Taylor Lorenz at the Atlantic has been doing some really interesting reporting on Instagram influencers, getting in to a lot more depth than the normal breathy coverage of any new Youth Marketing Trend.
Influencers are interesting to me as they are a pretty good example of one of the new styles of work that are emerging. The basic unit of value - endorsing a product to your fans - is far from new, but almost everything else is in new territory. Unlike with a celebrity endorsement, many of the influencers monetise their taste directly, rather than as a side business to an entertainment or sports career. Influencing has a low barrier to entry (4 digit follower count), but getting big deals requires some real audience building and investment, and some real risk of the landscape changing underneath you.
Brands identify and contract directly with individuals, which open up all sorts of interesting incentives. Up and coming artists are placing peer to peer promotions and it seems likely upcoming influencers them selves are buying cross-promotion the same way. Similarly, influencers are posting up fake sponsored content to build credibility - both a valid response to social signalling being used to evaluate social signalling. While this is likely frustrating to some buyers - particularly traditional brands - they've certainly set up a situation where its important to differentiate:
"Teenagers are more affordable to work with because of their follower count and age," says Christy Oh, an 18-year-old who handles marketing for Doux Lashes, which sells fake eyelashes. "They’re not doing Insta as a full-time thing; they’re just trying to make extra money, so it’s not super expensive to partner with them."
Though it is equally true, I cannot imagine an Uber rep describing their drivers this way - but for an 18 year old in charge of social marketing, its not strange at all. The fake sponcon is also amusing note on regulating new sectors - while disclosing promotional content is now required on social media, there is no standard on presenting something as promotional content when it isn't.