When locking in an influencer for your next project, someone with 1.7m followers on Instagram who’s guaranteed not to embarrass or drop your brand could be hard to find – if you’re looking among humanity, that is. The world of virtual influence is where you should be looking, according to the Virtual Influencer Agency’s Dudley Nevill-Spencer who held a session on the opportunities in the sector at this year’s Influencer Marketing Show.
In the virtual space, you can find Lil Miquela (she of the 1.7m followers) or Cade Harper (93K followers). They won’t push back on the artistic direction you’re going for in the campaign you’ve teamed up on, or openly criticise your brand if a collaboration goes wrong.
Virtual influencers could be a good choice for some brands, and they’re also unavoidable. Even if you’re not posting on their timelines on social media yet, you will have communicated with a virtual avatar or NLP (Natural Language Processing) while online shopping or looking for help online. Vuelio’s own virtual Licia is very helpful, for example (but she does have a real-life Licia counterpart).
And there’s a science behind why they work so well, aside from never needing sleep, sustenance or HR intervention – our brains are hardwired to trust things with faces. Or, as the Wikipedia entry for the phenomenon of Pareidolia, puts it ‘cognitive processes are activated by the ‘face-like’ object, which alert the observer to the emotional state of the subject even before the conscious mind begins to process the information’. We have no choice to feel a bond, even for those of us who would never comment on a Cade Harper post to tell him that yes, friendship is so important.
Even when we know for certain that what we’re communicating with isn’t human, but a programme designed to elicit a set reaction, we trust them. And in some cases, more than our fellow humans. Research undertaken by DARPA, and mentioned during Nevill-Spencer’s talk, involving virtual therapists for soldiers showed that the robo-counsellors did better than their human colleagues during sessions, because patients felt no judgement while sharing with them and seeking advice.
Lil Miquela, as an influencer, will reply to her followers’ comments without any sense of judgement. Her recommendations and collaborations can elicit a similar reaction as a human influencer from her followers with no worry. What she, and her fellow virtual celebrities, can’t avoid, however, are the bad choices of those who plan out and license her career – Miquela’s controversial advert for Calvin Klein with Bella Hadid being a prime example. Not all collaborations will be good ideas for them and their creator/owners, or the brands they’re collaborating with.
Other uses of the technology are seen as worse than adverts with supermodels – deepfake technology use in elections could be particularly sinister. And if the uncanny valley smooth skin and designed-by-community personalities of the most popular virtual personalities muffle your automatic trust response at the moment (or trigger thoughts of Skynet, Black Mirror and Ultron), consider the possibilities these types of influencers have and are already demonstrating today. Nevill-Spencer believes that NLP tools can increase influencer/brand engagements from 2% (around where they sit currently) to over 15% in the future.
Paired with personality traits that inspire loyalty, virtual influencers look set to become part of the influence landscape. But they’re not real people, with real emotions, opinions or creativity – they can only respond within the limits of their creator’s coding so far. So while a future of virtual personalities to help and offer advice may be on the way, their real-life human versions are still worth building relationships with now and in the future.
Find the right (human) influencers for your campaign with the Vuelio Media Database.