What Do Influencers Look Like in 2021?

Share this Article

By: Dr. David Bridwell, People Scientist

Influencer marketing has increased in popularity over the last ten years along with the increased use of social media platforms. But does it make sense to talk about influencer marketing the same way today as we did a few years ago? Here are a few reasons why the face of the influencer looks different in 2021:

Hustle culture went away. Hustle culture refers to the emphasis on work and hustle in achieving our personal ambitions. Often, these ambitions were related to growing a strong social media following and achievements in business. And often, these messages were communicated by someone posing in front of one of those fancy cars with the doors that swing upwards instead of to the side. 

But today, we’re seeing less of these self-proclaimed entrepreneurs popping up on our Instagram feed telling us to live a lavish lifestyle. Even Gary Vaynerchuk, one of the original proponents of “hustle culture,” has backed off a bit to make sure his followers understand the importance of family. 

We understand that these ambitions aren’t right for everyone, and many have found that their life has been impacted by more than just their ability to “hustle.” As a result, today’s influencers have more depth and more apparent diversity among their interests and in the ways that they engage their audiences. Some provide profound insights, some have a unique “schtick,” and some simply have an engaging personality. 

Changing social media landscapes. Since influencers often exist and leverage social media platforms, the face of the influencer is influenced by the platform itself. Often, when we think of influencers, we think of the “Instagram-style” influencer who might engage audiences by posting artistic imagery or selfies. This artistic and visual form of engagement makes sense on Instagram since it’s a visual platform, and visual aesthetics (and filters) are the norm. 

But organic engagement is down on Instagram, and its competitor TikTok received more downloads in 2020. As a result, the aesthetic of Instagram is changing again as they steal content ideas from competitors (e.g. Instagram Reels), leading to a change in the sort of content that can succeed and the type of influencer who can succeed as a result. 

This is really apparent on TikTok where anyone with a large following can become an influencer. For example, Molly May Rockwell gained a following by posting funny videos of technology fails, and her sponsored influencer ads often fit in intuitively with her original content as shown here. Kallmekris grew a following of millions on TikTok, and she brings her great humor to her influencer ads, so they don’t even feel like an ad at all.

Overall, changes in our cultural values and changes in the social media landscape mean that we should rethink what an influencer looks like today compared to a few years ago. At the end of the day, an influencer can be anyone with an engaged social media following. And they could have grown that following based on many factors, including their unique personality and the norms of the social media platform where they found success. 

To learn more about creating content for TikTok, check out our YouTube video below: