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What is a virtual influencer?

Their Instagram accounts can be followed by millions, and their engagement metrics have been recorded as equally as high as real celebrities. But what is a virtual influencer?

What is a virtual influencer?

Virtual Influencers are digital characters who for the most part assimilate humans. Sometimes called CGI influencers the largest virtual influencers have ‘real’ personalities; they engage in social media interactions, have opinions and views, likes, dislikes and display emotion. Their Instagram accounts can be followed by millions, and their engagement metrics have been recorded as equally as high as real celebrities.

Are virtual influencers real people?

There has been a sharp rise in the number and popularity of these influencers in the past year and Instagram in particular, has been a welcoming platform for virtual influencers. Undoubtedly some of the popularity that surrounds virtual influencers is the air of mystery behind their creators, and whether they are indeed real people or not. Some accounts openly claim to be CGI, whilst others prefer to be shrouded in secrecy, leaving followers to guess whether they are part-photographed and part-CGI.

Popular virtual influencers

With 1.9 million Instagram followers Miquela Sousa, or Lil Miquela is one of the most well-known virtual influencers. In April 2018 her account was allegedly ‘hacked’ by friend and fellow virtual influencer, Bermuda, who has 212k followers. With many theories about this episode the interaction between the two accounts and the drama surrounding the incident, whether real or engineered, fuelled even greater attention on the accounts. Brud, the creator of these accounts remains tight lipped about the episode. Brud’s very existence as a company is an intrigue in itself, with their website consisting of a simple Google Document.

Another Brud creation, Blawko22 has 156k followers, while other popular virtual influencers include Binxie, Laila Blue, Imma and Shudu. These influencers all take on a uncanny humanised look, however there are others such as noonoouri who are equally as popular.

Are virtual influencers influential?

When looking at the volume of Instagram followers there can be no doubt as to the popularity of virtual influencers. Though equally these may not be for everyone, with Gen Z reportedly the most engaged with virtual influencers.

Virtual Influencers are somewhat infallible, there is no risk that their personal lives might expose something about them that is at odds with the brands they endorse. Whereas real influencers choose what to depict on Instagram vs real life, virtual influencers have no ‘real life’ and so can arguably be a safer brand ambassador for advertisers.

Virtual influencers and brands

Major global brands that have embraced the virtual influencer include the likes of Prada, Hugo Boss, Marc Jacobs, Ellesse and Givenchy. These brands have collaborated with the likes of Lil Miquela and Bermuda to showcase their collections.

Another way that brands are engaging with virtual influencers is to create their own. In December 2018 Net-a-Porter brand Yoox introduced Daisy. Daisy is a virtual styling assistant found in the Yoox app, helping browsers to interact with clothes before deciding whether to buy. Daisy is now a regular model and influencer on Yoox’s own instagram.

Will virtual influencers change the future of influencer marketing?

Influencer marketing is now an important and prioritised marketing channel for brands and virtual influencers present a new and interesting way to engage audiences on social media. That said, the cost to engineer such accounts is high, and the lack of authenticity from virtual influencers could be a major turn-off for some followers.

The rise of virtual influencers has generated intrigue and fascination amongst social media users. However the jury is still out on whether virtual influencers will effectively help brands to turn curious followers into customers.

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