How valuable is influence? Modern marketeers are continually grappling with how to use ‘influence’ and where to put their time, focus and investment. ‘Influence’ is nothing new, but, thanks to social media, it has become the Holy Grail of marketing as traditional channels have declined. While measured in followers, engagement etc. the ultimate measurement is sales. And volumes speak volumes for the majority of brands.
Left - Super-influencer Kendall Jenner was made Creative Director of designer multi-brand site FWRD
Brands have partnered and collaborated with influential people for many years, but, in order for them to be more invested, many brands are now appointing influencers as ‘Creative Directors’ or inviting them in as shareholders or investors. This creates longer term relationships and exclusive parties both invested in the success of the arrangement.
Recently in womenswear, PrettyLittleThing announced Love Island’s Molly-Mae Hague, while FRWD announced Kendall Jenner as Creative Directors.
Molly-Mae Hague, 22 years-old with 6 million followers on Instagram, found fame on the ITV dating show. In August, she was announced as UK and EU Creative Director as well as launching her first exclusively designed collection since her announcing new role.
She had previously worked with the brand as their UK Brand Ambassador ‘curating iconic edits’, BTS videos and podcast interviews. In her newly appointed role, the brand said Mae-Hague will take an active position in creatively directing upcoming campaigns for the brand and signing new faces within the UK and EU. Umar Kamani, CEO at PrettyLittleThing said, “This felt like a natural fit for us. Molly has been a huge part of our PrettyLittleThing journey.”
Amy Simon, Global Head of PR and VIP at PrettyLittleThing says, “We have been working with Molly for a few years, way back when she had a much smaller following and she has always been a supporter of the brand.
“We have followed Molly’s career and she was a no-brainer for us when it came to selecting our new Brand Ambassador for the UK. As our relationship has grown with Molly, her input into her shoots and creative has been amazing and she is the PLT customer. She knows what our PLT customer wants, so the choice to then take it a step further was for her to come on board as Creative Director.” says Simon.
Mae-Hague’s current role will be for one year and hopefully way beyond this says the brand.
“She will be meeting the teams at HQ regularly and working across ambassador shoots, seasonal campaigns, our Influencer Marketing strategies, showroom openings, YouTube and so much more. Her role as Creative Director goes beyond her previous Brand Ambassadorship.” says Simon.
Many people are quite sceptical and snobbish about influencers being appointed creative directors at brands. It could be viewed as a kick in the teeth for true designers and creatives, but on the other is this just a natural extension of the brand/influencer relationship?
“Influencers have been a huge part of the brand’s success since the beginning, and we work with influencers of a varied following across the globe.” says Simon.
“The influencer marketing team have great relationships with the ones that we work with and we know our audience relate to the Influencer. We regularly expand beyond just posts, we’ve had many successful edits, interviews for our podcast and collaborations across all our key markets.” she says.
In the US, luxury womenswear fashion destination FORWARD [FWRD], part of the REVOLVE Group has announced Kendall Jenner, 25, as the new Creative Director. Jenner has 192 million followers on Instagram.
“I grew up loving fashion and have been incredibly fortunate to work with some of the most brilliant people in this business. As FWRD’s Creative Director, I am excited to help curate the site’s offering with emerging designers and brands.” said Jenner on her appointment.
The multi-brand site says, as the new Creative Director, Jenner will be in charge of the look and feel of the site, curation of brands sold, monthly edits of must-have trends, styles, and looks, as well as marketing ideas, brand partnerships and brand activations. Jenner kicked off her new role during New York Fashion Week this month.
“Kendall as the Creative Director for FWRD is the perfect choice as we continue to invest in the next generation luxury consumer. We have always had an extreme admiration for Kendall’s style, creativity, and overall exquisite taste. Her multifaceted experience in the fashion industry and the vision she has outlined for the FWRD business has the potential to transform our business and the luxury business as a whole.” Michael Mente, Co-CEO and Co-Founder REVOLVE Group, Inc.
Revolve Group (RVLV) says it ‘is the next-generation fashion retailer for Millennial and Generation Z consumers’ with two sites REVOLVE and FORWARD. REVOLVE offers a more affordable assortment of premium female apparel and footwear, accessories, and beauty products from emerging established and owned brands. At FORWARD, they ‘offer a highly curated assortment of iconic and emerging luxury brands’.
Kendall and Mae-Hague are the same age as the target customer for both of these brands.
Manchester based, In The Style, actively works with influencers to create collections and the influencer gets a cut of sales so has a vested interest in the success.
It’s interesting that they would choose to be so deeply embedded with one brand as it would preclude them (dependent on the contract) of taking money from others, so they deals would have to be favourable. On the flip side for consumers, are they really still mindlessly following what celebrities do? How much longer is that going to last?
Right - Sports stars are the ultimate influencers in menswear - AMC clothing from Castore with tennis player, Andy Murray
Over in menswear, it is sports stars, and more specifically footballers, who wield the greatest influence. Remember how David Beckham wearing that Superdry jacket catapulted the brand? Product placement on influential friends of friends of the brands can really kick start brands, particularly sportswear.
Two such British success stories are Castore and Bee Inspired. Brothers Tom and Phil Beahon, who both came from professional sporting backgrounds, founded Castore with a mission to deliver the ‘lightest, most durable, highest performing sportswear in the market’ and, since its launch in 2015, the digitally native business model has grown rapidly and now sells in more than 50 countries around the world. In 2019, British tennis star, Andy Murray, become a shareholder in the business and took on the role of board advisor, as part of its ongoing long-term partnership. His AMC range of sportswear under the Castore umbrella was recently seen on 2021 US Open champion Emma Raducanu’s coaching staff. Castore recently launched a collection with Olympic and Strictly Come Dancing swimmer Adam Peaty and are forecasting to turnover £14m this year.
In 2013 professional footballers Steven Robb and Mark Corcoran hung up their boots and were inspired to embark on a journey to change the landscape of streetwear. They launched Bee Inspired. Gifting their footballer friends and being featured on their subsequent social media channels helped the Glasgow based brand to grow extremely quickly. Lionel Messi (269 million Instagram followers), Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho have all worn Bee Inspired. They recently launched womenswear.
