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Influencer Marketing: Dead or Alive?

Reports on the future of influencer marketing offer a bleak window into the fashion industry as a whole since the Coronavirus outbreak: marked by uncertainty, reservation and, in some cases, cutbacks. For years now, there have been questions raised about the value of influencer marketing as a savvy investment for fashion brands, with many a click-bait headline lamenting ‘Is this the death of the influencer?’

This is not the first time that brands commitment to influencer spending has been shaken. All the way back in 2016 there was outcry among both marketers and influencers when Instagram changed its algorithm from a purely chronological format to create feeds based on engagement and relevancy, thereby making it harder to guarantee users would see branded content. There was the infamous Fyre Festival fiasco which heavily relied on influencer marketing, and as a result seriously undermined the credibility of Instagram stars and the transparency of their endorsements. And of course, more recently Instagram trialled removing the ‘like’ function in order to reduced social pressures which brought further shockwaves.

And yet, the influencer marketing industry was estimated at around $6.5bn last year, suggesting that it is far more resilient than observers had imagined.

The recent pandemic brought with it a fresh wave of concern for the profitability of influencers in marketing strategies, not helped by the backlash against certain social media figures whose content was deemed insensitive, if not outrageous. In the context of the mounting death toll and crumbling economies, audiences were unimpressed by those who took to digital channels to display their lavish lifestyles - Arielle Charnas’ recent trip to the Hamptons is one she won’t forget in a hurry.

It's also worth noting that the tactics of marketers and the influencers they engage with are directly affected by the health crisis. Influencers make their money by event appearances, sponsored trips, paid product promotion and social campaigns, as well as other brand awareness activities. But with new restrictions on travel, decreasing fashion sales and an industry-wide reluctance to budget for marketing, the role of the influencer is squarely in the firing line.

However, influencers should not hang up their Gucci bags and Chanel shoes just yet. These individuals occupy a unique space between the worlds of marketing and digital. And while the former is being considered an unnecessary expense, there is no doubt the realm of digital is flourishing. Social media platforms have reported significantly higher engagement figures since global lockdowns have been enforced, meaning there is a captive audience just waiting for some decent content. The survivors will be those who adapt, diversify and redirect in order to stay relevant.

In many ways, the recent health crisis has only deepened an existing trend. Over the last few years there has been a noticeable shift in public opinion toward greater transparency and authenticity. As a result of the growing socioeconomic inequality expected from the current pandemic, audiences will feel increasingly alienated by content which is blatantly staged for commercial gain.

Caroline Daur is an excellent case in point. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, Daur has evolved from glamorous street-style shots to captivating her followers with home yoga routines, baking recipes and TikTok videos. The move resulted in her achieving an impressive 2.4 million followers this week. This exemplifies another trend accelerated in recent months: the need for resourcefulness. As digital environments have become oversaturated and fiercely competitive, influencers have already felt pressured to get more creative. With traditional strategies rapidly appearing outdated, there is even greater demand on the skillset of an influencer.

Theorist Agnes Rocomora has previously studied blogging in light of Bourdieu’s field theory, which in brief states that fashion is comparable to a ‘game’ in which players must use their assets to their advantage, whether that’s financial capital, social networking or just good taste in clothes. The world of influencing is no different. Now, it’s essential for influencers to delve deeper into their bag of tricks and come up with something a bit fresher than last year’s holiday snaps if they want to hold onto brand deals.

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