FC: Influencers Out, Authenticity In

Fast Company headline: Influencers are out—authenticity is in

Sub-headline: Marketers are pulling back on influencer campaigns—and promoting user-generated content from ‘real’ people.


The influencer economy is on the brink of a seismic shift. Catalyzed by the popularity of TikTok and its algorithm, which prioritizes content types over creators, brand marketers and digital agencies are increasingly allocating social media budgets toward user-generated content (UGC) from small creators and away from big-ticket deals with internet celebs. For many companies that pivoted to the UGC model out of sheer necessity during the pandemic—when staging photo shoots and video productions was out of the question—the results have been astonishing.

“On TikTok, we recently joined their influencer program, and the direct response ads created by influencers didn’t work well,” says Jeannie Assimos, head of content for Way.com. “Unscripted, off-the-cuff content we created blew the direct-response-style content away in all of our metrics. Testimonials [also] always do well and continue to perform in simple static ads with real people.”


This is exactly what $CELH Celsius Energy Drinks has mastered since Spring 2020:

For business owners with limited marketing budgets, engaging with UGC can provide an affordable option for lead generation and new-customer conversion, especially when it comes to local brick-and-mortar retail, restaurants, and experiences. Pursuing content, and not a follower count, means that oftentimes deals can be done via barter with smaller creators.



One thing to note, Levin says, is that UGC is rarely ever one and done—it’s not like a single million-dollar Kardashian endorsement, which could make or break a brand. “Conversion isn’t necessarily always coming from one individual,” she says. “It’s multiple individuals saturating a certain place or product; it’s drumming the pavement, so people see it in their feeds constantly.”