The Rise of Digital Influencer Marketing

Look closely at this photo. Do you notice anything amiss?

Can you tell that this model is not a real life person? From afar, one might even say that she looks just like any other human being. However, after looking closely at this photo, the unusual perfection of her features might make you question and wonder who or what she really is.

She is none other than Miquela, part of a new breed of what we might call “digital” influencers. For the uninitiated, digital influencers are not real human beings. They are digital images created by individuals in the likeness of humans, and have been used by humans to promote products and services.

If you’re wondering about the efficacy of collaborating with influencers like Miquela, we don’t blame you. After all, one of the biggest draws of influencer marketing is the authenticity of the influencers promoting the product. These influencers are digitally created and hence “fake” or inauthentic, so what incentive would there be to look at them and what they are promoting? This is where we are wrong.

The Digital Influencer’s Surprising Metrics

Let us take a look at the audience growth and image engagement rate of two digital influencers, @lilmiquela and @shudu.gram. Audience growth is a representation of how much an influencer is able to garner the interest of a new audience while image engagement rate is a measure of how much the influencer is able to retain their current audience’s interest in their posts.

@lilmiquela has an audience growth of 3.49% and an image engagement rate of 8.57%. These are both very high values for an influencer who has an audience of 1.2 million followers.

@shudu.gram has an audience growth of 8.65% and an image engagement rate of 12.60%. Similarly, these are not values to be sniffed at for an account that already has 123K followers.

To illustrate exactly how good these rates of audience growth and image engagement are, let us take a look at 2 real life influencers who have a similar number of followers, Niecy Nash and Xiomara Jennings.

Using the demographics of @lilmiquela and inputting them into Popular Chip’s search engine, we found a real life influencer, Niecy Nash. She has a 1.46% audience growth and an image engagement rate of 1.38%.

Using the exact demographics of shudu.gram and inputting them into Popular Chip’s search engine, we found a real life influencer, Xiomara Jennings. She has a 0% audience growth and an image engagement rate of 0.92%.

Looking at these numbers, we can see that digital influencers in fact have a greater social presence than real life influencers, as they have an even higher audience growth and image engagement rate percentage. This could go some ways in explaining why it is that digital influencers receive sponsorships from brands. You can see some examples of collaborations between digital influencers and brands below.

Why Digital Influencers?

Other than a high engagement rate and soaring audience growth, are there other reasons digital influencers are on the rise? Certainly. For one, digital influencers, not being real human beings, are subject to the control of their creators or the brands that have sponsored them. In other words, brands who use digital influencers do not have to face issues that they may face with real life influencers – for example, real life influencers may be unwilling to take or post certain photographs, or are uncomfortable with acceding to some of the requests that brands may have. In certain cases, brands may only realise that the influencer cannot speak well live after having hired them. These are problems that brands would not face with digital influencers.

Furthermore, brands working with digital influencers will not have to worry about these influencers expressing opinions that are contrary to their brand image. In 2017, Disney’s Maker Studios severed its ties with YouTuber PewDiePie for several of his videos, which contained anti-Semitic sentiments. This was a reminder that brands need to look closely at and constantly evaluate and re-evaluate the values of the content creator they are intending to work with or are working with at any point. However, if brands use digital influencers, these digital influencers can be tailored to meet the needs of brands, and they need not worry about issues with brand image.

So Why Doesn’t Everyone Use Them?

If there are so many benefits to using digital influencers, why haven’t all brands jumped onto the bandwagon yet? Are they just slow to join in the game? Not quite.

As some would say, influencer marketing is word-of-mouth marketing on crack. But word-of-mouth marketing assumes that there are similarities between the individual promoting the product and the brand’s potential customers. Since digital influencers are essentially images on a screen, instead of real-life human beings, there is less relevance when using digital influencers as compared to working with real life influencers who can actually promote for brands in ways that can make the audience feel that it is is personally relatable to them. Furthermore, the audience might be biased against digital influencers and think that the items they are promoting are photoshopped.

All in all, digital influencers are getting more recognition by brands due to the advantages of using a digital influencer as compared to collaborating with a real life influencer. Whether you find it scary or intriguing, there is no denying that these virtual characters are playing larger parts in our everyday lives. This is what is shaping our future and as brands and individuals, we’ve gotta learn to adapt, or get left behind.


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