This story is part of The Business of Influencea new series charting the evolution of fashion’s creator economy, where there’s profit to be made and where the industry is headed next. Read part one here.
What is the career expectancy of an influencer? And in a fast-paced Gen Z world, driven by new social media trends and the rise of TikTok, is it harder to survive as a creator over 40?
Some of fashion’s most prominent influencers have been creating content for over a decade now. US Vogue Business reported in the first part of this series, many saw their blogs morph from a part-time passion project to become a full-time job that put them front and center of brand marketing activities. Now, they are managing a delicate see-saw of personal priorities while working a job that is void of paid holidays, maternity leave and other workplace benefits — leading in some cases to burnout. And, they must keep up with their younger, digitally savvy counterparts who are native to new social platforms — namely TikTok — and boast more impressive reach and engagement.
Experts say there is value to be had for brands to work with more mature, longer-term creators that have experience and the trust of their followers. However, the data suggests older influencers lack the pull of their younger or newer counterparts despite industry inclusivity efforts. There are notable exceptions, but broadly fashion content on social media is still youth obsessed and many industry influencers outline concerns of ageism, not wanting to be labeled as senior influencers when the only commonality is age. Another woman in her late thirties says she declines to disclose her age publicly so as not to lose out on contracts with more youth-focused brands.
Millennials, now aged 26-41, still drove the most value for brands in the luxury fashion sector in the first half of 2022 according to social data analytics provider Launchmetrics, at 50 per cent compared to Gen Z’s 18 per cent. “A key reason this age group performs so well is that it’s most in line with the consumer audience of these brands globally,” says Alison Bringé, chief marketing officer at Launchmetrics. “In China, for example, most luxury brands work with millennials or Gen Zs, rather than baby boomers or ‘granfluencers’, because the average Chinese consumer purchases luxury items at a young age, so they want to discover products from people they see more as their peers.”
However, keeping up is not easy and relevance can quickly shift. TikTok, founded in 2016, has over one billion monthly active users, with Gen Z among the primary demographic accounting for 60 per cent of users. Its high engagement rates have proven to be a massive draw for advertisers, inspiring fashion companies, from Selfridges to Hugo Boss, to invest in bespoke content and campaigns for the app. For older influencers, “I believe it’s a little bit harder to engage,” says Thomas Repelski, co-founder and CEO of influencer analytics firm Lefty. Some of the influencers that started off in the mid-2000s haven’t joined newer platforms like TikTok — and those that have managed to transfer some of their audience from Instagram to TikTok haven’t always evolved the way they post, argues Repelski. Several still use their social media as blogs to document their lives rather than creating videos for entertainment. “Hence some of their engagement rates are not very high.”
Navigating algorithms and burnout
Navaz Batliwalla started blogging anonymously as Disneyrollergirl in 2007 when she was still a fashion magazine editor. She revealed her identity three years into blogging but was still able to maintain a low profile as many social media platforms hadn’t yet launched. “It wasn’t all about putting pictures of yourself out there. You didn’t know how old someone was, so you weren’t prejudiced in a way.” That all changed when Instagram and TikTok came along.