The Rise and Fall of the Influencer Phenomenon

The consolidation of prosumption and the growth of social media allowed the emergence of the cultural phenomenon of Influencers: people who, due to the number of followers in the networks and their ability to impact their audiences, monetize publications and content, reaching a lucrative business model, which, although it has been consolidated globally, several studies and expert analysis show that the phenomenon could be going through a deep crisis.

What is the Present and Future of Influencers?

By: Gabriel E. Levy B.

Influencers are nothing more than people who, due to their ability to be popular, become digital references within a community, by creating content that impacts a market segment, which massively consumes their messages, triggering a cultural effect with an impact that has transcended the social, political, marketing and advertising fields [1].

“Influencers are people who have a certain credibility on a topic. They can popularize a business and promote its online visibility.” Economipedia

For Elvis Santos, CEO of European advertising agency Shackleton Buzz&Press, the influencer phenomenon breaks with the traditional rules of communication:

“Advertising discourse has historically been based on interlocution, but we are in a time when you have to stop interrupting people with ads; you have to interest them.” Elvis Santos

The internet portal:, specialized in the analysis of influencers, considers that digital media helped to boost the phenomenon. However, they claim that it was born much earlier with traditional media:

“Although we currently relate influencer marketing with new technologies, the popular influencers -coming from YouTube, Instagram, etc.- are heirs of a marketing technique that was already used years ago to spread knowledge about brands and influence consumers through famous people.

It is possible to affirm that, indeed, what has changed is the type of influencer due to the change of trends and media uses, but influencer marketing, still has something in common with its antecedents: the fact of using recommendations from well-known people…” [2]

Nowadays, influencers mainly make use of the so-called social media (Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, etc.), platforms designed for horizontal content exchange, where the user can democratically play the dual role of creator and consumer, i.e. in the words of Alvin Toffler: Prosumers.

In practical terms, the influencer is that type of prosumer who stands out among the other users of these social media and platforms, achieving some kind of recognition among a significant proportion of the other prosumers.
From the formal point of view, that is, if we analyze the format and even the discursive dynamics, influencers have significantly transformed mass communication, bringing a fresh air, much closer, every day and manageable.

Classifying the Universe of Influencers

Although the influencer phenomenon is usually analyzed as a whole, in reality there are many subgroups and subtypes of influencers within this community.

“From brand ambassadors, sponsored posts, recipients of products by the brand, guest posts, interviewees, discount codes (and whose followers can access by customizing the brand and the influencer, and common in promotion of food and technology products) and social events. The colloquially “exchange” is also a variant by which influencers promote their products (for example, an influencer receives some shoes from a brand for her use, whose only condition demands the publication in the social media, identifying the brand and its benefits). Analysis by Juan Ignacio Guillán [3].

Additionally, it is important to recognize that the same influencer can assume multiple roles at different times, allowing them to move spontaneously through the multiple underworlds of this social universe.

According to the Argentine Chamber of Advertisers (“CAA”) influencers are classified according to the number of followers into:

Nano Influencer: between 3,286 and 8,611 followers;
Micro Influencer: between 8,611 and 96,111 followers;
Influencer: between 96,111 and 575,000 followers;
Celebrities: with more than 575,000 followers.

Breaking the Myth of Communicative Asepsis

As we analyzed in a previous article [4], influencers have broken the myth of the communicative asepsis imposed by traditional media in marketing matters and have significantly broadened the spectrum of topics and contents, generating a thematic offer never seen before and substantially widening the communication spectrum.

This does not represent the defeat of the traditional media, or even less their extinction, since each media structure has consolidated differentiated communicative functions. In the end, the information spectrum, the offer of contents and the communicational dimensions have simply been extended [5].

Despite the above and from a sociological perspective, it is important to recognize that the influencer did not emerge as a countercultural expression [6], but rather as a new generation that found the opportunity to interact in social media, in what we could call a new extension of “mass culture”.

In most cases, the communicational value of these so-called influencers does not lie in the complexity, originality or depth of their message, but in the extended propagation of the discourse previously mass-produced by the cultural industries.

In fact, if we analyze the topics covered by the biggest influencers on Instagram in Spanish, published in a recent report by Forbes magazine [7], we can see that they deal with everyday topics such as fashion and music, or even frivolous ones, such as absurd challenges, jokes and criticisms of other influencers or personalities.

The Demystification of the Digital Influencer, Heir to Mass Culture

It is common for the concept of influencer to be associated with the figure of a youtuber or instagramer, who is dedicated to the promotion, disguised or not, of mass consumption products, while interpreting a discourse lacking in depth that makes an apology for “superficiality”.

This phenomenon has spread globally and is most likely the result of the digital evolution of the decadence of many manifestations of the so-called “mass culture”.

Although in its beginnings this type of digital influencer seemed to be the new “goose that lays the golden eggs” of advertising, seducing agencies and their generally snobbish and frivolous managers, over time the commercial effectiveness deflated, and even in many cases, it became a boomerang effect for many brands, which ended up disappointed with the digital advertising bubble, as we analyzed in 2018 in the article “The Crisis of Internet Advertising”[8].

The Bigger They Come, The Harder They Fall
They rose like palm trees and now they fall like coconuts.

