The growth of the influencer industry has been nothing short of meteoric: having only hit its stride in the last few years, influencer marketing is set to become a $15 billion business by 2022. The credibility of the industry has experienced a recent uplift, with more brands than ever proving ready to put money behind influencer marketing strategies. At the same time, influencer fraud is on the rise. Many users are guilty of artificially inflating the reach of their accounts, or even promoting entirely false personal narratives. As a result, consumers are more discerning and slower to trust the influencers in their social media feeds.
In Australia, PR agency The Atticism decided to drop influencer campaigns altogether after finding that the industry was wasting clients’ money. Likes and followers, Atticism founder and director Renae Smith explained, set the wrong goalposts.
“I was working with the largest toy importer in Australia and they were throwing so much money at us for doing [social media work],” she said, “Even though I was ticking all the boxes in terms of numbers, I thought, ‘This is such a waste of money’”.
According to Smith, influencers in the industry were liking and commenting on each other’s posts in a bid to boost their respective performance. At the same time, the staff at Atticism were spending more time on social media rather than traditional PR, raising productivity concerns.
At the same time, an oversaturated market and the never-ending hustle of life as an influencer has turned many away from the industry for good. Daniel Volland is one such example, leaving his job as an optometrist to become an influencer in 2014. However, one year and two sponsored photography road trips later, he had become disillusioned with the life of an underemployed freelance creative in Los Angeles.
“A big component for me was the financial stress – not being able to plan a future,” he told the BBC. The Instagram platform too, he says, had changed toward a more commercialized platform that prioritized celebrities and advertisers: “what’s glorified on Instagram now is drastically different from what was glorified on Instagram in 2012.”
For those still living life as influencers, the industry can take a huge toll psychologically. Just ask Brianna Madia, who documents her life as a “desert dweller” in a van with her husband and two dogs. While the aesthetics of her Instagram are a source of envy to countless users, Media says she’s tired of catering to “285,000 bosses.”
“It’s one of the most disturbing things to me that we’ve deemed it acceptable for anyone in the public eye to be torn down,” she writes, “As if we’re somehow less human than your next-door neighbor or your sister or your friend.”
As influencer marketing enters its next phase of maturity, it’s not easy to predict the future of this already-turbulent industry. It’s possible, then, that the combination of skepticism from PR pros and consumers and the demands placed on influencers themselves are the writing on the wall for the influencer realm.
Ronn Torossian is the CEO and Founder of 5W Public Relations. 5W PR is a leading digital pr and influencer marketing agency.