Deinfluencing, authenticity and the future of creator partnerships

A decline in consumers’ trust in and respect for influencer content has created a huge opportunity for marketers willing to risk potential criticism by embracing greater authenticity and ‘editorial balance’ from creator channels.

Forget follower counts – Gerard Murnaghan, VP and General Manager, International, at Sprout Social, says less tangible influencer metrics such as authenticity are now key to sustainably growing and maintaining an engaged audience and building trusted partnerships.

New social media trends are infiltrating our feeds on a daily basis. Whether it’s the continued rise of edutainment, micro-influencing or workplace topics like ‘quiet quitting’ – these trends are increasingly important to businesses as they create their marketing strategies. 

And this should come as no surprise; 73 per cent of UK and Ireland consumers have increased their social media use in the past two years, making it of paramount importance for businesses to stay aware of the cultural reference points shaping conversations in real time. Marketers know this – and are responding. The 2022 Sprout Social Index found that 58 per cent of UK-based organisations use social media data on a daily basis.  

Arguably one of the more significant trends of 2023 so far has been ‘deinfluencing’. If you weren’t aware of what the phenomenon was, put simply, it’s when people take to social media to urge their followers not to buy into certain brands or goods. Mentions of the term on social media networks have skyrocketed in the past three months, generating over 169 million impressions across social platforms, according to data from Sprout Social’s listening tool

This trend shouldn’t surprise marketers, as the emergence of deinfluencing is primarily an organic response to consumers seeking greater authenticity from creators on social channels. On the face of it, it looks and feels like many other flash-in-the-pan social trends, but its effects are likely to run far deeper, impacting how creators shape their content long into the future.

Change is needed 

We’ve become used to a constant stream of overly positive product reviews on our feeds, but the absence of criticism on creator channels makes it harder for consumers to distinguish between genuine praise and paid endorsements. This blurring of the lines has left consumers confused, craving more authentic content they can trust. A piece of 2022 research from Room Unlocked confirms this, finding that 64 per cent of British consumers had lost respect for influencers that lacked authenticity and were clearly motivated by commercial gain.

The rising cost of living proved to be the catalyst that deinfluencing needed to push it firmly into the public consciousness. An appetite to save some money where possible meant shoppers were only too happy to be told that expensive products they thought they needed weren’t worth the cash. As the views and engagement grew, more creators jumped on board and soon everyone was talking about it. 

While the exact origins are unclear, momentum really started building at the start of this year, and TikToker Alyssa Kromelis’ video entitled I Love Deinfluencing is a classic of the genre. With almost a million likes to date, Alyssa candidly tells viewers how important being thrifty is for her and offers cheaper alternatives that she believes are as good or better than their expensive counterparts. It immediately feels authentic and captures the zeitgeist perfectly. It was also in total contrast to a lot of influencer content, so it’s easy to see how it grabbed attention.

Let’s get it right  

The misconception has been that deinfluencing is the opposite of influencing, or even a rejection of consumerism. In reality, it’s more about creators making an effort to insert ‘editorial balance’ to their feeds to maintain the trust of their existing followers and increase appeal as a trusted source for new audiences and partners.

TikTok beauty creator Karen Wu explained to The Huffington Post that tackling topics like consumerism could be seen as ironic coming from someone in her position, but she believes “there’s a delicate balance that can be struck if done correctly”. She doesn’t think that being critical about products is incompatible with establishing commercial agreements but that it may in fact attract future partnerships with “brands that value authenticity”.

Getting the balance right is critical for creators that want to grow or retain an audience. Researchers from Cardiff University and Lancaster University observed that creators offering unbiased product reviews were more likely to grow in popularity, while creators thought to be no longer trustworthy or honest because they rarely criticised were likely to be unfollowed. The study found, however, that lost trust could be rebuilt if creators offered a more balanced appraisals of products in their feeds.

Our own research supports this, with the latest Sprout Social Index finding that authenticity is now the second most important qualification for creators working with brands. This confirms that successful creators can’t just churn out endless product endorsements and should instead curate a varied stream of content that keeps their followers coming back for more. 

The lasting legacy  

Gone are the days of consumers placing importance on an influencer’s follower count alone. In fact, research by YPulse has found that 58 per cent of millennial and Gen-Z consumers don’t consider the size of an influencer’s following as a factor in their trustworthiness. This instead puts the emphasis on a less tangible metric and brands should focus on building creator partnerships that are more rooted in authenticity and reflect a better fit for their values and customers.

For creators, earning and maintaining audience trust will continue to be the most important consideration. Find a content formula that works, focus on sustainable follower growth and only enter brand partnerships that align with your personal values. Growth in popularity is often met with a wave of commercial offers – these can be tempting, particularly if it means allowing you to focus on content creation full time. But, as we’ve seen, overdo it and you could turn off the followers who helped you get there in the first place.

In the long run, expect to see more critical content, most likely without the #deinfluencing tag. Giving something a bad review will just become part and parcel of social media content creation, much like it is in other, longer-established parts of the media landscape. 

For something that has become such a huge part of modern life, it’s easy to forget that things like social-media creators and influencing didn’t exist a few years ago and remain in their relative infancy. One thing that is certain is that we’re in a period of rapid growth and change and there will be many more trends to follow that will shape the future of our industry for years to come.

By Gerard Murnaghan

VP and General Manager, International

Sprout Social