Will the real influencer please stand up?
Just in time for spooky season, Meta has rolled out what they’re calling “AI Personas.” To fuel the influencer marketing fire, these artificial intelligence lookalikes take on the appearance of well-known celebrities but act like run-of-the-mill influencers, sharing photos and products from their already-established social media accounts.
Take Kendall Jenner, for example. Kendall has 294 million Instagram followers—amassing huge influencing power and clout. Kendall’s AI Persona, “Billie,” is quickly gaining followers with 190K in less than a month. Billie is completely managed by Meta but uses Kendall’s likeness to…well… it’s not quite clear yet.
Cecily Mauran, a Tech Reporter at Mashable, interacted with Billie and found the interaction to be pretty bizarre. “The interactions, Mauran pointed out, are ‘deeply unsettling’ because the personas are an attempt to humanize a chatbot and keep you logged on as long as possible. Basically, it’s trying to be a more engaging ChatGPT via celebrity faces.”
It seems as though, in their attempt to humanize AI, Meta has landed us somewhere in the Uncanny Valley. But this got us thinking, even though AI Personas seem to max out the creep-o-meter, what does the future of influencer marketing look like and what role will AI play?
What is Influencer Marketing?
To understand where influencer marketing is going, we have to understand where it is today and why it matters.
In what’s predicted to be an over $21B market this year, influencer marketing is when brands pay influencers—usually those with substantial, highly engaged social media followers—to promote their products or services.
“But,” as McKinsey puts it, “influencer marketing and celebrity endorsements are not quite the same thing. Celebrity endorsements typically involve a company making a huge investment in someone, but it’s hard to specify the exact return on that investment. With influencer marketing, it’s easier to figure out the ROI because companies can closely monitor likes, shares, online conversations, and so forth.” With many influencer platforms, for example, brands can see a full suite of analytics on an influencer’s account for specific posts.
Not only can brands more easily determine return on investment with influencers than they can with celebrity endorsements, but the definition of “celebrity” itself has changed as the line between celebrity and popularity blurred. When someone has a sizable social following, they start to gain fame and opportunities, making them a celebrity in their own right.
Nano to Mega Influencers
While influencers with a massive following (mega influencers) are obviously going to get brands’ attention, influencer marketing has started to evolve. Some influencers have a smaller number of followers but can still make a big impact for brands.
McKinsey defines influencer tiers as the following:
- Nano influencers have fewer than 10,000 followers.
- Micro influencers have from 10,000 to 50,000.
- Medium influencers have from 50,000 to 100,000.
- Macro influencers have more than 500,000.
- Mega influencers breathe rarified air: they have over one million followers.
While the reach or impressions may be smaller for some of these influencers, they generally are devoted to a niche topic and therefore have followers who are super interested in products and services related to that topic—garnering a high engagement rate. Plus, with a smaller circle of followers, it’s easier for these influencers to create relationships with their followers, which provides ample opportunity for user-generated content (UGC).
For example, if there’s a mom micro influencer with 10K followers who has a deal with a snack brand, the impact could be powerful because the interests of her followers align directly with the product.
While Meta is aiming to create a new category of influencers with AI personas, AI can play more of a role in influencer marketing than just impersonating celebrities.
AI in Influencer Marketing
While Meta took a more literal approach and generated new influencers, AI can be used to help brands find influencers or create campaigns. In fact, according to The State of Influencer Marketing 2023: Benchmark Report, “more than 60% [of respondents] plan to use AI or ML in their influencer campaigns.”
One particularly interesting example of AI in influencer marketing is helping to fight fraud. With new artificial personas being built, you may be thinking AI is contributing to fraud—but it’s actually the opposite. Because brands rely on influencers having genuine followers (not bots), they need to be sure the influencers they’re building deals with are legit.
According to Influencer Marketing Hub, “AI intelligence tools help you avoid influencer fraud by deep diving into an influencer’s profile and noticing any signs of fraud. They go beyond the superficial stats of followers and recent content and can detect sudden massive spikes in followers, indicating that those could be purchased.”
AI can protect brands from signing deals with fraudulent influencers, help understand which topics to focus on, and even help in negotiations when it comes to paying influencers.
The Future Isn’t All Creepy
So, there’s good news after all. While Meta’s AI Personas are somewhat off-putting, AI doesn’t always need to be a quasi-human to make an impact. The future of influencer marketing is certainly going to continue to evolve but AI will likely play a pivotal role in that evolution. Whether it’s helping to develop scripts, understanding campaign performance, or even finding the right influencer to begin with, there are endless ways AI can help brands improve their influencer marketing programs—without “your sis Billie.”
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