TikTok's de-influencing trend is a reminder to brands that influence is not necessarily the same as advocacy
A new micro-trend is blowing up on TikTok. De-influencing is where influencers critique items on camera and recommend viewers don't buy them. It’s the antithesis of #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt and as Time reminds us de-influencing is similar to the “anti-haul” niche on YouTube that calls out the products that creators refuse to buy.
But is de-influencing the natural conclusion to years of being bombarded by over-consumption promotion by influencers insisting we buy the product they’re selling?
Is de-influencing a coping mechanism for creators attempting to navigate or remove themselves from TikTok’s ever-decreasing micro trends?
Perhaps it is a way for creators to underscore the importance of authenticity in the parasocial relationship they hold with their followers? “Trust me, you don’t need this product”.
Is de-influencing yet another micro-trend for creators to jump on; a vehicle to parcel up and post new content with?
Or is it a sophisticated sales hack from influencers attempting to appeal to savvy purchasers -- “Don’t buy that product … buy this product instead, it’s half the price and twice as good.”
A complicated answer
Like most answers to complicated questions: it depends. It depends on the creator and the credibility they hold with their audience.
We first turned to influencers because they were relatable - an extension of our friends and family. We believed what they said more than we believed what brands had to say about their own products. Influencers' experience became our evidence. We trusted their reviews and bought accordingly.
Then 'role conflict' crept into the equation. We wanted the influencers we followed to be authentic and knowledgeable; honest and unbiased. This sometimes came into conflict with the sponsoring brands. They just wanted the influencers they worked with to say nice things about their products. As role conflict increased, so did our wariness of influencers' sincerity and trustworthiness.
This erosion of trust pushed some influencers to re-examine their 'role' and to prioritise subject matter expertise, trustworthiness and credibility above their role of product seller.
Happily progressive influencer marketers identified and selected influencers to work with on brand collaborations based at least as much on the creators' credibility, values, beliefs and worldview as they did on their follower count. Which, in turn, meant these influencers received better-fit projects to work on.
The de-influencing movement offers a few reminders to brands:
Neutral term: The word ‘Influence’ is often used interchangeably with ‘advocacy’. But influence is not always positive. Influencers are change agents. They help form or change the opinions of a distinct community. They alter behaviours. As such, influencers may hurt just as much as they may help a communicator’s cause. Advocates, on the other hand, are supporters.
Honest de-influencing reviews can be positive for brands who are willing to listen. Instead of being defensive, brands can use being on the wrong end of de-influencing content as an opportunity to put things right or provide context or correct misunderstandings.
Anecdotally, some creators spurned by brands for would-be collaborations have reacted by posting negative reviews of that firm. Brands, too, acting in bad faith, might be tempted to jump on the de-influencing trend and damn their competitors with unflattering creator reviews masquerading as #deinfluence. Dishonest de-influencing reviews, it's worth remembering are a matter for the regulators. Both the ASA and the FTC carry guidance on fake reviews.
What is clear is that de-influencing is not the opposite of influencing. That would be to show powerlessness or weakness. Something these TikTok creators can’t be accused of. At the time of writing, #deinfluencing had 115.3m views on TikTok.
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A version of this article first appeared on February 08 as a column for the Influencer Marketing Digest - the weekly newsletter I am commissioned to write for Fourth Floor. You can sign up to receive the newsletter here.