The sports shoe brand, On, an investment from Swiss tennis star Roger Federer, is eyeing a valuation of more than $6 billion in a U.S. initial public offering (IPO), a recent regulatory filing showed. On was founded in 2010 by running enthusiasts Olivier Bernhard, David Allemann and Caspar Coppetti, with Federer investing an undisclosed sum in the company in 2019.
“When we spotted Roger wearing On shoes around the world, we just got in touch. Turns out, he has been an On fan for a while. Switzerland is relatively small and it wasn’t long before Roger was catching up with our senior leadership team over dinner.” says the brand. Asian private equity firm Hillhouse also owns a stake.
Long term collaborations often turn into these arrangements. Many sports starts with money to invest are looking for income into retirement.
Somebody like Lewis Hamilton, who recently took a table at the Met Gala for young designers, is showing a strong interest in fashion. His collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger started in 2018, with his latest collection being entirely vegan. It wouldn’t take a genius for somebody at PVH, Tommy Hilfiger’s parent company, to want to tie him in and his 24 million Instagram followers into a permanent and invested relationship like his own label. Something sustainable, possibly?
Not all influencer investments have worked out as well. Just look at Rhianna’s Fenty clothing line or David Beckham with Kent & Curwen, where there was a price disconnect between the product and the audience. Aspiration is one thing, being unaffordable is another. The super-influencer needs to feel like the customer, but they also need to produce something that people can afford.
Super-influencers know their value and in a world becoming immune to sponsored posts it requires brands to think deeper and bigger. Tying them into a proper contracts or investments, but also allowing them to create what they want and then promote it is a major attraction to brands. The super-influencers get a deeper financial, creative and more fulfilling relationship and the chance to be part of something that could be really big. Having both invested parties pulling in the same direction and making product for the same audience is the ultimate in influence.
Buy TheChicGeek's latest book FashionWankers - HERE
Check out TheChicGeek's new shop of fabulous plants & books - Give me Penis Cactus!
It looks like they’re finally doing it. Instagram is about to push the delete button on ‘likes’. Instagram CEO, Adam Mosseri, has announced that the platform would begin testing the change in the US this week. It follows Brazil, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Japan and Italy, where Instagram has experimented with not displaying the number of likes to other users.
"Right now we're testing making like counts private, so you'll be able to see how many people liked a given photo of yours or a video of yours, but no one else will," said Mosseri. “It's about young people," Mosseri said. "The idea is to try to 'depressurise' Instagram, make it less of a competition and give people more space to focus on connecting with people that they love, things that inspire them."
While Instagram is citing users’ mental health and wellbeing as a reason for the change, cynically, could it be a way of Instagram disguising and masking falling engagement and growth across the entire app.?
We passed peak Instagram a while ago, and, with some users engaging in behaviour described as ‘clout chasing’, pursuing likes with the intent to become famous, and ‘sadfishing’, the act of someone making exaggerated claims about their emotional problems to generate sympathy and more attention and likes, it has become, to many, a dysfunctional arena for attention seekers.
Kayli Kunkel, Marketing Director for HYPR, an influencer platform since 2013, says “I don’t believe Instagram is suffering from a decline in engagement or that the motive behind hiding the likes is to make that less visible. If you believe Instagram, their motives are the well being of the users. If you are a bit more cynical you may argue that likes have been used as a driver to monetise Instagram without giving the platform a cut. Influencer marketing as an industry has become extremely reliant on likes as a metric. So its possible they are trying to reduce accessibility to this information for commercial reasons.”
“Regardless, it’s my belief that likes are a terrible metric to measure anything. No two likes are the same. You make like something because you intend to buy it or you may just be a person who likes a lot of photos. No information about the identity or intention of the likers is available, so marketers, influencers and audiences can’t really learn much from them except for a general “level of engagement” metric that helps our ego or makes us feel like we did some due diligence.” says Kunkel.
Rebecca Holloway, Social Media Strategist (@beccasocial), “I would like to think that the removal of like counts will mean fewer bots, however, it wouldn't surprise me if these became more prevalent in inflating follower counts. Along with the number of comments on a post, this will become one of the only ways brands will be able to see how engaged an audience is with influencers they may be considering working with.”
“Despite these changes making life trickier for brands and influencers navigating sponsorship deals, I do think it will have a positive impact on casual users of the platform. I expect that at first many will find it quite strange, but will adapt quickly, and soon forget that like counts are missing. I would hope that this has a positive impact on users' mental health and that they aren't posting for likes, but instead posting content they have really enjoyed creating.” she says.
By June 2018, Instagram had reached the 1 billion monthly user mark. In the US, influencer fraud, including purchasing fake followers, likes and creating fake personas, is estimated to cost businesses $1.3 billion a year, according to research from cybersecurity firm Cheq. US companies spend an estimated $8.5 billion annually on influencers according to influencer marketing firm Mediakix. On a good day, roughly 15% of the corporate dollars spent are lost to fraud it is estimated.
William Soulier, CEO and co-founder of Talent Village, who conduct influencer campaigns for brands, says, “Digital metrics have allowed brands to measure the performance of all promoted content on Instagram and ultimately judge the success of their social campaign. Therefore by Instagram removing a vanity metric such as "likes" on in-feed posts, both users and brands should hopefully become focused on less tangible metrics, but arguably more important factors such as the quality of the content produced.
“The problem is that it's very difficult to measure something like "quality", and therefore it seems inevitable that brands will shift their focus to the next quantifiable metric such as engagement. By hiding likes on the user’s feed, Instagram is giving a chance for content to stand out for its quality and not for its engagement.” he says.
Araminta Sheridan, founder of Araminta Marketing says, “This is a great decision from Instagram. Instagram used to be an anti-media, an authentic experience. Whilst so many incredible things happen through Instagram every day (mental health movements, communities are formed, body positive beauty), it has become so curated. I look forward to people using the platform more openly, less concerned about what other people think. I think this will result in a reduction in toxic behaviour and an increase in genuinely good content. I also think people will start to socialise through the platform again. Less passive ‘double tap’ behaviour, more conversation.” she says.
“Instagram is like a game for some people, people will always find ways to ‘beat the algorithm’ so that they can compete alongside people and companies who can afford to advertise. Changes may solve some problems and cause others to arise. Like most businesses, it's a game of whack-a-mole.” says Sheridan.
Some people are saying upstart Tik Tok is more authentic? “Maybe, it is newer which make authenticity easier.” says Sheridan. “The ‘better’ an app gets, the ‘better' people get at it. How will they avoid their own authenticity problems? Watch this space I suppose!”
