While many worry that they will lose their jobs to a robot in the coming years, it’s already happening in an area few suspected: social media influencers.
It seems the era of the Kardashians is on the wane, replaced by artificial intelligence and digital influencers being embraced by those under their influence.
New research, led by marketing expert Swinburne Professor Sean Sands looked at human vs artificial intelligence (AI) influencers on Instagram and compared Kardashians to the world’s first digital supermodel, Shudu (@shudu.gram)as well as Miquela (@lilmiquela), who has more than 3 million followers and “describes itself” as a “19-year-old robot living in LA.”
Professor Sands was lead author of ‘Unreal Influence: Using AI in Influencer Marketing‘, co-authored by Swinburne Associate Professor Colin Campbell and Dr Carla Ferraro, and Dr Kirk Plangger from King’s College London.
They found that a virtual AI influencer can be just as effective as a human influencer in many ways.
The findings overturn conventional wisdom about the authenticity and credibility people bring to social media in the relatively new but fast-growing ad genre, expected to hit a $15 billion industry this year.
The Swinburne-led study found that humans are just as willing to follow AI influencers as their human counterparts.
“Consumers are equally open to following an AI or a human influencer, and they see the level of personalization provided by each of the influencers as comparable,” said Prof Sands.
His research team suggests it could be explained by a “spill-over effect” of consumer experiences with other AI recommendation systems. Simply put, we’re already trained to embrace AI recommendations, from Netflix viewing suggestions to Spotify, Amazon, and Booktopia.
“While we know they’re not real people and therefore have less faith in an AI influencer, research has shown that AI influencers are more likely to trigger word of mouth,” says Sands.
“For consumers who are attracted to ‘uniqueness’, they may prefer AI influencers.”
AI Influencers vs Humans
So what does this mean for the people who have built a life as influencers in recent years? Well, the AI version is on the rise.
Leading global brands including KFC, LVMH, Mini, Netflix, Nike and Samsung have all worked with AI influencers.
And French luxury brand Balmain dropped the Kardashians as their social media influencers in 2018, appointing three virtual AI influencers in their place: Shudu, Margot and Xhi.
Even the World Health Organization is turning to AI influencer Knox Frost, who had over a million Instagram followers at the time, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prof. dr. Sands said their research found that AI influencers are able to “take advantage of social media trends quickly” and create new opportunities for marketers and brands.
“Another benefit of AI influencers is that they potentially allow an infinite number of micro-targeted – or even fully personalized – influencers to be rapidly created by a brand,” he said.
“Ultimately, all consumers could be targeted by their own personalized influencer bots.”
You can download the research paper here.