De-influencing is the new trend that has influencers scrambling

Is de-influencing really about putting a stop to overconsumption or is it a new way to establish trust among followers? — Image by Freepik

Times are tough for influencers, with some being investigated for their participation in scams and others being scrutinised for various wrongdoings. And that’s not all. Over on TikTok, we’re seeing a plethora of videos encouraging consumers to think twice before buying certain influencer-recommended products. Is this the new era of the de-influencer?

Are the days of influencers telling us what to buy, what to wear, what to watch and who to follow coming to an end? Since the beginning of the year, the TikTok community, and more particularly Generation Z, has been indicating that they’re fed up with influencers, a communal sentiment that has given rise to the hashtag “de-influencing”.

This term currently totals more than 150 million views on the platform. It’s proving particularly popular in the beauty and lifestyle communities, where it reportedly got its start.

Influencers are known to have great sway on the buying decisions of their community of followers. According to a 2020 Kantar study relayed by Marketing Dive, more than a quarter of the general population has made a purchase based on a recommendation from an influencer – a rate that rises to 44% for Gen Z.

But lately their power seems to be under threat. Their followers are now more aware of influencers’ marketing strategies. Better informed, they are becoming increasingly vocal about taking steps to no longer be duped.

A new wave of videos on TikTok criticise influencers. These videos take the form of content creators, or “ordinary users”, who set out to reveal the truth about the products that influencers want us to buy. They urge users to carefully consider their purchases and even to refrain from buying and save their money.

Their aim is to help other users not fall for a scam or even an over-hyped product that just doesn’t live up to the attention. These videos have given rise to the term “de-influence”.

Tackling compulsive shopping

In a series of videos, TikToker Michelleskildelsky, a self-described former compulsive shopper, lists some of the “useless” products that influencers recommend acquiring: Apple AirPods Max, 25 different perfumes, Ugg slippers, a multitude of beauty products... Her videos have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

In the comments, some users suggest cheaper alternatives, while others recognise that they have been guilty of falling for such unnecessary purchases. And there are many videos in this vein. Some people even make a project out of buying products recommended by influencers and setting out to critique them and deconstruct their lack of utility, no holding back.

For Kahlea Nicole Wade, a brand collaboration coach and content creator, de-influencing is about trust and reclaiming their power, especially for Gen Z, she told Today.

And indeed in certain recent well-publicised cases, some influencers have been called out for being untrustworthy – such as the “MascaraGate” incident involving an influencer being accused of wearing false eyelashes while promoting the virtues of a mascara from L’Oreal.

‘We’re not our followers’ parents’

In response to such critiques, some influencers are calling for everyone to take responsibility for themselves and their purchases. France-based Coline, who counts nearly 400,000 followers on her Instagram page, is among them.

“At what point did we (influencers) take social network users for idiots, telling them ‘do this’, ‘don’t do this’?,” she posits in a dumbfounded tone in one of her recent videos. She continues by arguing that followers are all responsible for their own purchasing decisions and that influencers are “strangers” who recommend products, so people need to make up their own minds and take their own needs and tastes into account when buying something.

She also decries a lack of guidance and responsibility taken by parents of teens. “Teenagers who have social networks have parents – that’s not our area of responsibility either.” She urges her fellow influencers to emphasise free will in their communities instead of dictating purchases. “As influencers, we owe you our followers respect, transparency, and honesty,” she says.

So is de-influencing the new influencing?

Indeed the subject of free will is key here, because by reproaching influencers for pushing their followers to overconsume, many of these “de-influencers” are also essentially telling other users what to do – which also constitutes a method of exerting influence.

Some detractors of this new trend on TikTok point out that not all the messages are necessarily aimed at reducing users’ consumption generally. Some de-influencers criticise over-hyped products and encourage their followers to buy cheaper ones, as in one video from @alyssastephanie.

In the comments, one viewer notes: “it’s not really de-influencing, is it, if you just switch to other product recommendations?,” to which the creator of the video has simply replied “Tru”.

So while some are calling it an anticapitalist trend, could de-influencing actually be a new form of influence that does take into account the concerns of Internet users, such as inflation, sustainability and ecology, in order to gain or keep their trust? – AFP Relaxnews

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