The last time CivicScience checked in on influencer marketing, there seemed to be some slight denial among young consumers about how much influencer content they’re watching on social media — if they even interact with influencers at all. It’s easy enough to understand the confusion. With some of TikTok’s biggest stars, like Addison Rae, Bella Poarch, and the D’Amelio sisters simultaneously launching some combination of their music and film careers alongside posting on social media, the lines get blurry.
But beneath the A-list, there’s still an enormous industry of online entertainers who also primarily function as pitch people. And as their names might suggest, they still wield significant influence on young social media users’ purchasing habits. Among the Gen Pop, just a slim 8% of Americans have consciously purchased a product or service on a blogger or influencer’s recommendation.
But when you narrow things down to younger Americans — your most likely age bracket to be scrolling Instagram or TikTok — the purchasing influence increases. Nearly 15% of the 18-to-24 age bracket has purchased something because an influencer recommended it in the last six months. Millennials and young Gen Z shoppers also turn out at a higher rate than the Gen Pop, but somewhat surprisingly, the 35-to-54 age group approaches the Gen Pop’s purchasing rate.
Americans earning less than $50,000 are most likely to purchase products from influencers or bloggers, and adults earning between $50,000 and $100,000 are the least likely to follow any outright. Influencers are ultimately aimed at consumers with enough disposable income to shell out, but not necessarily enough to go for higher quality products that don’t require an Instagram signal boost to get on your radar.
Purchasing Doesn’t Equate to Trust
It’s nearly impossible to buy exclusively from businesses or sellers who champion your values, let alone from places you particularly trust. In the case of influencers, the gap is notably wide. Just 1% of all U.S. adults claim to trust social media influencers, and Young Gen Z takes the lead, with nearly one-third of all surveyed who either trust or feels neutral about influencers.
Then it might be no coincidence that an overwhelming majority of adults want the lines between regular goofs and sponsored posts to be crystal clear. Nearly two-thirds of Americans want brand-sponsored posts to be disclosed all the time, with a very slim minority who don’t want there to be any distinction. Although Instagram (and more directly, the Federal Trade Commission) sets guidelines for endorsement deals being disclosed on the platform, the lines can still be blurred if there are less obvious conflicts of interest.
As more and more influencers make the jump into something resembling conventional stardom, it’s easy to think of the vocation as a stepping stone to a more permanent career. But for many prominent Instagram and TikTok users, this is the endgame for becoming a successful salesperson — whether or not their followers actually trust them is beside the point.