Sorry, Kim Kardashian. China’s Influencer Fatigue Could Be Headed to the US Next.

October 12, 2018

First, let me state the obvious: social media has changed the way brands and retailers engage with their customers and it has created an effective selling channel for retailers. Influencers have played a huge role in transforming social media from simply a place to showcase family photos into a reliable source of revenue for forward-thinking brands.

But the role of the influencer is changing, and it’s happening in China. And a few years later it will happen in the US too.

Influencers Are Highly Influential…

Why have influencers had so much impact on brand engagement and sales? The fundamental concept is that consumers are influenced and buy from people they trust and admire. Marketing strategists all over the world have jumped on this concept and partnered up with well-known celebrities, industry gurus, athletes, pop culture icons, pets, kids and others to create this important connection between brand and consumer.

Today, brands are focusing on building connections through the more personal micro-influencers. “It is ultimately about trust,” noted Jane Lu, Founder and CEO of ShowPo, an international marketplace that has built a large community of followers. “Influencers that hop too much between brands start to lose that trust and authenticity. Micro-influencers are more niche. They have smaller but more loyal followings, so a lot of brands are focusing on micro-influencers. “

And, so far, it’s been remarkably successful. Here are some interesting facts about influencers:

  • According to a Chinese job survey, more than half of all Chinese respondents under the age of 22 list “influencer” as their most desired profession.
  • Kim Kardashian remains the #1 influencer on Instagram. In a 10-week period this year, she racked up nearly 9 million likes and comments on her sponsored posts.
  • A study by marketing firm Annalect revealed that one-third of Twitter users follow and engage with social media influencers and that nearly 40% have purchased aproduct as a direct result of an influencer’s tweet.
  • Fashion and beauty are the #1 and #2 industries, respectively, that receive the most likes and comments for sponsored Instagram posts.
  • Urban Outfitters is featuring an influencer costume for Halloween this year (above).

In China, Alibaba has seen great success by partnering with influencers who star in livestreamed videos on its marketplace platforms. Zoe Zhang is a former fashion designer and influencer whose weekly livestream on Alibaba’s Taobao Global platform features products from Western brands. About 40,000 shoppers view Zhang’s interactive livestream each week, drawn by her authenticity and the chance to discover new products. Deloitte predicts that livestreaming will drive $4.4 billion in direct revenue in China this year, and that some 456 million Chinese viewers will tune in.

…But Consumers Are Experiencing Influencer Fatigue

Because influencers have proven a profitable investment for most retailers and brands, companies are churning out sponsored content by the bucketful. This leads to social media feeds that are clogged with ads. And as consumers are inundated with content that may appear inauthentic, they become less receptive to it.

In China, this has already begun to happen. On Weibo, China’s second-largest social media platform, individual user activity is declining even though the number of users is growing. The thinking is that influencer overload is simply causing users to be less active.

As the US has lagged several years behind China in so many other shopping trends, such as mobile pay, automated stores and retail-technology integrations, it stands to reason that this trend of “influencer fatigue” will soon surface here in the US. But the good news is that we can see it coming. And there are several key strategies that brands and retailers can put in place now to turn influencer fatigue back into influencer success.

Retailers & Brands Should Consider These Authentic Influencer Strategies

Social platforms aren’t going away, and brands and retailers should continue to deploy a digital strategy that includes influencers as part of their overall marketing plan. Here, again, we can learn from the Chinese consumer. Consider the following:

  • Micro-influencers: Generally defined by 1,000 to 10,000 followers, these micro-influencers charge less (many are happy with free products) and are often exclusive to only one brand. Furthermore, because they start with a small community of followers, they have a better ability to connect on a deeper, more authentic level. And millennials and Gen Zers love authenticity.
  • Instagram takeovers & consumer features: While big celebrities have been known to “take over” an Instagram account, even social media users with only a handful of followers can be beneficial to a brand—because they ooze authenticity and provide a genuine opportunity to cross-promote. Pure Barre, a workout studio with locations around the country, often has their most loyal customers featured in Q&As on their Instagram. Similarly, SoulCycle features empowering quotes from their most loyal riders about how the brand has improved their lives.
  • Personalized content: Millennials and Gen Zers have lofty expectations when it comes to content. Creativity and production quality can help differentiate an influencer from the plethora of others flooding social media.
  • Alternate social networking platforms: While about 78% of influencers used Instagram last year for brand collaborations, other social media platforms may give brands and retailers a clearer lane to gain followers and customers. Smaller social platforms tend to attract people with similar interests, and using these networks can help brands that are targeting particular niches. Smaller social networking platforms to consider include NextdoorElloCatsterDogster, Peanut, Wanelo and Vero.
  • Avoid influencers with fake followers: Brands pay more to influencers who have more followers. Yet in an age when influencers can simply buy likes, follows and views—and users are suspicious about engaging with bots rather than humans—brands and retailers must be certain they are paying for quality exposure. Avoiding influencers with many fake followers and those with low user engagement is critical.

Influencer fatigue is coming. Let’s learn from our friends in China and be prepared. Social networking platforms will continue to represent enormous opportunity, provided brands and retailers adjust to the changing dynamics of influencer marketing.

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