252 out of 2.6 million is just over .009%. If you look at that number as a conversion rate, it’s low—too low for anyone who calls themselves an influencer to aspire to. It’s basically less effective than a display ad, which is saying something.
But it wasn’t low enough for Instagram influencer Arii. Last week, Arii—who has over 2.6 million followers on the platform—shocked the social media sphere when she announced that her clothing line, Era, which debuted just 13 days prior, would be shutting down because she wasn’t able to sell the required 36 units of each of her seven products.
In a now-deleted post, she apologized for the shuttering and explained the reasoning behind it: “Unfortunately the company that I’m working with goes based on your first drop sales,” she said. “In order for them to order and make my products (even to keep working with them) I have to sell at least 36 pieces (knowing I’ve become super irrelevant, I already knew it was gonna be hard) but I was getting such good feedback that people loved it and were gonna buy it. No one has kept their word so now the company won’t be able to send out the orders to people who actually bought shit and it breaks my heart.” (Adweek has reached out to Arii for comment.)
With over 2.6 million followers—a large number, even in the influencer world—many would assume that for Arii, selling just 252 products, such a minuscule percentage of her overall following, would be easy. This seemed to have momentarily taken the wind out of the influencer sails, as talk of a bursting influencer marketing bubble—and speculation on how this could have occurred for someone with seemingly such monstrous influence—lit up the Twitter town square.
Jack Appleby, director of creative strategy at marketing agency Midnight Oil, put it this way: “This shouldn’t have happened.”
“Most creators in the 2 million plus club can move hundreds, if not thousands of units with relative ease,” he said. “For this brand launch to have failed so severely means gigantic mistakes at every step.”
But Arii’s blunder shouldn’t be taken as a sign of the burst of any influencer marketing bubble, or a sign that that the sway influencers have when it comes to purchase decisions is waning. What it does hint toward is an influencer marketing world where simply having a large number of followers on Instagram isn’t enough of a foundation to build a career.
According to Reesa Lake, partner and evp, brand partnerships, Digital Brand Architects, as an influencer, you need to create a reason not just for your followers to come to you in the first place, but for them to stick around. If that reason isn’t finding products to shop, people won’t be inclined to do just that.
“As consumers, we look to influencers for a different reasons, whether that’s inspiration, education or entertainment, and we’re not always looking at an influencer to be sold to,” she said. “In her past content, she might not have been used to selling or prompting her audience to go buy her favorite fashion pieces.”
Though the bulk of Arii’s content is fashion-focused, it’s not shopping-centric. She primarily posts photos of herself, from selfies to bikini shots. The captions are usually brief: “backkk,” with a black heart emoji alongside a photo of her in front of a green wall, “missing positano” with a lemon emoji underneath a photo of herself in the Italian city. No purchase instructions, links or sale alerts in sight.
Not only did Arii not showcase opportunities to shop other retailers, she didn’t even do it for her own brand. In her feed, there were only two posts promoting her clothing line, and she wasn’t actually wearing products from them in either of the photos. And the seven items of clothes sold in Era’s debut collection didn’t mesh with the items that Arii typically presented on her feed.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen her wear a logo,” noted Appleby. “But all of her stuff is heavily branded. The aesthetic was way off compared to what she herself would wear.”
Influencers introducing their own clothing lines is something of a recent phenomenon, with influencers like Julia Engel of Gal Meets Glam, Aimee Song of Song of Style and Arielle Charnas of Something Navy all debuting their own lines within the last 18 months. But there are tactics that an influencer can take along the way to help ensure success come drop time.
“In many cases, when an influencer is developing or designing the product, they’re tapping the audience,” said Lake. “That gets the audience really invested this process and the brand that’s being built, as opposed to all of a sudden seeing it pop on their Instagram one day. They’ve been a part of that whole process.”
Of course, situations like Arii’s aren’t only cause for concern for influencers looking to create product lines, but also brands looking to use influencers in their marketing. And as micro and even “nano” influencers—those with smaller followings, ranging from approximately 10,000 to 150,000—grow in popularity, the question becomes important: What are the real indicators of influencer success today?
Jessica Donelson, social media director at Uproar PR, said that brands need to take a deeper look at what an influencer can offer. They can’t just rely on follower count, even when it’s as massive as someone like Arii’s.
“Engagement is key,” she said. “These macro influencers don’t always move the needle. They might have a lot of eyeballs on their content, but they might not be the ones that are going to be able to drive those conversions.”
Take Mint Arrow, Lake’s client, who has just over 120,000 followers. She sees a much higher conversion rate than other influencers with follower counts in the high 100,000s because she’s built a name for herself as a destination for sale shopping. “It’s moving beyond ‘Oh, an influencer has two million followers,’ to ‘Does that influencer really convert?” she said. “Does my product make sense for their audience? How have they converted in the past?'”
But that doesn’t mean that an influencer with a massive following isn’t worth working with. In fact, Appleby said, if they have a dedicated fan base, they’re some of the most powerful people in the space. There’s a reason that Kylie Jenner’s Kylie Cosmetics has been so successful: Her followers—all 137 million of them—are invested in her.
“There’s almost this notion that big influencers are bad, which they aren’t,” said Appleby. “With 2 million followers, if they’re engaged followers, and you have a product, if the product makes sense for that audience, they’re going to buy.”