Unfollowing Unfluencers: The Importance of Authenticity in Social Media
by Emily Castellanos
by Emily Castellanos
Like any true Millennial, when I scroll through my Instagram feed, I see memes, pop culture updates, lots of puppies, and of course, influencers. Whether it’s a participant from the Bachelor, a YouTube star, or an entrepreneur turned motivational speaker, their Instagram is a highlight reel making life look glamorous while promoting the must-have products of the moment.
Sometimes, these Instagram stars are encouraging me to buy a weighted blanket, offering inspirational advice, or sharing recipes for a healthy dinner. But every once in a while, I see an influencer who just doesn’t resonate with me. Whether it’s because they’re promoting a workout and meal plan that not even an influencer can sustain; giving a sneak peek into their spotless, all-white living room; or sharing the 12 books they managed to read in October on their overly-edited Instagram feed; something about their unattainable lifestyle makes me want to hit that unfollow button. And this is where we meet the Unfluencer.
While the role of an influencer has evolved since the introduction of social media, from the start, anyone with a few thousand followers on a social media platform can be considered an influencer. Today, the role has created a new subsection of influencers called “Unfluencers.” These are the influencers who lack authenticity and incite an unfollow or even a hate-follow. Unfluencers might be the people promoting “Flat Tummy Tea” like it’s a product they swear by. Their Instagram feed is made up of mostly ads and sponsored content for all products and services, regardless if it is relevant to the followers. The unfluencer is driven mainly by revenue and status. Follower interests are low on their list of priorities.
In the end, this all boils down to inauthenticity; one person’s unfluencer can be another person’s influencer. What may seem authentic to me or what resonates with me, may seem inauthentic to someone else. This is why many people, especially Gen Z, are gravitating towards microinfluencers. Microinfluencers have the ability to focus on a niche subject, allowing them to more easily deliver content that will resonate with their followers. The online social scene is transforming, but it seems like the job title “influencer” is here to stay for a while. In order to climb the not-so-corporate ladder, it’s important for influencers to strike a balance between bringing in revenue and creating an authentic online presence.
Authentic influencers post content that aligns with their brand. But in late 2019, there are many more facets to authenticity, and the degree to which these facets matter may vary between followers. In an industry that is facing seismic changes and is ever-evolving, many influencers struggle to maintain authenticity and stay true to their brand. With that said, what are the keys to authenticity or at least, what resonates with me as an avid Instagram scroller?
To me, an authentic online presence includes:
Heading into the next decade, these qualities will only become more important as brands continue to turn to influencers as a source for advertising and marketing products, especially as Gen Z makes up a larger part of companies’ audiences. But while millennials are more interested in Instagram aesthetic, research shows that Gen Z is grounded by realism and is not as interested in big name influencers they can’t relate to. Instead, the younger generation is turning their attention to microinfluencers, the latest iteration of influencers who have a smaller following and usually a niche market. Meaning, authentic content will become increasingly important as the social sphere continues to evolve and as Gen Z seeks out microinfluencers in an attempt to find Instagram users that resonate with them.
By maintaining authenticity in a growing and unpredictable industry, influencers can also ensure that they are the ones doing the influencing instead of the ones being influenced by brands they would not normally gravitate towards.
Authenticity is the buzzword of the decade, we’re always craving even more genuine, transparent, and honest content. On the influencer side of things, this quality is needed to continue to grow in the industry. Striking a balance is crucial to keep influencers sustainable and to cut out the unfluencers, and so is continuing to evolve with the times. As changes happen, like Instagram’s new hidden likes feature, which received support from one of Instagram’s most-followed influencers, Kim Kardashian, authenticity will only become a more important part of the equation.
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