The annual report: “Influencer Marketing, created by the agency Human to Human (H2H)” [9], presented in 2020, analyzed the investment of some Spanish companies in Influencers, concluding that of the 35 million euros invested by these companies in campaigns with influencers, 12 million did not generate any return for the brands, and that one in every four followers that an influencer has in this country, turned out to be a fake profile, and one in every five “likes” was bought by the influencers themselves.
Similarly, the study concluded that, out of all the brands analyzed in the report, only 21% stated that they had obtained very positive results after investing in influencers.

For Luis Díaz, CEO of the agency H2H, in an article published last year in La Voz de Galicia, although the phenomenon is going through a crisis, influencers continue to provide value: “It is true that the credibility of influencers has gone down, although it cannot be said that it has been lost”, since he considers that companies still trust some of the influencers and believes that the problem lies in the fact that they are detached from the target audience they are addressing because the brand does not choose the prescriber well, and the influencer accepts without giving it much thought:

“It would be the case of a fashion instagramer who promotes a health insurance, this does not interest her followers and distances them from the reason they started following her: her looks.”. Luis Díaz, CEO of the agency H2H [10].

Turning Crisis into Opportunities

In 2019, the Colombian journalist Linda Patiño, published the book: “What the hell do influencers do?” [11], in which she assures that “the phenomenon of influence will remain, but the work of influencers will be transformed”, stating that the influencer does not necessarily change behaviors, but “represents a part of what we think and believe, and therein lies the danger of digital bubbles”. She refers to the fact that people do not follow influencers who think differently, but only those with the same opinion, ideology or lifestyle.

“The School of Influencers to train young people to transmit positive influences [12]” of UNICEF in Alliance with TIGOUNE and EAFIT University [13], found in a recently conducted study, that only in Colombia 41% of children and young people spend between 3 and 5 hours consuming content produced by the so-called influencers. Of these, 35% established contact with unknown people and about 50% of adolescents between 15 and 16 years of age, have received sexually explicit content.

“Another shocking fact of the study is that the use of software that controls the time on the Internet and content blockers do not reduce the risks. This tells us that it is more important and necessary to work on the empowerment of the people who accompany children and adolescents in the use of the Internet, which undoubtedly reduces risks and increases opportunities” [14].

In this regard, Marcelo Cataldo, who is CEO of TigoUne, in Colombia and who leads this initiative, states that:
“When the great global influencers, such as Logan Paul or PewDiePie increase their fan base every time they publish rude, racist and xenophobic content, or when the new generations of a country invest a third of their day in following the anecdotes of Daneidy Barrera (“Epa Colombia”), there are things to review”. Marcelo Cataldo, CEO of TigoUne

Necessary but complex regulation

One of the major difficulties that exist globally to regulate the phenomenon of influencers is that the “Right to Freedom of Expression” and the “Principle NETWORK Neutrality” are involved, which limit the scope of any control action or definition of rules of the game by governments.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the United Kingdom, and the General Advertising Law in Spain and the Superintendence of Industry and Commerce in Colombia are some of the regulatory bodies and initiatives that have so far been issued on the subject, which in practically all cases is limited to the requirement or suggestion that the advertising or paid content be clearly identified as such, i.e. that the influencer informs the audience that it has received payment for the content it is presenting.
In conclusion, the influencer phenomenon has been significantly boosted in recent years, thanks to the exponential growth of social media, allowing millions of people around the world to become “Influencers” within their own “urban tribes” or “digital communities”, triggering a millionaire business, which has further atomized the advertising market.

Although the Influencers segment in the digital advertising market is a multi-million dollar business model, in practically the entire free world, the commercial model of advertising investment by advertisers has been deflating due to the lack of transparency, effectiveness, credibility and support, demystifying many of the expectations that brands and companies had regarding this advertising model, Although this model will not be exhausted in the coming years, it is necessary and urgent that it be adjusted to clearer rules of the game, which must surely come from the market itself, given the impossibility of governments to impose stricter rules due to the conflict and tension it generates with “freedom of expression” and “network neutrality”.

Photo: Bianca Ackermann, on

[1] Economipedia article on Influencers
[2] Analysis by the portal.
[3] Analysis on Influencers subtypes
[4] Andinalink article: Communicative mediation in times of Influencers
[5] Academic article: Participatory and convergent culture, the scenario that favors the birth of digital influencers
[6] Encyclopedic article defining the concept of Countercultural
[7] Forbes analysis of the influencers on Instagram
[8] Article: The Crisis of Internet Advertising
[9] Annual report of the “influencer Marketing” study by the agency Human to Human
[10] Article published in La Voz de Galicia
[11] Book “What the hell do influencers do”
[12] UNICEF Tigo UNE Alliance for influencers forms
[13] Study conducted by Tigo UNE, EAFIT University and UNICEF
[14] Study conducted by Tigo UNE, EAFIT University and UNICEF

Disclaimer: The published articles correspond to contextual reviews or analyses on digital transformation in the information society, duly supported by reliable and verified academic and/or journalistic sources. The publications are NOT opinion articles and therefore the information they contain does not necessarily represent Andinalink’s position, nor that of their authors or the entities with which they are formally linked, regarding the topics, persons, entities or organizations mentioned in the text.