Virtual influencers: Is this a perfectly edited post or a robot’s life?

Insights / 29-10-2021


The internet was created as a space where people could engage with each other regardless of their location. As the collaborative medium keeps progressing, social media continues connecting users and blurring the lines between reality and fantasy with perfectly curated, ‘filter’ worlds.

The metaverse is a convergence of the digital and the physical rather than a standalone entity. The interchange of value through digital content, objects, currencies, and time is one of the defining features of the modern technoconomy.

Creators are playing a huge role in the development of our new creator first economic paradigm. How incredible to see a world where people are replaced by machines for jobs. This has encouraged people to become online creators to show off their artistic, musical and physical abilities. Now they are being replaced by machines again!

We have entered an era driven by data and machine learning, so it was only a matter of time until computer-generated content took over the phenomenon that is influencers.

The influencer and AI spaces are two of the most explosive industries on our planet. Respectively, they are predicted to grow to $15b and $35b industries. The convergence of these hyper-growth techno industries was preordained. In this week’s blog, we’re looking at how artificial intelligence and virtual influencers are going to impact and ultimately help scale the influencer industry in the years to come.


How did an AI program become an influencer?

Now that we are entering the Web 3.0 era where the online world is expected to be universally accessible and individually ownable, people are sharing their stories in different channels and connecting with personalities they’d never be able to meet in real life. As we begin to rely more on data and AI, tech companies start to wonder if computers can do our tasks more efficiently, and connect with the people around them. That is where the idea of virtual influencers started. Imagine having an influencer that can adapt immediately to your brand needs and produce exactly the content in mind. Well, no need to imagine any longer because they are here!

Tech companies have programmed multiple stories to simulate a new generation of influencers; the virtual or CGI influencers. This new league of online personalities are computer-generated programmes that engage with the users and collaborate with a variety of brands.

The most famous example is the virtual influencer generated by Brud. With 3M followers on both Instagram and Tik Tok, Lil Miquela is a 19-year-old (for the sixth time in a row) that has conquered the social media world. This virtual influencer from LA has a backstory, multiple crises on YouTube, hits on Spotify and deals with brands such as Samsung and Calvin Klein. On paper, she sounds like the rest of the influencers in the community; except she doesn’t physically exist. She is so successful that the UK marketplace OnBuy estimates that this virtual influencer has produced around $11 million for her company in 2020.

But she is not the only one out there. In fact, many companies are embracing virtual influencers as a part of their launch strategy. A fantastic example of that, are our friends at Riot Games who make League of Legends, a popular MOBA genre multiplayer video game.

In Sept. 2020, Riot launched a new playable character in the game, Seraphine, who happened to be a singer and influencer in the League of Legends universe. They created social accounts for Seraphine, who rapidly built up a huge following, to help promote

There are so many virtual influencers out there that they are now interacting with each other on multiple platforms. The industry is growing so rapidly that in China alone, the virtual idol industry has an estimated audience of 390 million people. An Eastern example of this league of virtual influencers is Ling with more than 130,000 followers on Weibo (China’s version of Twitter), she has collaborated with brands such as Tesla and the bubble tea chain, Nayuki.

Is this good or bad news?

High profile celebrities such as David Dobrik and Jake Paul present instability to brands. Most recently, the Canadian-Chinese star Kris Wu who had collaborations with brands such as Porche and Bulgari, was arrested after being accused of rape. As his popularity fell, a lot of brands were negatively affected by his scandal, shifting more eyes towards AI, as one of their major advantages was stability.

In a world of scandals and controversies, personalities such as Miquela and Ling guarantee a trouble-free experience for brands as each inch of the character is engineered to perfection. They bring absolute peace of mind for campaign managers, as they take the unpredictable ‘human’ factor out of the equation.

AI influencers are low-risk alternatives as they are available at all hours of the day in multiple locations at the same time, and their pixels can be easily moulded to fit a brand’s campaign. They can be tailored to the brand that they are representing while still reflecting the perfect audience persona back at their followers.

It is easier for them to be upgraded and customized to fit into different styles and to ensure their image is always on-brand.

Viola Chen, strategist at Red Ant Asia

On the other hand, there is a rising concern about fake content which is linked to virtual influencers. Users argue that it doesn’t matter how lifelike these programmes look, they are not real people and the phenomenon is actually quite scary. This could be attributed to the uncanny valley, a theory which explains that people tend to feel unease in response to robots that might have a humanoid feel but still have robotic characteristics, such as the AI robot Sophia.

It is also important to note that one of the key factors about influencer marketing is the influencer’s ability to connect with the community, which could be presented as a problem for these virtual idols. People tend to like authentic and relatable content, they want someone who shares the good and the bad days,and a programme that was engineered to perfection tends to lack expertise in that area.

Five or ten years ago, people might have brought in a picture of a magazine cover supermodel. Now they’re bringing in a picture of themselves but just in a slightly optimized way, where Facetune or a Snapchat filter will give them a millimeter more of a cheekbone projection, or a fuller lip, or a straighter nose.

Plastic surgeon Dr. Laura Devgan

In terms of morality, the influencer industry tends to be linked with unrealistic beauty standards which could be amplified by virtual influencers. Users are not only going to look up to supermodels but they could idealise the life that a machine is trying to replicate.

However, many virtual influencer developers are trying to change that. In the case of Miquela, she shares content on the struggles of being a 19-year-old and finding herself within her programming. She has had her heart broken, struggled with negative comments and jumped on many of the viral Tik Tok trends. She also tends to share her thoughts on her YouTube channel

Another example is Angie, an imperfect virtual personality who has connected with many Chinese users in the Douyin platform as she tends to share relatable content and engage with her community.

The reason why I like her is that Angie is more realistic than many people who are actually real […] She gives the impetuous world a touch of beauty

 Online user

Influencers are more diverse than ever

The world of influencers is bigger than ever, and the fact that virtual idols have become more popular, adds to another variation in the incredibly rich digital world we all spend more and more of our time in. With virtual influencers now available to work with brands, the industry keeps on growing and growing personalities for every type of user. Like a lot of things in life, virtual influencers and real-life influencers don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Calvin Klein’s previous work with Miquela and Bella Hadid proves that there are no limits to ideas when it comes to influencer campaigns.

Audiences are extremely diverse, and you shouldn’t have all your eggs in one basket. The massive power of influencers is their ability to resonate with their own communities, that is why most successful campaigns involve a variety of different content creators. And you are right; getting a lot of personalities might make your campaign difficult to follow, but that is why Edge is here to make your life easier! Edge Analytics can track all of your influencers’ performance automatically in just one place. Doesn’t matter if they are a virtual personality or a micro-influencer, at Edge we believe that everyone has the ability to influence.

Book a demo here to get all of your influencer’s performance in one place.