Nikki Hesford of www.hesfordmedia.co.uk, a digital agency specialising in FB and IG, says, “Tik Tok is growing massively but it still isn’t that mainstream and most brands haven’t worked out yet how to leverage it into sales. If it does stay the course, the early adopters of the platform who are using it now will see the greatest benefit, as with all platforms, it’s easier to make an impact when you’re there at the start. I think many brands are ambivalent about whether to put the effort into Tik Tok or if it will fizzle out – but like most videos on the internet, a lot of planning, and staging from media agencies has gone into making it look authentic and ‘off the cuff’!” she says.
While, for many, it is hard to believe that Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, is doing anything altruistic, it still wants to keep its cash-cow healthy with a thriving population active both physically and mentally.
Hannah Elderfield, Associate Insights Director at Canvas8, says, “Hiding likes is something that has come about primarily to help protect the mental health of everyday users. But the assumption has been that ‘hiding’ likes may negatively impact brands and ‘influences’, for whom such ‘engagement’ has been an important metric - that’s not necessarily the case though.
“When ‘performance metrics’ are displayed publicly, it sometimes dictate what type of content gets posted or shared - especially on certain platforms. And that’s contributed to a rise in ‘cookie cutter’ posts - influencers know what ‘works’ for their audience and often repeat what’s performed well in the past, but many feel that that’s led to a lack of creativity in this space. Removing likes may well free up brands and influences to try new and interesting things, freed from the shackles of public endorsement.” she says.
“There’s another element here in that ‘virtue signalling’ (or a lack by which to do so if likes are ‘hidden’) could give a more accurate view of what people are enjoying. For example, people will no longer be able to like things to be seen to like them. They’ll only be able to signal directly and that’s a very different dynamic which could result in more authentic and honest interactions online.” says Elderfield.
Hesford says, “My view is that actually, it’ll make very little difference. For a long time “likes” have become meaningless both in terms of performance algorithm, and public perception - the only people who will be affected by this are those seeking validation from “like counting” (usually young, impressionable and quite vulnerable girls and boys) so this can only be a good thing.
“You may have noticed a lot of brands post stories 5-6-7-8 times a day, yet publish a “post” only once every few weeks, due to the nature of how obsolete they are becoming.” she says.
“Facebook - who own Instagram - is similar to Apple in that they’re at the cutting edge of innovation – they aren’t reactionary. They don’t ask people what they want, they just do it. People always complain at the introduction of every dynamic new change, but ultimately people accept it and it makes the platform a better place. For Instagram to keep growing, it needs to clean up it’s image of ‘fakery’ before consumers become too sceptical of the authenticity of the content they are exposed to and start to become fatigued. Click farms and bots can ‘like’ images very easily, but it requires a more sophisticated set up to automate fake commenting, so the intention here is to reduce fake interaction, which of course will make it stronger.”
“Whether FB/IG genuinely cares about its users’ mental health, or whether it’s a PR strategy with commercial aims – only they know! But in any event, it is clear to most regular users of IG that the platform causes feelings of inadequacy. While they may not cause mental health problems, there is no doubt they trigger existing sufferers of depression, anxiety, eating disorders and self-harming, when vulnerable people are bombarded daily with messages that say ‘everyone else is achieving more than you, are slimmer than you, more beautiful than you, have more money than you’ etc.” says Hesford.
“Influencers probably hope that their followers will express their thoughts and approval with more meaningful interactions such as commenting, in the absence of tapping a like button. If that were to be the case, it would create a more authentic metric on which to measure the influencers who have a real following versus those who paid for theirs. Those who have built a genuine following will be pleased about this change. It could see smaller influencers with maybe 20-30k followers emerging as having more commercial opportunity than others with 100k+ because it will become obvious to brands, which ones actually have an engaged audience.
“As a marketer for brands wishing to spend money with influencers, it can be incredibly difficult knowing whether the influencer you plan to pay even has any real people watching their content.” says Hesford.
There are many people and businesses invested in the success of Instagram influencer marketing. It’s big business. They’re, obviously, going to put a positive spin on any changes and are going to still cite the importance and influence of individuals paid to post.
Instagram is due a refresh because it has become quite boring and samey. Deleting visible likes could be a positive move to remove what has become a digital shackle for some users. But, could all the attention just turn to the numbers of followers? Deleting all metrics could be the answer if they really care about people's mental health. Removing likes could take some of the steam out of people’s mental and emotional desire for validation and attention. Digital platforms need users to come often and stay longer and injecting newness is all part of the process. What this does to the influencer market is yet to be seen and do they even care? Is it time to say goodbye to the flat-white?!
BUY TheChicGeek's new book - FASHIONWANKERS - HERE
While influencing others isn’t new, the idea of an ‘Influencer’ is. We’ve seen a huge growth of individuals with large followings on social media pitching themselves as the magical conduit between brands and consumers. Vast sums have been spent, but there’s a new mood, and an anti-Influencer sentiment is building.
One of the surprise Netflix hits of recent months was the documentary, 'Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened’. It focused on the naive attempt to hold a luxury music festival on a Caribbean island. ‘Influencers’ were vilified and blamed for enticing people to part with their cash. More than regular models, because they used their huge social media following to promote the festival, they we’re given, rightly or wrongly, some of the responsibility for the festival’s spectacular failure.
Left - Fyre Festival catering, not quite as promised
Buzz Carter, Head of Outreach at Bulldog Digital Media, a digital marketing agency, says, “Negativity towards Influencers has been brewing for a while now, following multiple scandals over the past few years, like Warner Brothers paying YouTube Influencers for good reviews for ‘Shadow of Mordor’, multiple Influencers not marking paid posts as ads, Influencers pushing gambling and scams to a young audience (RiceGum & Mystery Brand) and the ongoing issue of fake followers and interaction.
“This has been in the background for a while, but with the Fyre festival documentary, it’s boiled over.” he says. “Influencers only work when their audience trusts them, but all of these have shown an untrustworthy aspect to Influencers, but I definitely think the Fyre Festival doc. was a catalyst for a lot of the negativity going around now, as it showcased the issue to people who wouldn’t have thought about it.”
