‘Being too aspirational is repellent now’ – the rise of the ‘genuinfluencers’ reported the Guardian some months ago. So who are these genuinfluencers? They are particular influencers who are characterised by their authenticity of image, expression and communication”, explains Alice Avallone, data humanist, digital ethnographer for companies and Digital Storytelling teacher at Scuola Holden. “They are experts in a specific field or topic, and use their social platforms to share informative and trustworthy content based primarily on their own experience. More educationally geared, they therefore have a sometimes smaller but nevertheless very active audience. As a general rule of thumb, a narrower topic means a more vibrant community”.
Most of them have said goodbye to promoting the luxurious and unattainable lifestyle to which we have become accustomed. “This model no longer works, we are saturated with it”, she emphasises for good measure. “In the thicket of fake news and persistent advertising, more or less declared, genuinfluencers are a kind of free zone where people can go to find more interesting and educational content“.
Lauren Humphrey for WGSN
Avallone, what is a genuinfluencer’s identikit?
“The term genuinfluencers was coined in January 2021 by WGSN, an American company specialising in trend forecasting, to identify individuals who choose to use social media, usually Instagram, to share unbiased advice and tips that are not bound by commercial agreements.
Their main intention is to ‘influence’ an awareness of the importance of the social world“.
What are they talking about?
“They mostly address social and cultural tensions. This can take the form of a new book on feminism, a line of no-gender perfumes, or a sustainably produced object. If they discuss a chocolate bar, they will make their community aware of the composition, the origin of the ingredients and the benefits: in a nutshell, they inform.
And therein lies the change of pace: in the face of the same product, we are abandoning a certain hasty superficiality that has always characterised traditional influencers, in favour of greater depth with regard to what a toothbrush or pair of slippers means to us, the environment and also society. Finally, genuininfluencers can be recognised by their devotion to simple and comprehensible dissemination, including on important topical issues”.
A few names (Italian)?
In Italy they are predominantly women and Millennials who had a close familiarity with the early influencer boom and are now slowly finding a different balance and definition of this label. They don’t necessarily try to attract a huge audience, because first of all they talk about the topics that really matter to them. They appear among micro-influencers (10–50 thousand followers) and even nano-influencers (under 10 thousand). On Instagram, I’m thinking of Stories by Michela Calculli @michelacalculli and Simona Melani @simonamelani, which deal with topics related to savings and financial education; Marta Pavia @zuccaviolina, which reveal the behind-the-scenes of perfect photos; Espérance Hakuzwimana @unavitadistendhal and her commitment as an activist with literary advice; and Donata Columbro @donatacolumbro, recently sharing transparent stories the struggles of caring for a newborn“.
What are their favourite channels?
“In Italy, most genuinfluencers are self-employed and active on Instagram. There is also a smaller, but fast-growing, segment of Generation Z, which, especially on TikTok, can voice its activist DNA”.
What about abroad?
“It works differently abroad. For a while now we have been observing a decentralisation of influence, where different platforms create spaces for different types of influencers. Consequently, each channel has its own particular mode of influence. Streetwear fans look for fashion advice on Discord; those seeking professional advice go to Reddit. There are also several platforms emerging that focus on people’s individual passions and preferences, such as Depop, BopDrop and OnlyFans.
It is easy to foresee that in Italy, too, younger communities will move away from traditional social media such as Facebook and Instagram and their algorithms.”
How do you recognise a genuinfluencer?
“They use an authentic language, through spontaneous videos and less constructed photographic and textual formats; they move in home locations and familiar settings. However, their distinguishing feature is the desire not only to show their more glossy side, but also their fragility. In short, the narrative they set up in front of their community shows the normal ups and downs that we all experience on a daily basis. They talk about difficulties, personal problems, big and small mistakes, and in this way it becomes much easier to identify with them”.
This would explain why the Guardian wrote ‘Being too aspirational is repellent now’…
“Exactly. Interestingly enough, even before the pandemic broke into our lives, social media users were already complaining of a certain weariness of perfection. On Instagram, for example, both teenagers and influencers themselves were creating ‘Finsta‘ accounts (contraction of ‘Fake Instagram‘ accounts ) so they could, albeit paradoxically talk about their real lives without filters. With the first lockdown, people began looking for an authenticity that reflected the precarious period they were beginning to live in, away from cocktails and fashionable places. We can easily recall how since March 2020 everyone has suddenly stopped portraying glittering lives, nailing impeccable angles and respecting harmonious palettes. We saw a lot of bookshelves behind video calls with colleagues on Zoom and connections with journalists on TV, and we also saw a lot of bread and pizza dough. Today we are more cautious about showing ‘too much’, about appearing too ‘aspirational’. We are back to sharing cocktails and trips out of town, of course, but we continue to be just as happy and proud of our home, of the simplest things”.
Consumers like it. So how are companies adapting?
“Brands are slowly embracing this approach themselves. As I tell in my book, #Datastories. Seguire le impronte umane sul digitale (Hoepli, 2021), the Seed University project, for example, is among the first to have tried to overturn the influencer model as we have known it up to now. Instead of sending free samples to recruit testimonials on social media, probiotics company Seed set up a course to become an expert on its products. That’s a start. People who sign up are educated about the scientific side of products and how to market them transparently and accurately.”
Is it naive to think that there are people who stand in front of the camera of their mobile phone just to advertise a product or support a cause, without the desire to make a financial or image return?
“No, I don’t think so. Quite the contrary. Telling and espousing a product, a service or a cause without personal gain means fully recognising oneself in what one is supporting. Thus, an identity factor comes into play: I talk about this book or this signature collection because I believe in it, because I recognise myself, and I recognise my values, what I believe in. More than a naive gesture, I think it is a very heartfelt gesture to share with other people what makes us feel good and improves our lives, whether it’s finding a great read, supporting a crowdfunding initiative or trying a remedy to make our skin more beautiful”.