These are the words of Jessy Taylor, a social media influencer from Tampa, Florida, upon finding out her Instagram account had been deleted. In a tearful video reminiscent of “Leave Britney Alone”, the 21-year old addressed those who had been reporting her account, urging them to “think twice as you are ruining my life!”
Since it was posted back in April, the YouTube video has collected a cool 2 million views and almost 15,000 comments – the majority of which call Jessy out for how deluded she is to believe her career can only go two ways: be internet famous forever or be homeless, addicted to drugs and working as a prostitute.
Let’s be honest – it’s hard to feel sorry for this girl.
In the space of just several minutes, Jessy Taylor has personified the public opinion of social media influencers in 2019: entitled, narcissistic and in some cases, straight-up spoilt.
That opinion is, of course, not aided by the flurry of bad press shaming influencers for “Follow Farms”, not declaring sponsored content and fishing for free hotel stays in return for virtually nothing. It wasn’t so long ago that brands were jostling to jump on the social media star bandwagon, but over the course of a year, the downward trend in conversions from influencer marketing has dropped faster than the value of the pound after the Brexit referendum – okay, maybe not that fast, but it’s still not looking good for people who rely on brand collaborations to prevent them from ending up “homeless and on meth.”
In a recent report by Hypebeast, findings revealed how influencers have increasingly less sway over their audience; one influencer opening up about selling just 36 shirts to her two million+ followers, and others are exposed daily for scamming their audience.
For businesses, the word ‘influencer’ became somewhat of a buzzword at marketing conventions and digital conferences – now, concerns about the credibility of social media stars, their tactics and their influence over their audience are a pin-prick in the influencer bubble that is fast-deflating – and with good reason.
The entire selling point of influencer marketing was supposed to be authentic engagement. Gone were the days where traditional, unattainable celebrities ruled the roost when it came to purchasing decisions. Instead, consumers were looking to idols they could relate to; they sought advice from those they could trust, those who would share stuff they genuinely used instead of just mindlessly promoting a product for that sweet, sweet sponsorship money.
Word of mouth has always been more trustworthy than advertising, and in an increasingly connected world where word travels at breakneck speed, influencer marketing became the biggest ad inventory the world has ever seen.
But the more mainstream it got, the more followers these influencers started to attract.
Before long, the lines between celebrity and influencer were blurred – Instagram had become a wall of sponsored posts from macro-influencers who didn’t dedicate time to replying to comments or engaging with their audience. Authentic tips became shameless promotions for any product paying the bills and keeping the lights on.
What’s more, a global study recently found that even governments were seen as more trustworthy than most celebrity influencers or bloggers/vloggers, with 12% of people globally saying information shared by governments was ‘mostly truthful’ – by contrast, only 4% took what they read from influencers at face value.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the strategy of getting talent with an outrageous following to mention your product is no longer cutting it for consumers, particularly those of Gen Z. Just like banner ads and pop-ups, users now expect sponsored content from influencers; they have grown numb to branded posts and are scrolling past them just as we would zap away from a TV channel on an ad-break.
And who could blame them? Just take a look at this lifestyle blogger who took advantage of her motorcycle accident to have a photographer take *stunning* photos of her lying on the roadside with a bottle of Smartwater perfectly and – apparently just coincidentally – positioned in the shot: it’s enough to make most social media users recoil in horror.
Exhausted by the things that influencers once represented and savvy to the dirty tactics used by so-called social media stars, digital natives crave new ideas – not disingenuous content dressed up to look “real.” In other words, for content to succeed today, it has to be more than just an ad. While the right influencers (generally micro-influencers) can prove worthwhile in brand exposure, the best marketers know that digital natives are wiser to the bullsh*t than brands give them credit for.
It isn’t to say influence isn’t important to Gen Z – in fact, it’s the opposite. Nothing has changed for the consumer; they still want something real – they are simply jaded by “luxurious” content that sells them an out-of-reach reality and packages it as attainable. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is: where Millennials fell out of love with celebrity endorsements, Gen Z are tired of their feeds being filled up with Lifestyles of The Rich and Instagram Famous; they’re sick to death of colour-corrected images of body-blessed women in expensive clothes enjoying hipster brunches.
The influencer trend isn’t going away any time soon, but the days of this “aspirational” content influencing buying decisions are certainly coming to an end.
“Instagram got so saturated with perfect imagery,” observes internet culture reporter Taylor Lorenz.
“But last year, burnout became a huge talking point — it was a massive trend on YouTube and Instagram; influencers started becoming more open about mental health. I think this sparked a reaction where people were like ‘ok, this curated life stuff is fake, so we’re going to rebel against that and engage with people that seem more ‘real.’”