The downfall of the influencer

In 2019 a study found only 4% of users believe the bulk of information shared by influencers. Conversion rates and engagement on influencer content has also seen a decline. From a personal viewpoint my trust in social media influencers is very low. From the lack of authenticity in their product promotions to the plethora of scandals, they deter me from using social media.

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Fabian Bosiger
April 24, 2022 8:40 am

Trust is derived from a deep connection. Think about the people you trust. Most of the time they will be friends and family that you connect and relate with. The same applies to an influencer. Trust will be built up when users connect in some way with the influencer. The problem of parasocial relationships is well known. It is through this framework that we can understand why we are disconnecting with influencers. BuzzFeed is very good at compiling examples of arrogant and entitled influencers who feel their following somehow makes them more important or better than other people. We simply cannot relate with influencers who feel they are owed products and services just because they have a few thousand followers.

Historically mega influencers have threatened the social media companies they post on. When Instagram was a new up-and-coming app, Justin Bieber’s presence on the platform gave it a huge boost in users. The servers sometimes couldn’t handle the influx of new users after a Bieber post. IG was suffering from a bad case of Bieber Fever. When Bieber’s management team saw how much Instagram was benefitting from Justin’s posts, they told the IG team that Justin would quit Instagram unless he started getting paid for his posts. IG declined and Justin left. IG was getting too big for one person to bring down the house of cards, and Justin soon returned to IG. While IG survived threats from influencers, Vine unfortunately didn’t.

In Sarah Frier’s book, ‘No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram’, she explains how Vine at one point had popular influencers rivalling those of YouTube. Logan Paul was one of them, having gained a large following on Vine doing humorous stunts. Soon content production on Vine started to slow down, so to counteract this, the Twitter team (who acquired Vine for $30 million in 2012) added a re-Vine button. In other words it was a way to get Vines shared more across the internet. The opposite happened. According to Frier, users on Vine didn’t see the point in making quality content for their own feeds when they could just share other users’ content. Kind of like how Twitter is today. A user on Twitter could have thousands of tweets, the vast majority of them being retweets.

This left Vine with a decreasing number of original content creators. The interesting part was they knew the leverage they had. The top Viners formed a group and collectively threatened Twitter. If Twitter didn’t pay them $1 million each, they would stop producing content and would encourage their followers to join other social platforms. Twitter refused and these Viners stuck to their word. They abandoned the app. Part of Vine’s demise can be attributed to this exodus of popular content creators.

Returning to my original point, in some ways we can relate to the leverage very popular content creators have. On the other hand, it is infuriating to see the entitlement and arrogance some have, expecting small businesses to give away free products for exposure. This is why trust is eroding. We can’t relate to this. Exposure doesn’t pay the bills.

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Tyler Mendoza
April 23, 2022 5:58 am

The low levels of trust stems from a history of influencers taking advantage of their fan base. I have written about the fitness industry, one that is rife with deception and scams. For the unaware it is so easy to fall into the trap of buying workout programs or consultations from fitness influencers. They look fantastic and you want to look like them. It is when you develop a better understanding of working out and social media marketing dynamics that you learn how despicable the industry and many fitness influencers are. I say “many” because there is a rare gem in the haystack that is transparent and isn’t out to scam their fans. You can be transparent, earn a good living and still not be out there to swindle your fan base. Sadly I can say with confidence that the majority of influencers are happy to sell poor quality programs, consultations and supplements without looking out for their fans. Usually supplements are under dosed or made of cheap, filler ingredients.

A recent phenomenon is the NFT and crypto scam. Have you see how so many influencers have moved into this space? It’s a get rich quick scheme for most. The little regard these influencers have from taking away investment money from fans who trust them and then doing a rug pull is unthinkable to me. And this comes back to the point about the system. If so many influencers treat their fans like dirt, does it mean all these influencers are despicable people? Or is the system built in such a way that you eventually lose your morality? Can the influencer space really be made up of so many greedy individuals or is there something else at play that makes them do this, something that ebbs away at their principles and erodes their empathy? It is a combination of both – a system that provides opportunities to get rich quickly and sociopathic tendencies of these influencers. In short, a real recipe for disaster.

For a long time I didn’t realize the impact influencers had on the general public. I always saw influencers as regular people who post videos and snap photos on Instagram. Not exactly life changing. How wrong I was. I was completely unaware of the way fans look up to influencers. There is real admiration there. These influencers are role models for a huge chunk of fans, so much so that it created untold disappointment when the influencer’s true colors are revealed. This is why I have such distaste for influencers. They know fans look up to them. They know they are role models. Yet they persist in scamming the ones who support them the most.

