Influencer Marketing Has Evolved (and it will again)

Influencer marketing is a natural extension of celebrity culture. From the early days of Hollywood, people have looked to “stars” for cultural influence — how to dress, how to behave in good society, how to live a luxury lifestyle. This culture of the “star” continued through the 20th century, and even when social media entered the picture, the definition of a “star” was hardly disrupted. But as social media became more mainstream, the idea of cultural influence evolved. More people were given a voice — whether it was through videos on YouTube or just an occasional tweet — there was a shift in power between authority and the people. Brands, governments, and publishers were all forced to listen to real people. It became a two-way conversation.

At the dawn of the social media age, in the early 2000s, there were people early on who identified the channel as a way to make money. Or saw it as a way to express a point of view. These were the first “influencers.” Social media was increasingly a method for becoming famous and making money, and people began to catch on. Bloggers began building brands. Traffic started consolidating on a few key platforms — YouTube, Facebook, and later Instagram. And many factors converged to set the stage for a “perfect storm” of influencers, including increased penetration of smartphone adoption, the downfall of the traditional photography industry, and a new emphasis on millennial personal empowerment.

Over time, the influencer economy began to take over. More and more, it is evident that there are now three categories in the scale of celebrity — actual celebrities, the “internet famous” — bloggers and influencers — and real people. If you think about it, influencers are just like the old Hollywood celebrities who sold soap on the radio — they are using their name to endorse products. Nothing has changed. And we’re celebrating all that is fake. From fake lips to fake boobs, by celebrating the Kylie Jenners of the world we’re setting up a dangerous paradigm for millennials — focusing on standards they simply cannot meet and simply should not want to.

People are beginning to realize the failure of the “influencer” economy. Engagement rates are incredibly low, typically less than 1% of followers, and brands aren’t able to achieve real ROI. At the end of the day, influencers are no better than digital infomercials. Instead of Chuck Norris, brands use the Chiarra Ferrigni. The cracks in the industry are starting to show, as big brands look for more value and more return on this channel, and simply aren’t seeing it.

That’s why at Heartbeat we see the next evolution happening. We need to focus on a social media economy that is more authentic, and also helps brands drive results. Heartbeat focuses on real women as ambassadors, not “influencers,” because real women have real-life influence. We match our 45,000 ambassadors with brands who are trying to reach millennials, and we pay them a small amount to post about brands they already love — content is genuine, and because our ambassadors aren’t “professionals,” their endorsements are real. They don’t have fake followers and they don’t have fake intentions. Our goal is to give real women a voice in marketing every single day.

Kate Edwards