Social networks have made it possible for the average person to attain fame and fortune that was once the exclusive domain of bonafide celebrities. People who are able to build significant communities on social media networks like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, etc are known as influencers. These influencers enjoy varying degrees of commercial success and have a direct impact on consumer buying behavior. Influencers have the power to make or break brands, as well as millions of other people.

Influencers hold immense sway over their audiences. Brands are willing to pay big bucks to get influencers to like their product and help sell them.

It’s easy to see why influencer marketing has become such a popular way for brands to tell their stories. People follow influencers and even emulate them, which makes their recommendations relevant to a large demographic of consumers. Influencer marketing allows brands to tap into this connection to reach pockets of highly targeted audiences. Seeing someone their favorite celebrity follow and enjoy a product sparks their interest, and that product ends up in their shopping cart.

Change is inevitable in every industry and it appears that the influencer marketing industry is one of them. Human influencers may be competing for a slice of the pie with virtual influencers in the near future.

What are virtual influencers?

Virtual influencers are computer-generated influencers that are designed to look like real people. They’re new to the world of social media marketing but are being used to create highly targeted campaigns.

As you’d expect, a virtual influencer is a purely computer-generated construct that mimics the characteristics of a human influencer – thus the name – but isn’t actually a real person. Everything from their physical characteristics to how they speak, what types of pictures and videos they post, what they sound like, and the environments they post pictures and videos in is computer generated. At first glance, it might be difficult to tell them apart from real influencers, given as they’re as polished and airbrushed as some of the best human influencers. But when you look closer, you can see the telltale signs of a computer-generated character. Their poses and soft features can appear static and unmoving, and their voices rarely emulate anything beyond a standard, robotic tone.

Top virtual influencers

Lu do Magula is one of the earliest virtual influencers. She has been around since 2009, but still going strong, promoting Magazine Luiza’s iBlogTV in her Instagram with 5.9 million followers.

Another leading virtual influencer is Lil Miquela, an artificial intelligence program created by a tech company in 2016. The virtual persona also happens to be a singer and a YouTuber, with more than 3 million followers on her Instagram page. Lil Miquela has worked with some of the world’s top brands on influencer marketing campaigns, including Dior and Prada, who are some of the first to use what is widely believed to be the first official, “virtual super influencer.”

How virtual influencers began gaining momentum

Luxury fashion brands were among the early adopters of the virtual influencer trend. Virtual influencers were used by Balmain in 2018 for its fashion army. Fenty Beauty also partnered with Shudu on a cosmetics campaign. Prada had Lil Miquela take over its official Instagram account for Milan Fashion Week.

Virtual Influencers in the fashion industry

Some of the biggest names in fashion are throwing their weight behind this new phenomenon, it was only a matter of time before other brands jumped on the bandwagon as well. Brands from a diverse range of industries have now started teaming up with virtual influencers. For example, instant ramen manufacturer Nissin has collaborated with virtual YouTuber Kizuna. Samsung, Calvin Klein, and Nike have utilized Lil Miquela while even KFC has launched a computer-generated model of Colonel Sanders.

Why brands are starting to prefer virtual influencers

There are many benefits to working with an influencer that isn’t human. The most obvious benefit is that you have full creative control, something that is not often the case when working with human influencers.

One of the biggest pain points for most influencer marketing programs is finding influencers who are willing to use the product in the first place. Many influencers come from niche or micro-niche audiences, making it difficult to introduce entirely new brands to their followers. Finding influencers in a meaningful, unique, niche, or micro-niche audiences can be a major challenge for any business.

There’s no telling what sort of scandal or backlash a human influencer that a brand has worked with in the past might face. Marketers are at the mercy of their human influencers and their actions, which could be detrimental to the brand.

Creating the perfect virtual influencer for your brand

It will require a substantial amount of work, starting with first identifying which target audience you’d like to market to. If you’re catering to a niche demographic that’s less social media-savvy, then it probably doesn’t make sense to go down this route. Once you have a firm understanding of who you’re marketing to, the next steps will become far easier. Start by conducting marketing research and planning which platforms would be your priority and highlight which platforms are not worth your time.

You will need to put some serious thought into creating your virtual influencer persona. This is arguably the most important step in creating the virtual influencer, as it sets the tone for how your virtual influencer will sound and act. You will need to understand who your target audience is and what they need, then select traits and values that your audience can relate to. Above all else, making your virtual influencer believable needs to be your main concern.

How to build a virtual influencer

Once you’ve figured it out, you can always work with an external CGI firm to design the virtual influencer for your brand.

Virtual influencers have immense future potential

Since the virtual influencer space is still quite new, it can be an incredible opportunity for new and upcoming brands to get on board with a trend that’s going to explode in the coming years.

First-mover advantage definitely comes in handy when virtual influencer trendsetters become mainstream. A future trend that market research firm Gartner predicts is 30% of influencer marketing budgets will be spent on virtual influencers.