Have we reached peak Instagram influencer?

Brands are reportedly starting to move away from influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers to align themselves with those with smaller social media accounts, who are perceived as more 'authentic'. So does this mark the beginning of the end for the darlings of our smart-screens? Amanda Cassidy falls down the rabbit hole.

How many followers? It is the standard measure of worth when it comes to social media and brand targetting. It is all part of living in what's being called the age of the hyper influencer. Famous KOLs or the more formal, Key Opinion Leaders now have the power to make or break a brand. Take Becky Li, one of the most followed females in China - she sold 100 Mini Cooper cars on her WeChat blog in just 4 and a half minutes.

The rise to power of those who live inside our smart-phones is staggering. In fact, figures from Media Kit suggests that total investment in influencer marketing could ready 2.3 billion dollars by 2020. Some of the star-power that social media can harness was laid bare in the Fyre Festival documentary.

Kylie Jenner was reportedly paid $250k for posting about the 3-day event on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma. The Netflix account of how Internet marketing was used to conjure up a fictional music festival that organisers then scrambled (and failed) to create, was a stark reminder of the power of aspiration and how it is being sold back to us in the shape of pretty pictures.

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Related: Watch: Netflix has just released a trailer about the controversial Fyre Festival documentary

In Ireland, those with high numbers of followers can command up to €10,000 for a single post to promote products. Content creating has never been more profitable. As a result of her influencer power, the indefatigable Pippa O'Connor has so far managed to launch her own hugely successful denim brand, fashion tour, candle range and by all accounts seems to be eying up her own homeware range.

"Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder"

Peak exposure?

Influencer might be a vague title with no clear meaning, but it is the description of those who chart their lives (or the area of their lives that they want you to see) and who gain popularity through this in the form of followers.

Poet Patrick Kavanagh famously wrote, 'Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder,' meaning the tiny fragments of what you are allowed a glimpse of, creates a mystique and leaves us craving more. Being an influencer gets a bad rap but isn't the flippant role critics would have you believe. This is next-level marketing and that involves a lot of hard work.

Crafting a personality that is attractive to brands is about more than just taking pictures of artfully displayed products, staging moments on a beach or tagging oneself in outfits to drive traffic to a brand they 'collaborate' with. Most successful influencers have a team around them to keep up the spivvy content, collaboration requests, and to answer punter queries - with the most common surely being where's your dress from?

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Louder, less imaginative and a lot more disposable.

But questions around disclosure and transparency are now becoming more of a priority with the advertising standards authority taking a keen interest in who is promoting what and if they are following the correct guidelines. Things like authenticity and credibility are being scrutinised by brands and macro-influencers who are used by many brands before and struggling to promise real ambassadorship. Irish influencers, in particular, find themselves as the big fish in a very small pond and with that comes the risk of over-exposure.

It isn't that there is too much of it, according to marketers, it is that what is there seems to be getting louder, less imaginative and a lot more disposable. Alexis Chong is a senior advertising executive at International media firm Hava Media. "I predict that it is going to become less marketing to the masses." She expects to see "more marketing to the ones who matter with the content that resonates going forward." A recent Dealspot report also found that over half of all millennials now trust influencers less than they have done in the past.

The rise of the hyper influencers began because people wanted more reality in their lives. Sick and tired of photoshopped magazines and false promises from traditional advertising, many turned to social media to immerse themselves in other people's lives. Real lives.

Perhaps that desire is driven by our innate nosiness or our compulsion to continuously create hierarchies we can emulate and admire. But somewhere along the way, brands realised that under their noses was the perfect platform to elevate these digital personas onto pedestals built from their own followers. The influencer was born.

Representing reality

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Less obvious names are now starting to shine

But now, there is evidence of a shift. Emerging content creators, known as nano-influencers are becoming just as relevant for brands. Hyper-targeting products of local relevance for niche interests scores best for engagement, despite small numbers of 'followers'.

Less obvious names are now starting to shine. Those who fell into the role of influencing while going about their daily lives. A more organic type of demi-god that includes shepherds, farmers and those addicted to cleaning their house.

Brands are starting to take note. Lower profiles can be perceived as a little more relatable. A smaller following can often be more manageable for the influencer, allowing them to respond more regularly - offering a bit more authentic 'reality'. The affordability factor is also appealing to the commercial eye. Micro-influencers are the ideal way for smaller brands looking to really engage with a specific audience.

Of course, anyone can be an influencer. One woman in Japan soared in popularity as she charts her life with her dozen chinchillas. @12catslady has amassed a following of over 100k in just a few short months and even got a sponsorship deal with a cat food company.

A man called John Lewis has gained over 65k followers through his polite and engaging answers to queries from those who believe he is a retail store. He was recruited by the UK department store itself to take part in their Christmas campaign. Being an influencer can be about hard work and determination and/or complete dumb luck.

While some may have flown a little too close to the sun, the future remains mostly bright for those who have the knack of capturing the attention of ordinary people. But as we increasingly take stock of who and what is being advertised to us, things like authenticity and trustworthiness are suddenly starting to matter a whole lot more.

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