The general public are finally understanding the meaning of the term ‘Influencer’. What first started with bloggers and YouTubers has morphed into ‘Influencers’ and ‘Content Creators’ over the past few years. The dictionary definition of ‘Influencer’ states; “a person with the ability to influence potential buyers of a product or service by promoting or recommending the items on social media.” It is usually focussed on the Instagram platform.
Yuval Ben-Itzhak, CEO, Socialbakers, a social media marketing platform, says, “It is centred around Instagram because Instagram really is the social media platform from which influencers were born. Because of the highly visual nature of the content posted on the platform, it is the place where brands are seeing the most engagement on their content. Hence it is also the place where celebrities and influencers are able to interact with these brands to drive mutual benefit.”
The Advertising Standard Authority (ASA) has issued guidelines to tidy up the difference between sponsored posts and non. Recently, sixteen social media stars including Rita Ora and Alexa Chung have been warned by the Competition and Markets Authority that their posts could break consumer law. Shahriar Coupal, Director of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) said: “Responsible influencer marketing involves being upfront and clear with the audience, so people are not confused or misled and know when they’re being advertised to. The relationship between Influencers and their followers relies on trust and authenticity, so transparency is in the interests of all parties. This guide on the standards will help influencers and brands stick to the rules by being upfront with their followers.”
The guidelines state you have to declare #AD or similar, when you’ve been ‘paid’ in some way (can be freebies, doesn’t have to be money), AND, had some form of editorial ‘control’ over the content. It’s not an ‘either/or’ – there has to be both ‘payment’ and ‘control’ for this type of post to count as an #AD under the CAP Code.
The BBC’s recent broadcast of a Panorama provocatively titled ‘Million Pound Selfie Sell Off’ focused on the negative types of things Influencers are promoting like fad diets and teeth whitening. It jumped on the Influencer backlash which is rippling out to the wider public. It’s creating feeling of being hoodwinked or cheated.
Erica Davies, a former newspaper fashion editor and womenswear and home Influencer with 130K followers on Instagram, commented on Twitter in response to the Panorama programme, “Transparency and honesty is key. But equally, the playing field needs to be level. If one platform is under the microscope, then there should be a united set of rules targeting ALL advertising across newspaper and magazine journalism, print titles AND social media.
A few people’s untrustworthy ethics on social media platforms is bringing negative heat onto Influencers in general. “There are a lot of responsible, trustworthy people trying to provide interesting, creative content on social media, that doesn’t just involve ‘selling stuff.’ It’s a shame #BBCPanorama didn’t talk to any of them.” she says.
Anybody can be an Influencer, and there are many crossovers between jobs, but it’s the fixation on the numbers of followers and engagement that is creating an environment for people to cheat the system. There have been recent articles calling out people for buying followers and “cheating” the system. Is this a sign of the bubble bursting for Influencers and the saturation of the market or is this an element of jealousy of those “living their best life”?
If you consider yourself to be an Influencer then everything is self-promotion. Your entire business is based on pushing yourself and proving your influence and trying to monetise that. But, people are growing tired and suspicious of vacuous content.
William Matthews, Menswear Marketing Specialist, says “Anti-Influencer sentiment is being fuelled by opportunistic, uninformed individuals who can’t base their opinions on relevant frames of reference or experience. “I love this” means nothing unless you can explain in a meaningful, informed way why that is.
"Hats off to the fantastic influencers who have worked hard to evolve their taste, opinions and truly understand their subject matter (in the same way journalists/editors do) with hard-won experience and relevant frames of reference. They add huge value to the media mix for brands.” he says
Consumers are also switching off. According to a report by Mindshare, Google Trends queries like “social media harms your mental health” and “social media seriously harms your mental health” have risen in the last 12 months, by +5,000% and +4,000% respectively. The report by Mindshare entitled ‘Trends 2019’, which holds quantitative research from more than 6,000 consumers aged 18+ across the UK found 61% of consumers are doing more to monitor their own screen time, 72% of consumers have begun to unfollow certain people and accounts altogether and 66% of people have started to hide social media posts from people with differing views.
With the decline of print, digital, including social media, is going to be a more important way to reach consumers for brands. “While influencer marketing has been around in some form or another for a long time, it's really only in the last year or so that it has become such an important tactic for marketers.” says Ben-Itzhak. “As with anything that involves exchanging money for a service, the practise is open to a certain amount of fraud and misbehaviour. It will bring greater dependency on marketing technologies to help brands identify the right Influencer and as to help Influencers vet the brands before they work with them.
"If you look at celebrity throughout the ages, there has always been competition from within and jealousy from the outside. Influencers are very much an extension of that. What will be interesting to see in the next months/years is how much credibility consumers will continue to give to macro influencers, such as the big name celebrities who have a high price tag for each post, versus the micro-influencers, who have smaller follower numbers but greater credibility with their niche communities.” says Ben-Itzhak.
Influencers wear many hats and celebrities promoting products isn’t a new concept. What Influencers have to realise is, this direct dialogue with their followers makes them look more responsible. How much do brands employ Bella Hadid or Kendall Jenner for their modelling skills rather than their social media numbers?
“For the future of the industry, I can see Influencer marketing being put under tighter regulations on what they can promote and how they promote, as well a crackdown on fake followers, Social Chain are actually working on a tool to see through follower fraud. So in the future I think influencer marketing will thrive, but it will be more carefully used by brands than it has been over the last few years.” says Carter.
These documentaries and programmes have put a spotlight onto this Influencer world and is making the general public become more cynical and wary of social media Influencers. It will be interesting to see whether this new toxic environment makes brands want to distance themselves and implodes the entire market entirely.
I’ve also written - Digital Hindsight
It was while at Barcelona Fashion Week, looking over a German Influencer’s shoulder, that the digital world looked incredibly small. She was busy scrolling, liking and commenting on pictures on Instagram. All the images looked like fellow Influencers.
We’ve had all this talk of “engagement", and brouhaha about methods of promotion, see bots, but it dawned on me that this is an audience invested in their own engagement. It’s real, but then what is real in the virtual, social media world? What is the correct form of “engagement”?
Left - No Likey
It’s basically people engaging with themselves and why are we surprised that people who like their own self-image are doing it? People have created pods to allow groups of other people to know when they have posted and to mutually like and comment the posts, increasing engagement. It’s basically what you do with your friends, but more organised and business like. It’s fine if you’ve got the energy for it. I haven’t.
