Social Influencers: Dot Com Déjà vu?

By Mary Knight, Partner/Executive Creative Director

Beautiful Instagram ‘nobodies’ Jack Morris and Lauren Bullen earn six figures by traveling the world, staying in exotic places and posting to their 3.4 million followers. In fact, even though they won’t do a post for less than $3,000, they’ve been told their prices are ‘so low’.

Not a bad way to make a very good living.  But it’s serious business that balances follower size, engagement, quality of content and of course demographics.

For years, internet-savvy celebrities have increased both their fame and followers by the tens of millions through carefully curated content. Beyoncé garnered 7.8 million likes in less than 24 hours when she announced her pregnancy on Instagram. Chrissy Teigen is an often-quoted Tweeter with over 5 million followers. Social Media Queen Kim Kardashian West has 99.1 million Instagram followers. Her younger sister Kendall Jenner has 79.8 million. Their endorsement of a product or brand can mean millions for a business.

Oh, and speaking of Kendall (Pepsi controversy aside) I’m guessing you’ve heard about the latest internet sensation: the Fyre Festival. Billed as ‘once-in-a-lifetime musical experience,’ the Fyre Festival was promoted by a slew of celeb influencers, including pushes by Jenner, Bella Hadid and other beautiful people across their social channels. The festival promised luxury accommodations, gourmet food, great musical performers and a social media opportunity the likes of Coachella. Instead, luxury accommodations were disaster relief tents. Gourmet food consisted of two pieces of white bread and a slice of cheese. Luggage was unceremoniously dumped from a shipping container onto the beach. All for only 5K-250K per ticket, as reported by Rolling Stone.

Yes, the organizers are going to get sued through their teeth. But there may be longer-term damage. Because now there’s a dent in the shiny, glossy influencer veneer. By slapping their names on something that they didn’t really understand, they endorsed a con. A failure. Just how deep the damage will go, and how much the value of influencers will dwindle, has yet to be determined.

Not that I’m saying ‘told you so’ but this is starting to remind me of another too-good-to-be-true time: the Dot Com Boom, then Bust. In a rush to get their names out prior to IPO, dot coms were throwing ridiculous money at ad agencies to get themselves noticed. The more outrageous, the better. They all had a similar objective: drive name recognition at all costs: by shooting gerbils out of cannons, tattooing toddler’s foreheads, you name it. One company, Outpost.com is long gone. But the entire ad industry has been paying ever since. Clients who once considered agencies trusted partners got burned by the attitude “if you don’t buy this idea I’ll go sell it to a dot com down the street.” Trust was lost.

Years later, agencies that continued to focus (or refocused) on creative solutions to marketing problems are thriving. Wish I could jump ahead a few more years to see what a successful social influencer morphs into. The good ones will prevail. But my prediction is, the rules of engagement, and the brands influencers are willing to take on, will change forever.