Influencers are a pretty new phenomenon, but they are already facing competition. As we move into the brave new frontier of the metaverse, or Web 3.0, will they evolve or die?
The Metaverse: a New Market
We’ve already given you a quick guide to the rise of meta-commerce, but how will brands advertise in this new sphere?
The best indicator comes from what brands are already doing in the metaverse, mainly on gaming platforms like Roblox and Fortnite. So far, luxury, beauty and fashion retailers like Gucci and Nike have started producing digital products in the form of NFTs, some of which cost more than their physical counterparts.
Take, for example, the Gucci Garden Event. Usually held in Florence, the festival scene was transported to the metaverse via Roblox, reaching an audience of more than 20 million users. The event resulted in the sale of thousands of digitally-rendered handbags, with the more expensive models selling for more than $4,000 in USD, more expensive than a real Gucci handbag!
This may seem like a novelty to us now, but NFTs are expected to account for 10% of these industries’ revenues by 2030.
Influencer Potential in the Metaverse
So we’ve seen what the big brands can do on their own, but what about influencers? Well, they’re just as keen to get a slice of the metaverse action, as stats from YouGov reveal:
“Around 70% of all influencers believe Metaverse will replace social media. 60% of respondents, all social media influencers, already see themselves as creators in virtual worlds. Additionally, 72% of respondents also reported they are considering or are already making money in the Metaverse.” YouGov
And they definitely stand to benefit from the shift, if they manage it properly.
In the current climate, influencers face the challenge of scraping together compensation for the valuable content they produce, while the platforms they produce it on generate big bucks as a result. They constantly have to adapt to changing algorithms to ensure their content is always being seen where users are likely to engage with it. In short, while expectations from platforms are high, returns are low for influencers.
“Networks are social, and their value is only the sum of their parts. They can fracture and fall apart, and they may become entirely worthless.” inc
The metaverse, on the other hand, offers an opportunity for influencers to turn their existing networks into a customer base, transforming their business model into something repeatable using tokenisation and NFTs. In this sense, the metaverse offers a creator-owned evolution of the influencer economy.
“Sponsorship through the purchase of NFTs is something entirely different. It's not selling out because you still have control over the content your audience sees. You can make money for your time and effort, but you retain autonomy.” inc
Going forward, as the metaverse expands and influencers move into it, it’s likely influencers will own at least a portion of the brands they promote. This is because the metaverse economy is based on the principle of individual ownership. Therefore, influencers will be more likely to promote a brand whose values they actually share, rather than whoever pays the best, boosting their genuine reliability and in turn, their value to consumers and brands.
The abilities of influencers will also be expanded beyond the usual sponsored post, story, affiliate link, discount code or paid review. It’s no surprise then, that
“90% of influencers and 72% of social media users support brand sponsorships in virtual world games” Martech Series
One influencer marketing agency sees such potential for influencers in the metaverse that they’ve rebranded as’ Metafluence’, setting their sights on metaverse domination for their influencers.
However, ‘traditional’ influencers still face a new challenger in the race for metaverse domination…
What Are Virtual Influencers?
“Virtual influencers are perfect for the role of first inhabitants of the metaverse” Nick Baklanov, marketing specialist at Hype Auditor, Fashion Network
These digitally rendered humanoid avatars have already proved lucrative on the regular internet, and promise even more in the metaverse. Kitted out with individual looks, personalities, tastes, opinions and passions, these characters are giving human influencers a run for their money when it comes to sponsorship deals.
Here are a few examples of some of the most successful virtual influencers.
If you’re familiar with just one virtual influencer, it’s almost guaranteed to be Lil Miquela. This ‘19-year-old’, ‘half Brazilian’ model/musician has partnered with numerous brands including Chanel and Prada, and rakes in almost $12 million a year. Despite all this, she doesn’t exist.
The virtual influencer market is even bigger in Asia, and Imma is one of the more convincing digitally rendered content creators out there. She’s already making her move into the metaverse, holding an Instagram giveaway of NFTs of her ‘emotions’.
Virtual influencers, dynamic filters and other tools of artificiality have become so common in China that creators decided to render a perfectly version. In an effort to combat unrealistic physical expectations on social media site, Douyin, Angie yawns widely and has ever so slightly crooked teeth. In some representations, she even has the odd pimple or dry skin patch, artfully constructed in an attempt to assure users of her relatability by lending her more ‘reality’.
According to Meta themselves,
“Meta platforms are home to more than 200 VIs (Virtual Influencers), with 30 verified VI accounts hosted on Instagram. These VIs boast huge follower counts, collaborate with some of the world’s biggest brands, fundraise for organizations like the WHO, and champion social causes like Black Lives Matter.” Facebook Business
Virtual Brand Avatars
But even virtual influencers face the threat of a potentially more attractive marketing player in the metaverse…
There’s nothing to stop brands just paying for the creation of their very own virtual representatives, via the same tech that makes virtual influencers. This would grant them full control over the content and activities of said avatar, however, it would still have drawbacks.
They risk losing the ‘genuine’ feel that individual influencers curate, and they wouldn’t have an existing audience to carry over from web 2.0 to web 3.0. Essentially, they’d be starting from scratch, trying to make a customer service chatbot into an influencer.
Virtual brand avatars are already indivisibly tied to the brand that created them, ultimately loyal and controllable, but limited, and their reception remains to be seen.
Ethics and Effectiveness
“With the rise of digital avatars, and indeed, fully digital characters that have evolved into genuine social media influencers in their own right, online platforms now have an obligation to establish clear markers as to what’s real and what’s not, and how such creations can be used in their apps.” Social Media Today
Most virtual influencers are far from completely convincing in appearance. Their comments are flooded with “are you a bot” and “rubbish photoshop” comments. However, they still pose ethical questions around consumer rights. Meta and other platforms are saddled with the responsibility of establishing clear boundaries for virtual influencers and the users exposed to them.
Even where consumers are sure of who is ‘real’ or not, the potential weaknesses of virtual influencers and brand avatars doesn’t end.
Virtual influencers lack the level of trust and authenticity users are used to attributing to ‘real life’ influencers’, limiting their ability to market products like beauty, haircare, food etc, which encompass a sensory experience rather than just a visual one.
If your favourite virtual influencer promotes a new anti-wrinkle cream, for example, her review cannot possibly be honest or representative of a real human experience of that product. A real influencer, however, can physically test a product before deciding to promote it. Granted, that doesn’t always necessarily guarantee full honesty, especially where lucrative sponsorship deals are involved, but it’s better than nothing.
As a result, we are most likely to see existing ‘real’ influencers investing in virtual avatars of themselves for use within the metaverse, but their success will be anchored in the ‘reality’ of the creator as a human entity, capable of physical consumption as well as virtual.
Fully virtual influencers cannot be both consumers and marketers at once, regardless of how ‘relatable’ or ‘imperfect’ they are rendered to be. While they may occupy valuable space in the new metaverse market, we can’t see them totally replacing ‘real-life’ role models any time soon.
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