Rise of the Machines: This time the robots are coming for influencers

- April 7, 2022 2 MIN READ
AI-generated Instagram "influencer" Miquela

While many worry that they’re going to lose their job to a robot in the years ahead, that’s already happening in an area few suspected: social media influencers

It seems the age of the Kardashians is waning, replaced by artificial intelligence and digital influencers embraced by those under their influence.

New research, led by Swinburne marketing expert Professor Sean Sands looked at human versus artificial intelligence (AI) influencers on Instagram, comparing the likes of the Kardashians with the world’s first digital supermodel, Shudu (@shudu.gram), as well as Miquela (@lilmiquela), who has more than 3 million followers and ‘describes herself’ as a “19-year-old Robot living in LA”.

Professor Sands was lead author on ‘Unreal influence: leveraging AI in influencer marketing’, co-authored by Swinburne Associate Professor Colin Campbell and Dr Carla Ferraro, and Dr Kirk Plangger from King’s College London.

They found that, in many ways, a virtual AI influencer can be as effective as a human influencer.

The findings upends conventional wisdom around the authenticity and credibility humans on social media bring to the relatively new, but fast-growing advertising genre, with influencing is expected to be a US$15 billion sector this year.

The Swinburne-led research found that people are just as willing to follow AI influencers as their human counterparts.

“Consumers are equally open to follow an AI or human influencer, and they perceive the level of personalisation provided by either influencer type as similar,” Prof Sands said.

His research team suggests it can be explained by a ‘spill-over effect’ from consumer experiences with other AI recommendation systems. Put simply, we’re already trained to embrace AI recommendations, from viewing suggestions on Netflix to Spotify, Amazon, and Booktopia.

“While we know they’re not real people and we, therefore, trust an AI influencer less – the research found that AI influencers are more likely to kickstart word-of-mouth trends,” Sands said.

“For consumers who are attracted to ‘uniqueness’, they may actually prefer AI influencers.”


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AI influencers v humans

So what does this mean for the humans who’ve carved out livings as influencers in recent years. Well, the AI version is on the rise.

Leading global brands, including KFC, LVMH, Mini, Netflix, Nike and Samsung have all worked with AI influencers.

And the French luxury brand Balmain dropped the Kardashians as their social media influencers in 2018, appointing three virtual AI influencers in their place: Shudu, Margot and Xhi.

Even the World Health Organisation engage AI influencer Knox Frost, with more than a million Instagram followers at the time, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prof. Sands said their research found that AI influencers are able to “quickly leverage social media trends” creating new opportunities for marketers and brands.

“A further benefit of AI influencers is that they potentially enable an infinite number of micro-targeted – or even entirely personalised – influencers to be rapidly created by a brand,” he said.

“At the extreme, all consumers could be targeted with their own personalised influencer bots.”

You can download the research paper here.