via Essena Oneill’s Vimeo
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While some may argue that much of Essena ONeill’s social media meltdown can be attributed to naiveté, is there indeed an overarching lesson to be learned for agencies seeking to commercialize the massive followings of social media stars? As new content continues to surface surrounding Essena ONeill’s backstory and the dust/backlash (see video below) continues to settle on her social outburst, we look at the industry factors affecting both sides (both digital content creators and the agencies involved), and what the major takeaways are for brand-creator collaborations.
Econsultancy recently published an article “Has Essena ONeill Signalled The End Of Influencer Marketing.” Though the title is misleading, there is a certain amount of truth for brand-creator partnerships and agency relations involving sponsored content with little to no substance. A recent Nielsen study found that millennial audiences (comprising a large part of many social media stars including Essena Oneill’s) are largely trusting of advertising though it needs to occur in a different, authentic, and genuine context — not the vapid, one-offs that also made up a large majority of Essena Oneill’s now deleted Instagram account.
Instead, both audiences and creators desire substantial collaborations from brands and the agencies/companies involved. As described in Entrepreneur, millennial audiences “don’t want ads, they want stories.” While the next big brand deals may be with social media stars (vs. mainstream celebrities), director of digital at Dick’s Sporting Goods Jay Basnight points out in Adweek,
“It’s not just one and done—it is a relationship that we’ve developed with social media influencers.”
Unlike the quick one-offs that may have lead to Essena ONeill’s revolt against social media marketing, many brands and creators are involved in “year-long effort(s) using the same cast of characters instead of recruiting new faces—the tactic that many brands use when running multiple influencer programs” (Adweek).
Essena ONeill is hardly the first social media star (both digital and mainstream) to denounce or chastise social media. Recently, a British vlogger, Doddleoddle, posted a video ranting on her frustrations with brand deals. Additionally, beauty YouTuber and blogger My Pale Skin similarly chronicled her struggles with a viral video showcasing how unreal social media perceptions can forcibly shape perceptions.
As social media user bases continue to grow and top digital stars continue to amass huge followings, brand deals too will continue to be an effective way for advertisers to reach audiences. As the industry space for both brand-creator collaborations becomes increasingly more saturated, both parties will need to evaluate their strategies, move beyond insipid sponsorships and instead build meaningful partnerships that inspire audiences, creators, and brands.