Published March 22, 2022

Once the domain of dystopian films and post-Y2K dreams (the actual computer crisis not the vivid butterfly-clip-laden fashion era) – the new age of social media architecture is under construction. Or more explicitly the metaverse is under construction, as WSJ touted, it’s not ready for prime time quite yet, but the scaffolding is in place.

 

Not just an idle thought bubble from Zuckerberg himself, the Web3 wonderland is more than digital real estate with a VR headset in tow. And for creators, it means a vast new arena to sell their wares, showcase their personality and intimately interact with their fanbase as well as influential peers. Though, that’s just the beginning.

 

Business writers will muse about influencers surviving on selfies alone (Inc’s words, not mine), but as influencer marketing professionals we know the photo is one minuscule part of the puzzle.  The power of an influencer is in their storytelling, their community building, their relatability, or their entire aspirational existence. But not all companies appreciate the nuances and see influencers as a media buy alone. Enter the AI influencer, or synthetic media talent, whereby brands engage a completely computerized influencert: One who doesn’t risk deadlines, bends entirely to the will of the brand brief – a friendly billboard constructed in human likeness. You’ve likely spied the multicolor makings of Miquela, a space-bun adorned ‘19-year-old robot’ who’s fronted paid activations for Calvin Klein, Gucci, Prada, and more since her upload in 2018. Her popularity set the scene for a luxury fashion house crossover with Web3 and the meta-moment is ramping up more than ever this year. Meta (formerly Facebook) sees this avenue of AI talent growing immensely as the metaverse comes to life and is in the process of constructing ethical guidelines for virtual influencers. Though many are querying if they should be penning a framework given their historic disregard of users’ wellbeing and algorithm shifts that fail to consider creators.

 

Let’s take a step back for just a moment and set the scene. The metaverse is set to be the online world, moving from Web2, the internet as we know it today, to Web3. Web 2 is where personal data is used as currency for big companies and user-generated content and social connectivity are paramount. The evolution to Web3 flips this model towards decentralization and democratization, where AI, peer-to-peer, blockchain and bottom-up structures define interactions and infrastructure. And in this new world, NFTs (non-fungible-tokens) hold value both in the virtual domain and beyond. Think of it as cryptocurrency meets ownership certificate, held in a digital wallet but redeemable in real life. For creators micro and macro, this represents an opportunity to reward their communities like never before.

 

A recent survey of influencers by IZEA found that 70% believe the metaverse will succeed social media as we know it, with over half (51%) scoping out ways to monetize the metaverse ahead of this shift. What exactly will that look like? More than NFT magazine covers or virtual beers with Gary Vee, the new world is a creator’s oyster.

 

The creator economy in this meta-world offers influencers greater ownership of their communities and promotions. As the metaverse is grounded in the principles of individual ownership, everything that is purchased is wholly owned, so influencers owning a portion of the brands they promote is likely to be one fundamental shift. But in turn, creators can cultivate more value than ever, leveling up from IG Lives to inviting fans into their bedroom to share makeup advice or onto their deck to enjoy conversation like a friend, offering experiences wilder than any GoPro-adventure or GRWM has captured to date. Creators can craft their own super fan structure via NFTs or modern-day fan clubs whereby loyal community members access unique content or bespoke experiences all while the NFT hangs proudly in the virtual living room. 

 

The metaverse offers the chance for creators to build upon their platform beyond their personal (and physical) identity alone. Cultivating a twin personality by way of a digital avatar is set to see brands become more humanized. And for creators, this means digital entities, crafted and owned beyond their person – in antithesis to the selfie-only perception of influencers on current iterations of social media.

 

It also allows a more conscious approach to consumerism, fast-fashion in the metaverse may exist without the same environmental drawbacks. Items held in digital form allow for greater change and trend absorption, a solution to the ever-churning TikTok trend machine we currently experience. And for fashion and lifestyle influencers it’s an exciting prospect to curate a meta-space and avatar looks.

 

Though it’s not all sunshine and immersive rainbows, the metaverse represents new hurdles for copyright infringement and intellectual property. (Check out the case of the Meta Birkin NFT who now faces legal action from Hermes). The creator held no affiliation with the brand before designing, uploading and selling the tokens in Birkin’s likeness; begging the question when does art become infringement? Influencers need to be cautious of how they bring their brand to life, digitally or physically, to navigate this new landscape as the guard rails and precedents are yet to be drafted.

 

As for those digitally-designed influencers mentioned earlier, they are often less expensive to partner with or build from scratch compared to working with macro-influencers. The appeal to brands of being totally under their control makes the equation even more attractive. And while some audacious folks identify them as competition to influencers, that’s not the full story. Rather these digital avatars are now a precursor to how brands will behave in the metaverse. So while budgets in the metaverse will certainly look different, for the creators who have a powerful community and an eye for exquisite content, they need not fret.

 

Thanks to TikTok, post-COVID attention spans, and an influx of creators at all levels, the brand-to-creator playbook has been all but shredded. Once a top-of-funnel awareness play, now creators understand their ability to monetize in the booming creator economy, and in this wisdom want to own more of their output. Rightly so. If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product and creators understand this intimately. Algorithms evade stellar content creators and the views or audiences they’ve built, therefore it makes complete sense for creators to venture beyond social media as we know it. Here’s hoping these generation-defining creators bring a human touch to our new digitized space.

Emily McDonagh

Emily McDonagh

PR and Social Strategy Manager at Youthforia

Emily McDonagh is the well-written beauty marketing and brand nerd from Australia, taking up residence now in San Francisco. Crafting the social strategy and influencer footprint across the likes of Ford at Ogilvy, Australia’s largest bank and beloved beauty brands Go-To Skin Care and Youthforia. Alongside writing here at WIIM and Doré, the style destination built by outfit icon Garance Dore. Soon launching her own podcast Bra(i)nded, delving into the brains behind the brands you love. 

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