What Does the TikTok Trend of De-influencing Mean for Your Brand?

SOnline23 August Print What Does The TikTok Trend Of De Influencing Mean For Your Brand

In a TikTok from February, user @matchabuttercookie faces the camera to address her more than 27,000 followers. Her face is serious, and her voice is sincere.

“OK, this is me jumping on the de-influencing train,” she begins, before listing some of the home goods and kitchen items—including Caraway pans and Urban Outfitters furniture—that she’s regretted buying.

The video, which was approaching 100,000 likes at the time of publication, shares an overall view count of more than 829 million among TikToks using the #deinfluencing hashtag. Content creators have jumped on the trend this year to dish about makeup products, furniture and Amazon gadgets that didn’t live up to the hype: the Dyson Airwrap, portable blender bottles, that one Stanley cup—no product, no matter how beloved or once viral, is safe.

De-influencing’s meteoric rise

Influencing is a popular profession and a coveted income stream for brands—influencer recommendations can skyrocket a product’s popularity, especially in the beauty and wellness spaces. And if influencing is all about recommending products to your followers, de-influencing takes that idea and flips it on its head.

“It’s a bunch of influencers who, instead of promoting products, are speaking negatively, in many instances, about things that didn’t work for them,” explains Jessy Grossman, founder and CEO of Women in Influencer Marketing. “Just being really candid and honest and focusing on the reality that a lot of products aren’t so great.”

When de-influencing took off, it spread for the same reasons most TikTok trends do: Creators want to jump on the latest content trends to catch the wave of whatever the app’s mercurial algorithm chooses to favor at any given moment. “It creates a lot of buzz and engagement, which a lot of influencers are struggling with, because the algorithms can be unpredictable,” Grossman explains. “Everyone’s trying to get more views and get more followers.”

The de-influencer era

Grossman says we’re seeing a cultural shift in the way influencers (and their followers) want to talk about (and hear about) brands and products.

For a long time, every new cosmetic brand and kitchen gadget seemed to garner the same reaction from influencers and influencing hopefuls who’d use it on camera and respond with wide eyes, audible gasps and some version of, “Oh, my God, you guys…”

Recommendation fatigue and toxic positivity may be to blame

Grossman thinks de-influencing is probably a reaction to that recommendation fatigue. She gets tired of the endless parade of positive content on her feed—if everyone says that everything is good, you can’t possibly tell one way or another what’s actually worth spending your money on. The de-influencing videos have been a refreshing change of pace.

“I think that, perhaps, the de-influencing movement is just a dramatic counter­reaction to this toxic positivity,” Grossman adds. “Always speaking about, ‘Oh, I love this product; it’s amazing’—that just doesn’t feel realistic…. I think a lot of us are getting desensitized to that, to be honest.… I know I am.”

The trend also coincides with recent high-profile influencer scandals, including #mascaragate, in which viewers accused the popular beauty influencer Mikayla Nogueira of using false lashes in a mascara review, and the Tarte Dubai trip, in which the cosmetic company flew a group of content creators business class to stay in personal villas at The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Wadi Desert. They posted the whole thing for their followers in a series of “get ready with me” videos, which TikTokers blasted as extravagant and tone-deaf.

Grossman thinks this is all a good thing.

“Influencers are speaking up about a variety of different topics, and, you know, they’re not just quietly… fearful, I guess, about speaking up about… whatever… is on their mind,” she says. “And, ultimately, I think that’s a really positive thing.”

The new influencer

Influencers are feeling fatigued, too—take internet personality Lee Tilghman, who was the subject of a New York Times profile on life after influencing. The former wellness blogger garnered a several-hundred-thousand-strong following on Instagram before taking a hiatus from the platform in 2019. It’s just not sustainable to put on a big, happy grin every day, Grossman says.

She also notes that most influencers are women—studies have shown up to 84%. To that end, she says any trend that encourages them to speak up, be frank about their experiences and be real with their audience is a good thing.

It’s a double-edged sword, though. Unlike the latest viral dance or trending audio, this movement could have real-world implications for influencers and the brands that work with them.

Authenticity isn’t always brand-friendly

A de-influencing post on TikTok might garner lots of engagement, views and even followers. “But brands have always pretty much wanted to work with influencers who are ‘brand-friendly,’ and that’s a term that’s used a lot,” Grossman cautions. “Brand-safe” is another common term in influencer marketing—and if your content is typically negative toward brands, that’s going to be a red flag.

“I think, fundamentally, brands are naturally going to be attracted to people who aren’t s–t-talkers,” Grossman laughs. “They don’t want to enter into a partnership worried that like, ‘Wow, this person’s garnered a reputation for being a de-influencer, and we’re going to be paying them money here. They’re going to speak highly of us, right?’”

While de-influencing is big right now—and some TikTokers, like @michelleskidelsky (currently at 178,000 followers), have even become known as de-influencers thanks to their popular and consistent “don’t buy that” content—Grossman doesn’t think the de-influencing movement will be around forever. “I think it’s gonna be a short-lived trend, personally,” she says.

For the most part, influencers are looking at long-term business models. There are ways to monetize influence that don’t involve brand partnerships: merch, in-person meetups and events, gated content. But for now, and likely for a good chunk of the future, Grossman says brand partnerships are predominantly how influencers make money.

What de-influencing means for brands

Grossman says brands may need to work harder to avoid potential pitfalls when working with influencers. She gives this example: Let’s say you’re a fast-food joint, and an influencer you’d like to work with has never said anything bad about your brand specifically—you’ve checked. However, they have shared posts talking about how they don’t like fast food generally. If people unearth those old videos, it could undermine the whole campaign—and sour their followers on the influencer and on your brand.

The de-influencing trend highlights how important it is for brands to take their time and do their due diligence before deciding to work with an influencer. “Check out their past content; see what they’ve been talking about,” Grossman says. It’s important not to take it personally—think of it as free market research. And while it can take a lot of time and effort to dig through old posts, there are companies out there that can do that work for you.

She also recommends coming right out and asking, as part of the vetting process, about any potential conflicts or past posts that could be construed as negative against the company or industry. It’s the kind of thing you could even have in writing, in their contract.

“If they say no,” she explains, and then it turns out they had posted negatively in the past, “there could be a breach of contract there, depending on your agreement. And that sort of covers you and your company.”

The future of de-influencing

We’re seeing a cultural shift in the way influencers (and their followers) want to talk about (and hear about) brands and products.

The natural cycle of all TikTok trends is that they’re trends, which come and go all the time. De-influencing may itself start to feel disingenuous before long, as viewers become accustomed to seeing that type of content on their For You pages.

Ultimately, Grossman hopes we wind up somewhere in the middle—that TikTokers will start to feel more comfortable talking candidly about what did and didn’t work for them without it feeling like they’re just jumping on another trend. “I really do genuinely believe,” she says, “that honest reviews and people being more authentic on the internet is a positive thing.”

Photo by Omnart; DisobeyArt/shutterstock.com

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Cassel is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor, a co-owner of Racket MN, and a VHS collector.

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