Is the golden age of social media influencers gone for good?

“Unrealistic.” “Toxic.” “Fake.”


Influencer culture is being called a lot of things recently – and “credible” most certainly isn’t one of them. Just a few days ago, a Nashville-based influencer was discredited for feigning a motorcycle accident for likes. Elsewhere, other influencers have been defamed for drinking weight loss products while pregnant, faking brand deals, buying followers, abusing their pets on YouTube and staging “personal” milestones, like this extremely elaborate fake “surprise” proposal.

Questioning the integrity of influencer marketing isn’t anything new, though. The 2017 Fyre Festival fiasco is still widely considered to be one of the biggest frauds in recent years – in no small part thanks to the role of influencers. The festival organisers poured money into getting prolific figures such as Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid to promote their event. But, unbeknownst to those who bought tickets based on this marketing, they didn’t actually have the means to create the festival itself. Ultimately, people wasted thousands of dollars to attend something that didn’t amount to anything more than a couple of disaster relief tents in a field. Ouch. 


With so many influencers losing credibility, it’s no surprise that the culture seems to be losing its clout.


With each new story about an influencer that’s sold out, lied or otherwise, the popularity of the industry declines. According to a study by Mobile Marketer and InfluencerDB, Instagram influencers have seen their engagement rates drop to an all-time low in the first quarter of this year, falling to 2.4% from 4% (in comparison to the same period three years ago). The same is true for non-sponsored posts, which have dropped to a paltry 1.9% engagement rate from 4.5%.

Disenchantment with the industry is rife, regardless of influencer categorisation. There are declines in engagement happening across beauty, fashion, lifestyle, food, sports and fitness accounts. Travel influencers are suffering, too. Once the most highly-engaged with type of influencer, engagement rates have fallen to 4.5% this year from 8% in 2018. Nobody is exempt.

What these stats suggest is that we’re not just losing faith in a few bad influencer apples – we’re disillusioned with the culture as a whole. No longer are social media users content to listen to, or take the advice of, infamous internet stars. Rather, if this article from Quartz is to be believed, we’re pivoting more towards “slackerdom” – the complete antithesis of everything influencer culture stands for.


This isn’t exactly great news for brands using influencer marketing in their strategy. 


In working with influencers, it’s possible for brands to be tarred by the same negative brush that the whole culture has been painted with. This makes it trickier than ever to promote your products and strike up loyal connections with a wider audience through them. It can also be difficult to measure the ROI of an influencer marketing campaign – and the legitimacy of an influencer themselves. Many brands have been caught short investing in influencers that have faked brand partnerships and bought followers to seem more popular.

However, despite these pitfalls and the tricky road ahead, brands are still investing a lot in influencer marketing. According to a report by Big Commerce, 65% of influencer marketing budgets will (or have) increased in 2019. A further 17% of companies spend over half of their marketing budget on influencers alone.

Social media influencer

Two things are clear.


Tides are changing within the industry. Yet companies, as a whole, aren’t willing to scrap the concept of influencer marketing all together. And there’s a good reason for that. Despite all the problems that have arisen with this type of marketing over the past few years, influencers still have major sway over a lot of social media users. Used wisely, and this can grant brands an amazing opportunity to connect with their target audiences. But in order to reap these benefits, adapting your strategy to complement changing opinions is crucial. 


One way to do this is by working more closely with micro-influencers.


While micro-influencers have much smaller followings than macro-influencers, they’re generally much more connected to them – and more trusted. This article on Medium claims that micro-influencers bring in a 60% higher engagement rate than their competitors, and drive 22.2% more conversions from their posts. Working with them, then, could help you to hone in on rich connections that stand the test of time and encourage your sales.

Efforts will also need to be made to assuage your target audience’s fears that influencers are selling them products that they themselves don’t believe in. You’ll need to ensure that the partnerships you strike up are genuine. That the people you’re working with sincerely enjoy and see use out of your product. Preferably, you should work with influencers that would use your product outside of a contract with you. This will show your target audience that they’re not simply saying nice things about your brand because they’re getting paid. This level of sincerity is crucial, if you want to be positioned as a trustworthy brand worth investing in.


We’d also suggest putting more user-generated content (UGC) at the fore of your social feeds.


Business2Community reports that millennials think UGC is 50% more trustworthy than other media. It’s also 20% more influential on users making a purchase decision than all other media types.

Again, we’d claim that authenticity is at the heart of this. Social media users, as opposed to influencers, are seen as people who have absolutely no ulterior motive in promoting your brand. They’re simply showcasing the fact that they like your products. Therefore, their word acts as “proof” that your product is worthy of attention, as the users posting about it are seen as totally authentic.


Our advice?


Influencer marketing is not extinct – but it’s certainly evolving. In a culture where influencer scandals are making headlines nearly every week, the importance of making sure that the ones you’re working with are genuine cannot be understated.

Prioritise authentic connections above all and choose your influencer partners carefully. For smaller but (in our opinion) richer results, focus on influencers with less followers but high engagement levels. By following these steps, you’re bound to benefit from this style of marketing – while side-stepping any controversies in the process.


Want to change up your influencer marketing strategy? Or maybe try something new? We’re the folk to get friendly with. Contact us here.

Posted By

Laura Demaude