Digital Marketing

Macro-Influencer Mistakes: Failing to Engage Your Audience

Reaching macro-influencer status in itself is difficult and time consuming. You have to produce quality content that attracts followers, build your following, interact with your followers, and adapt to a variety of algorithm changes. For those of us who are following those influencers, it can feel like everyone’s doing the same thing – and that’s why many macro-influencers struggle to grab hold of their audience and keep it.

Because influencers get their name from the fact that they influence their audience to do something – whether it’s support a cause or buy a product – it makes sense to work with them when you want to spread brand awareness and grow your own audience.

I’d like to share a story of an Instagram macro-influencer with more than two million followers – Arii. You’d think that with a following that large, she’d be able to market herself as a successful influencer. But sadly, all she can say is that she has over 2 million followers. When she tried to use her “influencer” status to sell t-shirts and launch her online clothing – she found that she couldn’t even sell 36 shirts.

Arii is an 18-year-old influencer with 2.6 million followers. Though the post has since been deleted, she wrote that the clothing company she was working with had rules regarding her first sales, which included selling at least 36 pieces from her line.

The post read: “Hi, it breaks my heart to have to write this post. As ya’ll know, I released my brand. I’ve poured my heart into this drop. For my photoshoot, I flew out a photographer & makeup artist…. & and I planned weeks ahead & was lucky enough to gather some friends who modeled for me…. I rented out a huge photo studio for the day so I could [get] as many shots & video promo shots as I could….Unfortunately the company that I’m working with goes based on your first drop sales. In order for them to order and make my products (even to keep working with them) I have to sell at least 36 pieces (knowing I’ve become super irrelevant, I already knew it was gonna be hard) but I was getting such good feedback that people loved it and were gonna buy it. No one has kept their word so now the company won’t be able to send out the orders to people who actually bought shit and it breaks my heart.

While the situation is sad for her, she made mistakes… and rookie ones at that.

Followers Do Not Equal Customers

The number one rule of business is to make sure you know who your customer is, and then create content that’s helpful and appealing to those customers. Just because someone follows you on social media doesn’t mean that they will ever become customers.

And if you make the mistake of buying followers (I don’t know that she did or didn’t – or how long it took her to amass that many followers) to inflate your numbers and make yourself look good, you’ll definitely lack the targeted fans and followers you’ll need to convert them into paying customers later down the funnel.

By creating content the type of people you want to buy your product or service want, the idea is that you will attract targeted potential customers, who over time, will develop a relationship with you. They will trust your authority and suggestions, thus being more open to the idea of buying products and services you suggest, or products and services you sell.

She fails here because people liking a bunch of selfies doesn’t mean they’ll ever buy anything – especially if you don’t even tell them where to buy the elements of the outfits you’re wearing.

Engagement on Photos Doesn’t Mean You Have a Brand

Looking at Arii’s feed, many of the photos are just her doing whatever. There’s not a cohesive theme. She’s not sharing any of her products. While she does get plenty of engagement in terms of likes and comments – it’s many people asking where her outfits are from, where she bought something, how old she is, or since the deletion of her brand failure post, even giving her advice about how to build a brand online.

She mistook the likes and engagement she got from her followers as liking her aesthetic as the brand. There’s nothing there but photos of herself – nothing that tells you who she is. Nothing of any inspiration, nothing that tells people why they should consider following her and what value she’d bring to their feed.

And though people are taking the time to like and comment, there’s little to no evidence that Arii actually responds to people when they reach out to her. If you don’t interact with your followers, you’ll never build the two-way relationship that’s necessary if you want sales.

There’s not even a bio to explain who she is – just an email address that’s associated with an influencer marketing platform or talent agency, Fullscreen.

Twitter Had a Heyday

Twitter users were quick to point out her mistakes – and though it may seem a bit cruel, they actually had valid points as to why she failed.

Jack Appleby provided this side-by-side look at the photos she shared on her feed, compared to the clothes in her brand.

As you can see, the aesthetics between the two are wildly different. If you can’t see her wearing any of the clothes from her line, why would her followers?

Others, such as now inactive user biculturalfamilia, pointed out that she didn’t do enough to promote it.

Jack Appleby gave us another comparison of her feed, suggesting that while he may have missed her IG stories or promoted posts, it appears that she announced it with a single video, put up an additional video and then claimed she failed 13 days later. The feed shows no photos of her products. Watching the video tells us nothing about the brand, what it is, or even what it looks like.


Ultimately, no matter how many followers you have – cultivating a relationship with them and learning who they are is the only way to build a successful online business. I admire Arri’s efforts to build the following, but she’s got a long way to go before she can leverage it as a brand or business.