She needs to like and engage with other influencers, and vice versa, to keep the momentum up, but are the numbers outside these circles actually worthy of note? It’s really hard to know. It’s pretty much the same with magazine circulation figures.
It’s also like the Fyre Festival. How were the influencers to know that a festival, scheduled months in advance, was going to be a disaster? People promote things in good faith and hope people stick behind their promises and obligations. We can all look back in hindsight and wish to do things differently or not at all.
The “Instagram police” are busy telling people what they should and shouldn’t do, but people are manipulating things all of the time. Who made the rules for the game in the first place? It’s the nature of SEO, or even more old fashioned, people buying mailing lists. It’s businesses trying to promote themselves, which certainly isn’t new.
I would never condone buying followers, that’s plain wrong, on any platform, but getting software to do what you could do yourself is a clever use of time, isn’t it? I tried the follow/unfollow method a few years ago, when I was struggling to grow followers and asked a friend how they were growing their’s. I saw it like scheduling posts or using something automated. I stopped when I realised I really didn’t care enough. Others saw it as cheating. I’ve never denied it.
We’re all at the whims of giant corporations moving the digital goalposts all of the time. Whether it’s Google or Facebook or whoever, people are continually adapting and trying new things. It’s the nature of the business. It’s how they promote themselves and work things to their advantage. We’re all digital micro-plankton bobbing along on their electronic sea.
In the decade since I started TheChicGeek I’ve always valued words and opinion and that’s why Instagram never really worked for me. It did give me TheChicGeek character, though, which I’m grateful for. I pride myself on having a distinct point of view and opinion and it would be odd if I didn’t have an opinion on this subject. I feel like I owe some sort of explanation to the people and brands I’ve worked with over the years. This blog has always been my passion and focus and always will.
We’ll probably look back on this hysterical witch hunt in a few years and wonder why anybody really cared. Hopefully, all this negative energy will implode the whole darn thing. It’s time for something new anyway.
Read - You're Fyred! The Anti-Influencer Backlash has begun...
It could be part of the new push for a genderless society or simply the boundaries being widened for what is, or feels, acceptable for men to wear or carry, but it feels right and looks right for men to carry handbags, right now. This isn’t about making a statement or being provocative, it’s about design, rather than gender and size, that is dictating what a stylish man carries.
Left - The Dior Saddle bag reborn on Kim Jones' first catwalk for Dior Homme
There are certain styles that are simply great pieces of design or are fashion classics and look just as good on a man’s shoulder as on a woman’s. This isn’t about ‘feminising’ men, it’s just something of beauty that is practical in carrying what needs to be carried. Enough said.
What started with Loewe’s ultra-chic ‘Puzzle’ bag has ballooned to include many other classic women’s styles. It was the reintroduction of the Dior ‘Saddle’ bag on Kim Jones’ SS19 catwalk, at his new gig at Dior Homme, in Paris in June, that cemented this new feeling. The #DiorSaddle hashtag featured male influencers reintroducing this style designed by the former Dior Creative Director, John Galliano.
Luke Ross, blogger at Fashion Samaritan, says, “I noticed a real change around 2012 when Hedi Slimanne debuted his first Saint Laurent collection that featured his signature slim cuts that really made pockets obsolete.
“Guys wanted to wear these skinny silhouettes, but the garments just didn’t have sufficient pockets” he says. “You couldn’t carry a wallet, keys, phone etc in them as it ruined the lines and for the first time we started to see men carrying bags with them that weren’t just backpacks.”
Right - Spanish influencer, Prince Pelayo
We have so much more to carry today: wallet, phone, keys, charger, water bottle, notebook, that unless you have a coat with huge pockets, a bag is an indispensable accessory for men. Men want the elegance a bag can give their total look, rather than numerous bulging pockets which can make you look dishevelled and untidy.
Alvin Cher of Bagaholicboy, the dedicated blog for bags, fashion and luxury based in Singapore, says, “I think it was just a matter of time before men got more and more confident and realised they were not restricted to just bags made for them. And if the ladies can dip into what was offered for the guys, the guys can do the same too.
“Boys actually loved the Boy Chanel when it first came out. And started buying. Then slowly, but surely, more and more brands came in.” he says. “Remember Tisci's Givenchy when they had the Pandora? That was a hit too. Even Mulberry's Alexa was deemed 'boyish' enough by some guys to use. After that the gates opened, Dior did it, so did Gucci, Loewe. Even Celine has fans amongst the men, remember the Cabas that everyone wanted?” says Cher.
“I think everyone played a part by releasing a piece that helped the evolution - Ghesquiére released those 'Arena' leather document cases at Balenciaga that every guy in fashion had and they kind of trickled down as more and more people were carrying ipads and laptops so they could be justified as practical even if they weren’t for the everyday man.” says Ross. “For me, Loewe really moved things along by making it cool to have a bag that was a replica of a female bag with the Puzzle. It’s large enough to look like a duffle bag, but then also can be small enough to look like a camera bag.”
This new trend has been pioneered by men’s celebrities, bloggers, influencers and street style images, all making the look believable and cool: men seeing other men carrying these types of bags, making it feel contemporary and fresh.
Navaz Batliwalla, founder of disneyrollergirl.net and author of The New Garconne: How to be a Modern Gentlewoman, and champion of androgyny in womenswear says, “With the influence of streetwear on men’s luxury, men's style icons like A$AP Rocky and any Korean boy band member you care to mention, have long embraced their fashion-forward side, so increasingly, the idea of carrying a bag that’s more exciting than a briefcase or a Uniqlo backpack is no biggie.” she says. “Plus, the fact is that everyone is simply carrying more stuff. Why let your outfit down with a sad generic gym bag, when you can have something that’s as considered and design conscious as the rest of your outfit?”
Left - Luke Ross, Blogger, Fashion Samaritan
The term ‘manbag’ was from the age of the ‘Metrosexual’ and feels just as dated. Who can forget that episode of Friends when Joey becomes too attached to his new shoulder bag, and the ribbing he took from his friends. Looking back, it was huge.
“I think the rise of the reusable tote also fuelled this fire as it became normal for a guy to carry a tote without it looking like a ‘manbag’.” says Ross.
Men don’t need the labels anymore: manbag, mutch - male clutch - or whatever else adds a masculine moniker to a name. I think brands will start to offer more gender neutral shopping areas and put more styles into the men’s shopping areas and advertsiing. This is a market growing into another and actually the true meaning of ‘unisex’.
