – and far more targeted than ever before. The way Google Ads work, you only pay when a user actually clicks on your ad. With Facebook ads, you can learn far more about the type of people your ads are being served to and truly refine your targeting as a result. Marketing managers can rest easier (to some extent) knowing that the “spray and pray” days are behind them.

There was a time when online marketing was viewed as a fad, most certainly seen as inferior or of diminished importance to that of traditional marketing. But in today’s business landscape, currency is data. The ability to obtain and analyze data is a highly-coveted skill, and in 2020, it’s more important to have an understanding of the mechanics of social media platforms if you hope to find success in the marketing world.

How A.I. is Changing Influencer Marketing: Data Subdues the Wild Wild West

Social media isn’t exactly a place where we visualize swinging saloon doors and renegade gunslingers running amok. But in many ways, that’s how platforms like Instagram operated in its early days. Influencer marketing was a lawless environment that paralleled that of the wild west. It represented the least data-driven aspect of the digital marketing industry.

While countless clients were anxious to benefit from the ‘influence’ held by online creators, they had no tangible way to accurately measure the ROI of these partnerships, especially while disingenuous influencers bought fake followers by the thousands and also shelled out cash for counterfeit engagement.

As the world turned to data more than ever to help in educating our decisions, analytics began taking over everything; including social media networks. Understandably, clients wanted to know exactly what they were getting as a result of their ad spend, and consumers want to know whether the messages they are receiving were paid sponsorships or not. In 2020, analytics are critical in understanding the true level of engagement between influencers and their audience. As a result of the wild-west mentality that had previously run rampant throughout influencer marketing, regulators instituted laws that required the use of hashtags to indicate when a post has been sponsored. It’s a whole new ball game.

How A.I. and Data are Keeping Users from Stacking The Deck

As a result of the massive growth seen with influencer marketing – and the social platforms themselves – these environments now encourage these online-yet-public figures to identify as ‘influencers’, welcoming with open arms the highly-curated and uber-creative content they produce. And why wouldn’t they? With the size of its user base and the sheer volume of ad dollars that flow through these feeds, platforms have a highly-vested interest in the success and sustainability of influencers.

It may be one of the reasons why many of the top platforms are using machine learning and other AI techniques to assist influencers in elevating their profiles even further. And though they control the ‘game’, they also deploy AI while continually evolving their algorithms to help prevent influencers and agencies alike from stacking the deck against the dealer. The platforms do this by using their own data and AIs to keep everything above board.

Welcome to the Era of Virtual Influencers

The term ‘influencer’ sounds sexy in some circles but is certainly not a title that is without its critics and stereotypes. Many influencers are looked at as being ‘fake’, whether they bought their followings or employed illegitimate tactics or otherwise. It’s a stigma associated with the title. nfluencers often employ the services of many stylists and make-up artists, as well as the photographer, for a single Instagram picture. You start adding in the lighting team, grips, and the photoshop team, and it quickly develops into a full production.

In today’s creator-driven social landscape, influencers must work hard to get the right image; and even harder to strike the right tone. Many have struggled with this in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder and the resurgence of Black Lives Matter. A number of high-profile influencers have been harshly criticised for using protest events as a backdrop for a fashion-related shoot. But even before the pandemic, the fakery went to an extreme: meet the virtual influencers.

We’ve touched on influencers like Lil Miquela previously when discussing the rise of A.I. influencers. This freckly Brazilian 19-year-old lives in Los Angeles, where she creates content on many mediums. Over 80,000 people stream her songs on Spotify each month, and she counts designer brands like Prada as just one of her many clients.

Lil’ Miquela has over 2.5 million followers on Instagram, and a majority of them are fully aware that she is not real. Well, she’s real, but she’s not a real person. Miquela is a CGI created in 2016 by Brud, an LA startup specializing in CGI, artificial intelligence, and robotics. Up until 2018, the company allowed Lil’s followers to believe she was real – some would say even feeding into the mystery with her cryptic captions. Brud even went as far as to stage her “kidnapping”, through the use of another avatar named Bermuda. The fictional Trump-supporting “robot supremacist”, Bermuda accused Miquela of being a “fake ass person”, stating that they would hold her account hostage until she told the world the truth about her identity. The mystery was all a well-executed publicity stunt by Brud, who clearly has shown the ability to ‘create’ an influencer, and true value in the process.

Brud is now said to be worth $125 million.

Much like that of many facets of digital marketing, influencers – and the agencies which monetise them – are here to stay. The constant sparring of their AIs, their algorithms and their data, with those of the social media platforms, will continue to improve their effectiveness and their efficiency.

 

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