Social Media

Virtual Influencers: A New Trend with Brands

Working with influencers isn’t without problems. They do have large audiences and know how to create awesome planned candid (plandid) shots on Instagram, but they also have a mind of their own. That means they can do and say things that cause sponsors great angst about working with them. We’ve seen it happened with PewDiePie in 2017, when he lost his contracts with Google and Disney for his antisemitic remarks. Brands don’t want to inhibit influencer creativity, but they also don’t want to be associated with people they find risky to their image. This is true for many celebrities, influencer or not, as evidenced by the college admissions scandal and Lori Loughlin losing Hallmark and the final season of Fuller House. Misbehave, and you’ll suffer the consequences because brands need to keep their customers happy.

Perhaps in an effort to bypass working with high-dollar influencers or risking a relationship gone awry, brands are now in the business of creating virtual influencers. If they take off, it could completely change the industry. Removing the human error from influencers, by creating a digital human image and controlling the content gives brands a “perfect” solution, right? Plus, who knows – AI could come into play sooner than we think… completely removing the need for human influencers.

Top Virtual Influencers

Shudu Gram

Considered the world’s first virtual supermodel, Shudu Gram is the invention of a photographer. Shudu is positioned more as a mannequin or a piece of art, but within a few months of launch, the character earned hundreds of thousands of followers. Likely due to the fact that she’s not poised as a woman, her growth stagnated, because at the time of this writing, ”she” has 173K followers, and the account is still fairly active.

Miquela Sousa

Another virtual influencer, known as Lil Miquela, hit the scene shortly after. Though her creator hid in secret for some time, it was eventually revealed that she is the creation of Brud – an L.A. based startup comprised of dreamers, storytellers, and engineers who focus on AI and robotics. Miquela, on the other hand, is positioned as a normal woman. “She” posts photos of herself with “friends” on Instagram, participates in media interviews, supports Black Lives Matter, and so on. As of this writing, she has amassed 1.5 million followers. For reference, the company who created her only has 26.3K, but they don’t post as frequently.

To Hire or to Create Your Own?

Virtual influencers operate online just like a human influencer does. Based on the persona the designer creates for them, they continue to develop and post content that falls in line with that persona. That’s why you see Miquela “living” in photos with friends, doing things like putting on makeup, walking around outside, and so on. Once they’ve amassed a decently following, brands are willing to work with them, too. Depending on the audience, they may even be more willing to work with them since they have more control over the content that’s posted as a result.

Micquela for instance, promotes brands such as Prada and Chane, but claims to do so without receiving payment. Shudu promoted Rhinna’s Fenty Beauty lipstick in a post that went viral.

KFC’s New Colonel Sanders

KFC has gone in an entirely different direction with the virtual influencer concept, some say to parody actual Instagram influencers. Instead of finding one to work with, like Shudu or Miquela (who don’t fit because of their audience, of course) they decided to create one of their own, with the help of Wieden + Kennedy agency. Together, they created a fashionista with the Colonel’s spirit.

The virtual colonel is the newest version of the reimagined reboots of the company founder. He has taken over the KFC Instagram feed where he shows off his lifestyle, including branded tattoos, abs, and connecting with nature in a self-absorbed way.

I know what you’re thinking – an influencer created by the brand, whether the brand is the only client, isn’t an influencer. It’s just branded content packaged a bit differently. But KFC is one step ahead of that argument, having armed the virtual colonel with a media kit of his own to gain additional sponsors. So far, “he” has real partnerships with Dr. Pepper, TurboTax, and OldSpice.

Credit: KFC

Which brings us to the important question: if you can create such a lifelike influencer that goes viral, is there a need to hire humans anymore? The reality is, it’s the human condition of flaws and mistakes that create a genuine emotional connection to the audience. And that’s what’s important for influencers.

Not only this, but there are legal and business issues to consider because of intellectual property ownership. If you create your own internally, does this affect how legal agreements take shape, vs. having the influencer created externally?

Then there’s the moral clauses and identity issues. You’ll still need to include moral clauses in contracts which may not only cover the virtual identity, but also the identity of the creator – even if the creator’s identity isn’t known at the time of entering into the contract. I’m not a lawyer, of course, but these clauses should help protect you and provide recourse in relation to PR issues of authenticity, reputation and tarnishment, and appropriation. Shudu has come under fire because the creator is a white man, profiting off of a black woman, without having to pay one.

You’ll also have issues with endorsements and disclosures, and the FTC maintains you must have the same disclosures, whether the influencer is human or CGI. That’s why if you decide to delve into the virtual influencer realm, either by hiring one like Shudu or Miquela, or creating your own, it’s important to have attorneys involved in the process from the beginning.

Until the landscape becomes a little clearer, and the trend proves that it has true staying power, it makes sense for a lot of brands to stick to human influencers. What are your thoughts on the subject? Let’s discuss in the comments!

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