How Virtual Influencers in 2022 are Taking Over Social Media
Odds are you’ve definitely heard the term “influencer” more over the past few years. But what even is an influencer anyway? As defined by SproutSocial, “influencers are people in a niche or industry with sway over your target audience.” If you go on any social media platform nowadays, you’re more than likely to see or be following an influencer of some type. As social media evolves, its influencers develop with it. Influencers are finding new ways to create content and make money on the various platforms that are currently present. But what if I told you that some of the most popular influencers aren’t even humans at all? This is how virtual influencers in 2022 are taking over social media.
WHAT ARE VIRTUAL INFLUENCERS?
When comparing human influencers to virtual influencers, there is one main difference: virtual influencers aren’t human. Instead, virtual influencers are animated or CGI-based characters. They act just like everyday influencers, except there is a person controlling everything they put online. Think about it as the man behind the curtain, like in the Wizard of Oz.
One of the most popular virtual influencers, Laserbolt, says, “I am basically a human just like you but in digital form. I am outgoing, outspoken, strong-willed, and single.” Virtual influencers allow the creators of these influencers to give these influencers their own unique story and look, whatever may get them more followers. These virtual influencers or “digital humans” post just like a regular human influencer would. Whether checking in at their local coffee shop to sponsored Instagram posts, virtual influencers act just like we would on social media.
WHO’S LEADING THE (DIGITAL) PACK?
Virtual influencers are gaining in popularity each day. There are 30 virtual influencers verified on Instagram. The top five are Ludo Maglu, Lil Miquela, Nobody Sausage, Barbie, and Guggimon. These influencers span multiple areas of content. Some are more comedic accounts, while others act like traditional influencers, taking you more into your everyday life.
In the influencing world, a big following equals a big payout. The increase in popularity of these virtual influencers is getting the attention of brands like Samsung or even Louis Vuitton. Additionally, the creators are making a great deal of money from the popularity of their digital creations. For example, Lil Miquela, with 3 million followers on Instagram, made a reported $11.7 million in 2020. Now, marketing agencies, such as Captiv8 focus solely on virtual influencer partnerships and marketing.
Another advantage of virtual influencers is creating a space in whatever category they want. Since these influencers are digitally crafted, they can be made to look however their creator wants them to. Creators can make them as attractive as possible, and some claim that it gives unrealistic beauty standards a new meaning. This customization allows for good marketing research to come into play. Their creators can see which areas of content are currently trending and create influencers to fit the mold of their follower base perfectly.
Once in their own space, virtual influencers stand out from the crowd. Virtual influencers have a “high glance value,” which means that users on social media platforms are much more likely to distinguish and interact with virtual influencers while scrolling through their feeds. This can create more engagements with the posts, creating more money for these influencers when it comes to brand partnerships. This engagement continues to surpass traditional influencers, with virtual influencers having nearly three times the engagement rate of traditional influencers.
A common interpretation of these virtual influencers is that they are much less controversial than their human counterparts. Everything that a virtual influencer puts on the internet is carefully placed together by the person or team that creates them. Mistakes are easily corrected with a virtual influencer, which can’t be said for human influencers. Human influencers have a past; they may cause controversy or problems when they hit internet stardom. On the other hand, virtual influencers have no real history; they were just created and put online for the world to see.
Traditionally, influencers gain popularity by being relatable through their content. Influencers, such as Emma Chamberlain, gained massive social media followings by being extremely relatable in their content. Whether not wanting to go to school or feeling too lazy to do mundane tasks, Chamberlain resonated with her following. She is an excellent example of how people love influencers who are “just like us.” However, this is where a downside of virtual influencers comes in. No matter how much these virtual influencers engage with their audience, they will never have the same level of reliability as your traditional, human influencer. Virtual influencers lack a sense of authenticity that most influencers use to attract and retain an internet following.
As stated previously, virtual influencers have a very calculated and controlled internet presence. Especially in brand partnerships, this can be an issue, which raises a major possibility for its followers, primarily younger users, to be easily influenced or manipulated by their content, with over 11% of followers ages 13-17. Potential questions may also arise in the person running the virtual influencers’ accounts. For example, since virtual influencers can be created to fit any particular race or gender, would it be an ethical issue if someone runs an account of a virtual influencer of a different race?
HOW PEOPLE ARE REACTING
Reactions from the public are confused yet interested. The consensus seems to be that there is a major need for improvement on both the virtual and human sides of the influencer industry. One Twitter user says: “virtual influencers are coming but brands, please figure out human influencers first.” Another user says: I need to stop being human.
The Influencer Marketing Factory conducted a study to see how the public reacts to virtual influencers on social media. The findings were fascinating, with 58% of respondents following at least one virtual influencer. In addition, the possible lack of trust mentioned earlier can be seen in the results of this study, with 56% of respondents trusting virtual influencers when trying to promote a product.
UTILIZE INFLUENCERS FOR YOUR COMPANY’S SOCIAL MEDIA
Want to utilize human or virtual influencers for your company’s social media strategy? Let the social media team at Online Optimism help your company advertise on platforms like TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, or others. Contact us today to see how we can grow your company’s social media presence.