How the Cost-Of-Living Crisis Shifted the Power of Influencers
The evidence is apparent globally: with inflation, rising interest rates and increasing personal debt, we are in a cost of living crisis. Consumer attitudes towards what value means are also shifting. And when it comes to social, we’re seeing increasingly powerful agents of change navigating and steering these shifts: influencers.
Influencers. Creators. Advocates. Moderators.
Whatever nomenclature we use to describe them, they’re at the front lines. They’re creating purposefully intimate spaces on the Internet that indulge and distract from the state of perma-crisis in which we find ourselves. And they too have faced crisis after crisis – the pandemic, climate change, wealth inequality and a decline in traditional leaders and institutions. Digital consumers – particularly those coming of age now – are looking to them as stewards of shared interests, discovery and learning. In short: influencers are defining what value looks like at a time when people are feeling shortchanged.
So what roles are influencers playing in this cost of living crisis? Our global analysis, along with a survey of 2,000 social media users in the UK and US in partnership with Statista Q, helped us find out.
Data revealed that 62% of Gen Z users are looking for more money saving content from brands and influencers on social media – a direct response to stubbornly high inflation. Meanwhile, 69% of US and UK adult social media users say that influencers have helped them find cheaper options.
Influencers have become trusted guides in the quest for financial savvy. Through engaging content, they provide tips, highlight affordable alternatives, and offer valuable insights into frugality. From featuring #dupe products (affordable imitations), showcasing craft and DIY skills (what we call artisanal peacocking), or sharing how-to videos, influencers are transforming the way we approach consumption.
And influencers aren’t just sharing what to buy, they’re also sharing what not to. Through de-influencing, influencers promote conscious spending and mindful consumption. They’re teaching people how to make their money go further, sometimes moving them away from certain products or brands. Value, quality, and ethics have gained a newfound consideration, and this trend is expected to stick, particularly as sustainability rises up the agenda.
Influencers are no longer confined to just promoting products or services; they’re shaping culture. By sharing personal experiences and day-in-the life stories, they create an emotional connection with their audience – helping to drive new discoveries, even before consumers know they’re looking.
This is more significant than many realize, because it upends regular online search behavior. As a top Google exec recently suggested, the tech giant’s core Search and Maps products are losing share because of a growing preference for social media and videos as the first stop on younger users’ path to discovery.
We also see a particular type of influencer, sometimes known as ‘explainers’, take more prominence in helping people understand society’s evolving cultural landscape.
For example, TikTok stars such as JustMe.Rod help other millennials understand the quickly moving world around them with content that literally tells them the significance of words/slang, trends and events. This is another way to flex what you know, rather than what you have.
Stans and fandoms
The origin of the term ‘stan’ is credited to the Eminem song about an obsessed fan, and although today the term is generally benign, the impact of fandoms is nonetheless growing in significance. This is because we see that audiences – and algorithms – are increasingly gravitating towards shared interests, leading to the rise of mobilized fandoms.
Their specialty is their greatest strength, so groups that congregate around shared interests trust each other for recommendations and knowledge.
And they’re also becoming more muscular, as we saw in the case of the Swifties – Taylor Swift fans – who collectively took antitrust action against Ticketmaster. It demonstrates fandoms using their collective power and connection to affect real change.
Influence isn’t just taking shape amongst humans: Virtual influence is also afoot. Take Luk.AI for example, a virtual alter-ego of NBA superstar Luka Dončić. Fans interact and converse with him via TikTok.
Developer Epic Games says that Luk.AI will become smarter and grow by interacting with its community, as fans influence its skills, interests, and hobbies.
Virtual influence is a new way to connect with fans on a deeper level, and although it’s a relatively new frontier, it overcomes barriers to cost, scale and in some cases, safety, that celebrity and creators can’t overcome IRL.
As we can see, a period of societal change has made many influencers more integral in connecting people, inspiring action and meeting the changing needs of their audiences. By understanding their role and leveraging their power, brands can also hope to build deeper and broader connections, and provide audiences with something much more authentic and meaningful.