And while I believe influencers should be held to account under law, there is self-correction mechanism at play. The internet is an unforgiving place. When an influencer is outed as a scumbag for being predator or a scammer, things turn sour very quickly. The position as an influencer also isn’t suited for everyone. You have to be mentally resilient. Yousef Erakat aka Fousey is well known for being one of the earlier influencers who has struggled mentally. Calum Von Moger is a fitness influencer who had everything going for him – amazing look, millions of fans, opportunities to get into the movie industry. His current actions are weird to say the least. It is a story that has been played out over and over again.

Not everyone is cut out for the influencer role. With Fousey and Calum, the best advice would be to step away from social media, but unfortunately the system won’t let you do that. Social media is addictive. It would be doubly so for an influencer who gets endorphin rushes and ego boosts from fans around the world hanging on your every word.

April 25, 2022 1:17 am

I’m not surprised to learn there’s been a drop in conversion and engagement with influencer posts. Many accounts are propped up by bots, in that most likes and comments are left by automated users. Much like you, my low trust in influencers, comes from the absence of authenticity.

In some way I see why influencers only post the perfect shots on Instagram. Instagram is a canvas for you to show your best work. It’s not like WhatsApp where we share photos of anything and everything. A photo is generally forgotten on WhatsApp after a day. On Instagram, it’s part of your canvas, so it’s expected to be of high quality.

Perfection isn’t my problem. By now it is well known how images can be manipulated and how long influencer photoshoots take. Getting the perfect shot is a long process. Personally I take issue with declining authenticity. If I can’t trust you to be yourself, how can I trust what you are selling?

There is nothing wrong with living a regular life. Taking high quality pictures and videos can still be inspiring if you are doing regular things like volunteering, exercising, traveling etc. When people feel the need to portray a life that isn’t one they live, you will ostracize a lot of your own audience for the simple fact that it’s easy to spot. The extent people go to portray a lifestyle of private jets, sports cars and mansions is quite funny because at some point a mistake will be spotted. The guy who says he’s taking his private jet to Vegas will slip up and show branding that reveals the jet to be from a hire-for-photos service.

The desire to portray an extravagant lifestyle is so high that businesses have cropped up to serve this need. If you can’t be a baller, at least you can look like one on Instagram. This is self-defeating. As I wrote above, the average social media user is much more savvy than they used to be. If you post a photo in a private jet, you better be sure it’s legit yours. In fact, almost every photo I see of someone with luxury items, my BS radar already starts tingling. It has gotten that bad.

And that is my point. I haven’t become sceptical out of choice. It has been gradual with the number of influencers who have been exposed, think Dan Bilzerian, and my own understanding of how the social/influencer industry operates. Trust, which was once a given if we saw someone posing with a sports car, is at an all time low. Instead of wanting to know what work the influencer does to earn the sports car, the immediate question is whether they own the sports car in the first place.

April 25, 2022 3:34 pm

I describe myself as a person who has never bought into the influencer hype. As such, I have never made a purchase because an influencer recommended it. Recommendations from people I know are what influence me. So, what can I say about influencer trust that adds value to this discussion? Well, even if I don’t follow influencers, I have a distaste for how people try to become influencers. The series of actions people take to gain clout or exposure is what places me deep in the 96% of users who DON’T believe what influencers have to say.

On 24 December 2021 Trevor Jacob, an aspiring YouTuber, uploaded a video titled I Crashed My Plane. The video shows Jacob flying his single-engine plane over a forest in California. Early on in the video, Jacob ostensibly experiences engine trouble and bails from the plane with his parachute while the plane descends and crashes. Soon after Jacob published the video, flying casuals and experts alike knew something was amiss.

Pilots and instructors rarely jump out of their plane within seconds of experiencing engine trouble. They also rarely if ever have a selfie stick to record it happening 😜 The vast majority of viewers felt Jacob staged this crash, which could have caused a forest fire or even endangered human life, to game the YouTube algorithm. If this is what people are doing to reach influencer status, it is hard for me to trust them. For the record, the Federal Aviation Administration agrees that Trevor Jacob staged the crash:

“You demonstrated a lack of care, judgment and responsibility by choosing to jump out of an aircraft solely so you could record the footage of the crash.”

This is the extent to which people will go to achieve influencer status. And no, it doesn’t stop there. Family channels aren’t quite as physically destructive but they are just as disturbing. None of us can claim to know what happens behind the camera but what we can see is children who know no better being recorded for likes and views. A question among viewers is at what point does this entertainment become exploitation? A lot of family channels have come under the spotlight recently. The Ace Family is one for having been involved in scams, lawsuits and generally using their children to heighten their own fame. If influencers find it morally acceptable to exploit their own kids for views, then once again, it is hard for me to trust them.

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