So, what should us guys be looking for?
“I'm all for a guy carrying a bag made for ladies, but it still boils down to my proportion ratio. You have to try it on and see if it looks correct visually.” says Cher. “I think the time has gone when it comes to specifying which bag suits which gender. More and more brands are coming out with versions that look exactly the same for both guys and girls, so it is all about trying them on, seeing what works and having fun. It is a bag after all at the end of the day, we don't have to be so so serious about it.” says Cher.
Right - Blogger - The Modman with the Loewe Puzzle bag
“I think it’s about being authentic and genuine to your attire and aesthetic.” says Ross “Don’t do a tailored suit and then wear some flimsy nylon, touristy looking money bag.” he says. “Lastly, buy the bag for what you want it to do not the label. I’ve bought bags in the past that I wanted because they were cool, but they actually couldn’t take that much weight in them before the leather started to warp leaving them at the back of my closet and mind.”
The opinion formers in menswear have been carry women’s styles of bags for a while now, but with the new Dior grey Saddle bag set to hit stores in February, I think we’ll see a huge expansion of men carrying styles that were traditionally seen as women’s.
“Men have evolved, which is what fashion is all about anyway.” says Cher.
Male handbags were a major trend on the Milan AW18 catwalks - See more here
Menswear is often viewed in isolation. Many designers or brands who produce both men’s and women’s clothes often keep them apart when showing them to the press. The times they are together, the menswear often looks conservative and dowdy compared to its feminine counterpart.
Left - Topman AW18
So, it was with some excitement, when I attended the newly merged Topman/Topshop AW18 preview a few months ago, that the menswear was louder than the women’s. Looking across the room I thought I'd stepped to the wrong side. And, let’s be honest, Topshop womenswear isn’t exactly for shy wallflowers.
To me this signified the new confidence in high-street menswear and menswear in general. Topman has had a rocky patch of late and could have easily played safe and opted for simple basics and proven product. But, no, this was like a wardrobe for Harry Styles’ global world tour! A new Global Design Director, overseeing both Topman and Topshop, Anthony Cuthbertson, had arrived from Just Cavalli.
It’s as though Gucci has pushed the door open for this type of exhibitionist menswear and the British high-street has, literally, kicked it open. I don’t think menswear has been this colourful and bold since Tommy Nutter was a leading figure.
Right - Versace taste, lemonade budget?! AW18 River Island
And, it’s not just Topman. It’s River Island, ASOS, boohoo and many others who are reacting to an experimental male consumer who isn’t constrained by gender or the feeling of conforming.
Victoria Hunt, Senior Designer, River Island, says, “Menswear trends have been bolder of late, so there’s been a natural progression towards more adventurous clothing; not just at River Island, but across the entire industry. Catwalks are pushing the limits and this trickles down to make standout fashion more readily available."
“The trend for loud prints and statement pieces seems to be a natural fit for our men’s consumer, so we’ve really embraced it. We are also consciously driving the brand to be more cohesive across all of our departments, although our menswear, womenswear and kidswear customers are all different our collections should be instantly recognisable as River Island.” says Hunt.
Shane Chin, Menswear Design Manager, boohooMAN, says,“At boohooMAN we listen and learn from our customer and grow our collections to suit our guy. It’s a really exciting time for boohooMAN and we’re lucky to have a broad customer base that isn’t afraid to go after new trends and styles.”
“Ideas have been taken mainly from street style and considering how our guy will ultimately wear and style the garments we design. I think the resurgence of Gucci has put a real focus on bringing the fun side back to fashion and by mixing this with the current focus on streetwear, we’ve been able to push the boundaries further in the collections.” says Chin
Street style, influencers and social media seems to be playing a massive part of this growth in experimentation. One is feeding the other and so the cycle continues. These are items made for Instagram and the frenzy to standout on the platform. These are the type of clothes that make better pictures.
Left - Sequin trackies? Topman AW18 Like sequins? See TheChicGeek's picks here
“We gather ideas from all areas as inspiration for our designs: street style, editorials, art and travel to name a few. There are a lot of the big fashion houses pushing bold florals and baroques, but we’re seeing this a lot on the street too. We are always on the look out for new and exciting fashion.” says Hunt.
“Social media has given rise to this in a big way, trends are able to gain momentum so much faster now. Look at the bumbag/cross body bag – who could have predicted that was going to be so huge?” she says.
Designer fashion has become so expensive and, with the younger generation having less money or earning less, these retailers and brands are allowing guys to look as baroque as a Versace model for pocket money prices. I think the affordable prices are encouraging men to be more experimental knowing they haven’t committed as much when it doesn’t cost a month’s rent.
“Menswear is adapting to the growth of social media and the way that style inspo. is so readily available. There’s a real buzz around menswear and it’s exciting to see menswear have more of a focus at fashion weeks around the world, each season. I think the range of brands showing menswear and womenswear in the same shows has also had an effect on people being more inspired by menswear and menswear styling.” says Chin.
It’s interesting that something that was seen as a step back for menswear - the merging of designer catwalk collections - has actually made menswear step up to mirror the womenswear in its distinctive and look-at-me aesthetic and raise its awareness.
Hunt says, “The growth of menswear in general has made high end fashion so much more accessible and relevant to the customer. All over the world, menswear fashion weeks gets so much coverage on social media that men are seeing celebrities and influencers in more experimental trends and dressings and that’s something that they aspire to.
“Just yesterday I was at graduate fashion week and the amount of students choosing to study menswear has grown hugely over the past few years, so there is definitely more to come. It’s also a rebellion in part to the button-down sartorial looks of a few years back. Now, guys want to break and bend the rules, throwing prints, sportswear, tailoring and streetwear together effortlessly.” she says.
It would be silly to suggest that this guy was the majority of men, but it's growing and it’s a younger male consumer who will influence his social circle both on and off-line.
“It’s a really wide demographic – from the well-groomed Ibiza guy that likes to wear a matching twin set by the pool, to the fashionista that clashes three different prints in to one look!” says Hunt.
“The market continues to grow at more than double the rate of womenswear, so it’s not going to slow down any time soon. Men will continue to experiment and it will be exciting to see what’s next – gender is no longer a static thing, so guys don’t feel that they have to conform in the same way. We can be whoever we’d like to be and clothing is a great way of expressing that.” she says.
