The rise of the social media de-influencer

In the ever-changing world of social media marketing, there has been an unexpected twist to one of the hottest trends in the industry. 

Since the onset of social media, influencer marketing has been a popular tactic to promote brands and products. Content creators, otherwise known as influencers, cite their personal experiences with products to encourage others to become consumers. 

However, a sudden 180-turn has taken social media, especially TikTok, by storm recently with the emergence of de-influencing. 

This turnabout sees content creators and past influencers decrying certain products as being overpriced or not living up to their hype. This pushback against consumerism has been especially popular among those in the Gen-Z and Millennial generations, as it counters another recent hashtag, #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt, where viewers are encouraged to make impulse purchases. Meanwhile, other products have been blasted as being unethical, such taking advantage of underpaid labor or being made using practices not seen as being friendly to the environment or animals.

The trend appears to have started with the health and beauty industry, but it has since expanded to multiple categories. Wherever and whatever the reasons for starting, de-influencing has exploded in popularity. As of March 2023, more than 160 million videos on TikTok were marked “#deinfluencing.”

For decades, businesses used the age-old tradition of having a comments box in a predominant location for customers to leave their input. In more recent years, consumers have provided feedback through public reviews left on sites like Google, Facebook, and Yelp. 

Influencing and de-influencing are the newest means to critique companies and products. Fans praise the virtues of de-influencing, calling it refreshing. The movement is currently riding a wave of popularity, as creators have found a tone that resonates with an audience during this time of high inflation and other economic uncertainty. 

Authenticity has long been a benchmark of any successful marketing campaign, and the established relationships many influencers have with their followers has given them credibility when helping shape opinions about brands. This has especially been the case with de-influencers, who are given even higher marks for their efforts to discourage their audiences from making unnecessary purchases. 

However, others are eying the movement with skepticism, calling it just another new twist to driving consumer opinion. Cracks have already started to appear in the genuine feel of the de-influencing trend. Many creators have quickly pivoted beyond simply de-influencing, even going as far as offering full-fledged endorsements for other brands. This has created suspicions about influencers’ true motivations. 

While the de-influencing movement may not last, hopefully it proves to be course correction for consumers who have been persuaded too easily by social media talking heads. Meanwhile, companies and brands will hopefully also learn a lesson from the experience. Instead of relying on the pop and sizzle promoted by influencers, those negatively targeted by the de-influencing crowd can hopefully use the critique to review their products, fix perceived shortcomings, and in turn, develop long-lasting brand loyalty.   

So, after all this, does implementing a de-influencer campaign work for your business? It might. If your industry has an alternate option such as milk versus nut milks, credit unions versus banks, Ford versus Chevy, utilizing a de-influencer is a great way to bring the attributes of your product to light while showing the weakness of another. You want to be sure that the consumer or end-user will be able to see and agree with your point of view, should they choose to compare product lines. Don’t say you are healthier, less expensive, or better quality if the consumer will find this to be untrue. Keep the content high level and use the tone of fact  versus opinion.

Social media is a great tool to reach new business, but never forget that what you post lives forever once people start sharing it. 

Betsy McCloskey is a partner at Plaid Swan Inc. with offices in Cedar Rapids and Dubuque. Plaid Swan is a female-owned and operated marketing communications firm.