What is de-influencing and how brands can avoid it

by Stephen Loat

influencer final

The de-influencing movement on social media has been steadily growing over the last couple of months – seeing influencers call out brands and products that are not worth a purchase regardless of their attempts to promote new launches on social platforms.


What is de-influencing? 


In recent years we have seen the world of influencing, and specifically influencer marketing, grow on a monumental scale. Valued at $1.7 billion in 2016, it reached $9.7 billion in 2020, and by 2022, it had expanded to a mighty $16.4 billion industry. 


However, after years of growth, both in scale and budgets, we’re starting to see some push back.


Like with many trends on social media, it is hard to pinpoint the start of the de-influencing trend, however most point to a recent controversy over a product recommendation from TikTok beauty influencer Mikayla Nogueira. On 24th January, Mikayla, a beauty influencer with just under 15 million TikTok followers, was accused of secretly applying false lashes to exaggerate the effect of a mascara that she had been paid to promote. The video, and its backlash, sparked wider debates surrounding influencers’ authenticity, prompting a deluge of “de-influencing” posts. 


Since Mikayla’s video, videos using the hashtag #deinfluencing have garnered 166 million views on TikTok and have also been gathering steam on Instagram. As part of the videos, many have said that they’ve culled their social media feeds of influencers and brands by unfollowing those that they no longer trust.  


What is fuelling the trend? 


For many, the issue is not Mikayla’s video in of itself, but frustration at a wider trend of what they see as influencers (and brands by association) misusing their influence to promote products that they would not use themselves and/or misrepresenting their content as honest reviews rather than scripted ads. 


For years, influencers have been compelled by the Advertising Standards Authority to use the #AD in posts in which brands have paid them for the content. Despite this, many of those in the de-influencing camp believe this regulation is not properly enforced, whilst some say it does not go far enough. 


When it comes to creating authentic and impactful influencer marketing campaigns, there are some simple, yet very important, questions you need to ask before you’ve even selected your brand partners. 


1. Who are the key influencers in this space? Who has authority and is a trusted voice within this category?


This is very important because if you partner with the wrong influencer then it doesn’t matter how good your product or campaign is, it will lack authenticity and harm your reputation. Quality over quantity is key, analysis has shown that partnering with micro-influencers (influencers with 10,000 – 100,000 followers) results in less cost, higher engagements, and therefore higher ROI. 


Importantly, micro-influencers also have higher levels of trust with their audience and are perceived as more authentic – both these attributes can be passed onto your brand providing you’re the right fit. 


2. What’s the macro-environment? What are people talking about within your space?


As a brand, the last thing you want to be accused of is being tone-deaf when it comes to important issues that your audience care about. To avoid this, it’s important that you assess the macro-environment and ask the following questions: What are people talking about on social media around your product/market? What sentiments/talking points are people talking about in the comment section of influencers we want to partner with? Are there any political and/or economic external factors to be aware of that may be affecting people’s purchasing habits or attitudes towards your goods/services? 


3. Following an assessment of the macro-environment, how are you going to address any potential threats/issues?


Spending time to assess the macro-environment can seem tedious or a waste of time but it’s pays dividends when it comes to delivering the campaign. 


If threats/issues have been identified then the next step is to figure out how to tackle them. This requires a case-by-case approach, however one example we want to highlight is from just this week and it tackles the very issues we’ve been discussing. 


Hilton, the global hotel chain, released an Ad on its TikTok channel yesterday which has 3.3 million views and 160,000 ‘Likes’. The Ad deals directly with the issue of inauthentic influencer-brand partnerships in a tongue and cheek way – and it’s proved a viral hit. 


The video works so well, in part, because the influencers chosen were clearly well researched and thought through. The decision to partner with American Baron, a highly talented storyteller and cinematographer on the app, was perfect to lead the skit around inauthentic influencer ads. American Baron, real name Baron Ryan, is someone who has built his fame on content centred on social commentary and the human experience. He’s also not your typical influencer and has been very selective with his brand deals in the past.

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