Right - The sequins keep coming - River Island AW18
Chin says, “I think people’s attitudes towards menswear are changing. Even in the last decade, and in my career to date, menswear trends and styles are becoming more adventurous each year. The lines are blurring and fashion is no longer a womenswear focused arena.”
Affordable menswear has never been produced in such volume and with such experimentation. Sequins, fringing, patches, badges, louder and louder patterns and prints, make this like a sweet shop for modern day Marc Bolans. This feels like a really exciting time for high-street menswear and the British are leading the charge. Where we lead, others will follow, and it’ll be interesting to see where this type of outlandish menswear can go.
It feels like we’re one data breach, revelation or exposé away from deleting Facebook. Not to mention all the other platforms. Some of us have been on these social media channels for nearly a decade and we’re tired. Social media is starting to feel a bit of a chore and people are reassessing their relationship with it. The novelty factor is waning and it seems like we’re bored of seeing the same images repeated and, even those who’ve made it their business to ‘influence’, via social media - ‘Influencers’ - seem bored themselves of making and posting the same images.
“There’s definitely a sense of content and Facebook fatigue and more importantly, a loss of trust. As a first-gen blogger, it was trust that built our communities ten years ago and that was in no small part because at that time blogging was purely a passion project, not for commercial gain,” says Navaz Batliwalla, editorial consultant and blogger at Disneyrollergirl.net
“The reason social media content has become formulaic is down to the cynical commercialisation of it all. To reach mass eyeballs, your content has to be fairly mainstream which is why so many blogs and legacy media have adapted similar aesthetics and tones of voice. It’s diluted the uniqueness and personality. Inevitably, it becomes a slog to create that sort of formulaic content too, so the creators themselves get bored - and it shows.” says Batliwalla.
Instagram has clearly peaked and it being the centre of brands’ and people’s focus is changing. There are only so many flat-whites or magnolia trees people are going to be interested in. It’s all got very annoying and basic.
Instagram recently made changes so people can no longer manipulate engagement and artificially increase following. Those who think they’ve got more engagement than Elizabeth Taylor will now have to rely solely on the whims of their ‘followers’ and it’s almost certain they won’t be able to sustain their likes and followers in a market that is mature and growing bored.
“For me, the big content killer has been the algorithmic changes. Bloggers who relied on Instagram for their main income have panicked as their engagement plunged since the introduction of Instagram’s changes last year. I noticed certain tactics like comment pods and lengthy over-shary posts, a kind of desperate click-bait attempt to keep followers interested. It’s also the reason for so many more ‘look at me’-type posts because selfies and outfit posts tend to get better engagement on Instagram. But again, with certain influencers, it just doesn’t come naturally and it’s a turnoff to their followers. I'’ve been there myself! Finally, the sheer volume of sponsored posts is exhausting to read. It’s too much.” says Batliwalla.
For me, it was when they allowed you to save your best Instagram Stories - ‘Story Highlights’ - that I felt like this had become a job and required too much thought, rather than something fun and interactive. The more things they introduce, the heavier it all becomes. You see people tapping away on their Facebook accounts on their phones on the train: liking pictures, commenting and keeping up. It’s like a full-time job. People will reduce the amount of their free time they spend on these sites.
Even the biggest ‘Influencers’ can’t rely on their numbers. Just look at people like Ella Mills - Deliciously Ella - 1.3m Instagram followers, closing her delis, Millie Mackintosh, reality star and influencer - 1.3m Instagram followers, folding her clothing line, and the ultimate influencer of all Victoria Beckham - 19.6m Instagram followers, made around 60 workers redundant recently after new investors ordered a review of the business.
We do have to acknowledge the green-eyed monster in the reporting of Influencers, especially by traditional press. These attractive people living their best life and getting paid to do it. Beats working in McDonald’s. But, it’s got crowded, they’re not cute forever and we’ve all seen that ‘wow’ picture before. Ultimately, unless they’re traditionally famous, have a respected talent or you fancy them, why the fuck do you care about what they are doing? It seems strange that so many people are supposed to care about people they don’t know. They don’t.
Christophe Brumby, Creative Strategist at Amplify (brand experience agency for clients like Facebook, Google and Spotify) says, “As publishers see their influence wane and as Influencers fight for control, everyone is taking matters in their own hands… What we are seeing as a result is a new age of convergence where publishers such as Refinery 29 are turning their staff into influencers and where influencers are starting their own publishing ventures with the likes of Street Dreams, a collective of creators rooted in photography, bringing their community offline through a print magazine, photo walks and shows. It may not be long before we see publishers and influencers teaming up together to maintain relevance with their audiences while reducing their dependence on social platforms.”
“Social media did not invent influence but in bringing the ‘social’ into traditional media, they dramatically changed the rules of the game. Social media have atomised and democratised influence, effectively transferring power from the traditional media to every individual user; turning everyone into a potential influencer capable of measuring their personal media value,” says Brumby.
“Despite a rise in marketing spend, many influencers argue that the current model is not sustainable as platforms and brands are taking advantage of a highly fragmented landscape where they do not hold much leverage as individuals. On the one hand, they are increasingly reliant on the platforms that ultimately own their audiences and dictate the rules of engagement, often feeling at the mercy of sudden algorithm changes," says Brumby.
In a recent article in the Financial Times about the death of Influencers, it quoted a fashion PR director saying, “Whatever you do — don't market yourself as an Influencer. Stick to journalism. That's a proper craft.” There's definitely a feeling of distancing themselves from the label 'Influencer'.
Robin James, digital content producer, Youtube creator and blogger says “I don’t use social media in my personal life. It’s not real life and I find it exhausting, It takes a lot from you without giving back and a feeling of you’re missing life. That said, there’s a flip side, Instagram Stories is the real side of what ‘Influencers’ are up to.”
“Audiences are going through Instagram double tapping without reading and being social media zombies. In terms of business, I produce stuff with more thought and heart and not just a pretty picture. That sort of production and quality of content will survive. I tried to take the production down slightly to be more connected to an audience and become a bit more raw,” he says.
James recently qualified as a barber to give himself more expertise in the grooming arena, “I decided to do that to have a lot more authority, and become an expert in an area. One was editorial and secondly, was commercially: I can do this, I can cut and style it. I trained for six months.”
