Influencers are the televangelists of capitalism. Some preach about the miraculous properties of a serum; Others recommend, with the conviction of the enlightened, the benefits of a lip gloss. They shower praise on the chosen goods, urging their viewers to buy. “Some exaggerate their reactions: everything is great and awesome. And the truth is that no product makes you feel like that, not even a good dessert makes you feel like that,” remarks Valeria Fride, 23, a Venezuelan communications student based in Chicago.
A few months ago, Fride uploaded a video to her TikTok channel. “Let me deinfluence you, beauty edition,” she begins, before proceeding to make a series of honest reviews, describing the benefits of some products and unabashedly criticizing others. Among its hashtags of hers, she wrote #deinfluencing. Now, the videos represented by that term have amassed almost 500 million views — and that is just TikTok.
Instagram is the visual social network par excellence, a window to an aspirational and consumerist world. TikTok, on the other hand, is a closer ecosystem, where the spoken word holds more importance and authenticity and humor are essential. This is why it is understandable that an antagonist has emerged in response to the Instagram influencer: the TikTok deinfluencer.
“I don’t consider myself either an influencer or a deinfluencer,” says Fride, who mainly uploads content about makeup and beauty. “In fact, I don’t think influencers exist, but rather that the people who upload these kinds of videos are part of the trend.” TikTok trends are topics of conversation grouped under hashtags, and they are much more important on this network than they ever were on Instagram. Here, who the user follows does not matter much, because the videos they see will be chosen by the app’s algorithm, based on their preferences and tastes. This makes the figure of the influencer lose relevance — and explains why, even though Fride has 16,500 followers, her honest reviews of her get approximately 200,000 views.
When an endless stream of content dilutes the videos of the influencers, sponsored posts lose their power — especially in a social network where what goes viral is unpredictable.
Instagram rewards showy (and sponsored) posts. Nearly all marketers surveyed by Shopify in 2021 — a whopping 97% — considered this their most important channel for influencer marketing. The platform is designed with them in mind and the algorithm boosts their reach, helping brands build huge audiences. This has turned Instagram into a $43.2 billion ad revenue machine (according to Insider Intelligence). However, what once guaranteed its success could mark its failure. The figure of the influencer is in clear decline, and the posts that years ago made viewers dream, today are perceived as crass advertisements.
Meanwhile, TikTok has refined its algorithm to retain users — not to sell them lotions. It does not make specific accounts viral, but interesting content, pushing creators to be more honest and rendering influencers unimportant. This is what Fride means when she says that deinfluencing videos are uploaded by anonymous people. Their voices are more heard on TikTok and their reviews seem more authentic, opening up space for criticism. After many tiring years of endless sponsored posts, these new contents have been warmly welcomed.
This whole trend may be just a fad, but Fride believes that even when the #deinfluencing hashtag fades away, the appetite for authenticity will remain. “This is not a phenomenon, it’s the norm, because people are more aware. They know that brands pay a lot of money to have their products promoted, and people don’t want to throw away their hard-earned money, especially with inflation and the current state of affairs.”
However, despite the strength of this new figure, things need to be seen in context. According to a report by Business Insider, influencer marketing will generate approximately $18 billion in global advertising revenue in 2023. It is still good business; one that is built on closeness and trust. “Influencers created the illusion that they are some kind of friend to their followers,” analyst Ole Nymoen, co-author of the book Influencer: Die Ideologie der Werbekörper (or Influencers: The ideology of advertising bodies). “Lots of fans trust them, because they seem like normal people. And they use this trust to sell products.”
Nymoen recognizes a bulletproof resilience in influencers; he does not believe that the deinfluencer phenomenon poses a threat. “There are dozens of trends every week, and this is just one,” he says. TikTok is indeed a buzz with trends, often even contradictory ones. In the midst of this tangle of ideas, it is not easy to know the importance of one until it has become settled — especially if it contradicts the one element that has remained unchanged from the very beginning of social networks. In fact, Nymoen believes, what is more likely to happen is that the influencers will end up appropriating this idea. “It’s not a trend that will lead to less consumerism or a greater sustainability, I’m afraid,” he predicts. “Many of the posts from deinfluencers are presenting an alternative purchase to get people to buy another product.”
One quick look at the hashtag is enough to see that Nymoen is right. However, along with the alternatives and the good reviews, there are also criticisms, and the balance between them seems to add a certain layer of honesty. It could be a new strategy to improve the damaged image of the influencers and gain some credibility. Perhaps the democratization of virality is giving a voice to people who do not intend to make a living recommending beauty products, but do want to share some good advice. In any case, consumerism seems to be an inherent element of social media. Perhaps the idea, at this point, is not so much to consume less, but to consume better.
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