So, what’s next? What would we do with all that spare time if we reduced our ‘socialising’?! I think there’s a place for something like Facebook, but more a Wikipedia model of philanthropy. Run just to wipe its face, it would be more like what a lot of people think Facebook is rather than a huge marketing site.
I think we’ll see a return to searched for, permanent, or as permanent as the internet allows, content. People looking for something and finding a trusted voice.
Everybody is striving for authority and longevity. I think those ‘Influencers’ who have nothing to say or say nothing with disappear. The rest will have to evolve to beyond just the visual and sound bites as the audience matures and also, no doubt, the next wave of young consumers will be into something else.
Will we see the end of thirsty attention seekers seeking validation on Instagram? Probably not, but I think it’s definitely had its moment. Marketeers, who always take a while to catch up, will continue to chuck money at this for a little while yet, but it’ll fall off soon.
But where do we go next? Good print isn’t dead, but, ultimately, it’s digital.
“I’ve noticed a renewed interest in long form content, more like essays. People are yearning to read blogs again. Informed opinions, observations, not just news and product reviews. I write a monthly insights email (called The Beauty Conversation) with two beauty industry colleagues and we’re nurturing our community to build trust and engagement. It’s not about numbers at all, but the relevance and quality of our audience and our niche content.” says Batliwalla.
Everything has become so disposable and ultimately forgettable. This is the modern life we live, but it will bounce back, not fully, but partially.
Can you remember when you met somebody new and you’d say “What’s your Instagram?” That's stopped. I can’t be bothered anymore. It’s full and I don’t want to waste more of my time deleting accounts. As the Instagram hysteria subsides it will take the pressure off ‘reach’ and ;followers; and plateau into a record of pictures for genuine friendship groups.
All those ‘Influencer Marketing’ companies that have popped up with have to move into digital marketing and have a broader scope. I used to joke that there were more platforms than Clapham Junction. It just doesn’t feel funny anymore.
Read more expert ChicGeek Comments - here
Read - You're Fyred! The Anti-Influencer Backlash has begun...
Is the love affair over? Has Instagram peaked? I’m not basing this on any stats, as there aren’t any recent figures, but, like all things, instinctively, it feels like the audience are growing bored, the novelty is over, it all feels like hard work and many people are thinking what’s next or they want a break.
Left - Instagram - Are you feeling bored? Is the love affair over?
Instagram’s had a good run for its money, but I think people have a sense of deja vu looking at the perfect and saccharine images that are repeated daily. The same faces in the same places. I think the British, especially, are suspicious of too much perfection and the filtered view on life feels distant from the reality.
Over the last 3 years, Instagram became an obsession for many with the birth of ‘Influencers’ and brands piling in to be seen in the hands of these people who always look both ways, but never into the camera, when they cross the road. It’s hard to do anything different and people are becoming immune to any great images and simply overwhelmed with the swiping. They even look bored.
Let’s look at Instagram with fresh eyes for a minute. It’s not often you learn anything from it. It’s mostly immature, forgettable stuff - hot people, cute animals, holiday pictures, floors etc - and appeals to your younger, teenage self and that can be fun, for a time. When you think or feel like engaging, it’s only natural to really care about the people you know in really life.
I’ve been put into the ‘Influencer’ bracket, I’ll put my hands up, but my foundation has always been the written word and this blog. The idea is and always was to try to be a trend setter, opinion former and find out the latest and best things within the men’s style area and to be trusted and influential. (I don't think we've fully settled on a label or a term to describe what we do. The word 'Blogger' has also had a rough ride and wasn't embraced by many). I care and am passionate about this business and it isn’t a vehicle for my own vanity despite what my enlarged head might say!
Many men’s influencers were born from their girlfriends’ accounts and as such followed their lead on content and visual identity. Let’s be honest, how many afternoon tea reviews really appeal to anyone, let alone guys? The modern equivalent of a teenage crush or poster on the wall, the good-looking male influencer is not going to be cute for forever and doesn't really appeal beyond the superficial. These things have a shelf life and the Best Before Date has passed. They have to work out their USP or niche of expertise to have any longevity. I think men, especially, respect and are influenced by honest experience.
People are growing bored, posting less images and with engagement falling, this is the perfect storm to deflate this bubble. We are all influenced by many of things and by lots of people and the idea that these people have a magic key or insight is now over. It was all getting a bit 'Emperor's New Clothes' or was it the emperor getting paid to wear the new clothes?!
‘Influencer Marketing’ has a place in the arsenal of marketing, but celebrities lead the movement in this. There’s no reason for brands not to spend a slice of the marketing pie, but it became a central focus and I’m not sure it really warrants that importance and all the eggs going into this basket. Brands need to create good content and they can partner with people to do this: lots of different people. It doesn’t and won’t always result in stats telling you how much ROI - return on investment - you’ve had. It’s marketing afterall, everything is experimental and nothing is guaranteed.
As Instagram make it hard for people to grow their followers, it’s become a game of getting nowhere and a feeling of hopelessness and dropping out. It’s also hard to find anybody on there or break out of your friendship groups. I’m not entering the #Instafraud debate, but I think some people need to take a step back and realise that not everything revolves around Instagram.
Many of these Influencers don’t seem to have an opinion or express it on Instagram and this is why they’ve never really been into Twitter. Nobody is saying anything. Twitter requires a brain and thought process in order to say something and, this, unfortunately, makes it smaller in our figure obsessed world. Twitter is about news, opinion and conversation and doesn't appeal on a huge scale.
Also, what’s the ideal Instagram number of followers? 10,000? 25,000? 100,000? More, more, more!
As the men’s fashion business has been going through contraction - ChicGeek Comment here - the money available has deflated the Influencer bubble too. Brand people forget there is much more to the digital world than Instagram. We’re definitely seeing less sponsored posts and collaborations on there. While Instagram isn’t going anywhere, the days of thinking the sun revolves around it are over. It’ll take its place on the icons along with all the other accounts and move into the background.
I think things are going to go back to written content held on blogs and websites that can be searched for and while social media is important and helps you create great original images, it’s very disposable and becoming more and more noisy as more features are added. I also think personality is going to become much more important in the digital world and this needs to be expressed in what you say, not just how you are seen. Instagram has become stressful keeping up, increasingly serious and as such has lost most of the fun.
It’s time to get clever, again.