Without looking too closely and ignoring the profile’s description, one would think that @lilmiquela is just another 19-year-old who struck it big with a following on Instagram of over 1.6 million people.
However, as USA Today reports it, Miquel Sousa is one of several online personalities that literally live exclusively in Instagram as artificial creations. Despite all of this, Sousa has very human moments in her life, including getting her hands on a boyfriend with whom she has a rather complicated relationship.
Unlike human influencers, she won’t grow older unless her creators will it and her story is crafted specifically to cater to her audience.
In some ways, she’s the perfect influencer. Sousa doesn’t have “off” days, she doesn’t get tired of following the same theme with her posts, she’s capable of showing up on video on-demand, and she can post at exactly the right hours with a bright and sunny disposition whenever necessary.
Although it wouldn’t be fair to say that CGI-generated influencers are “taking over” Instagram, a fair number of them have managed to acquire a sizeable following, giving them sway over hundreds of thousands—or even millions—of people.
A study by Fullscreen, a social media marketing firm, demonstrates that their appearance can have some consequences that Instagram might have to address in the future.
Within the study, participants of ages between 13 and 34 gave insights on their experiences with CGI influencers. The results show that over half of their followers made a purchase, attended an event, followed a brand, or did some research on a product.
“Even an influencer that’s not human can have some sort of influence. They’re fake, but then they are creating buzz around them,” said Mukta Chowdhary, director of strategy at Fullscreen.
These influencers aren’t being “created” as a project for giggles; they have real-life sway on the decisions members of their audience make. Because of their large following, they can be used to draw the attention of major brands.
Miquela, for example, managed to secure partnerships with brands like Samsung and Calvin Klein. In one ad she was even depicted kissing a CK model for a shoot, something that may have been more complex to arrange between two humans.
Although some creators, like Cameron-James Wilson who created “Shudu,” are out in the open about what they do, those responsible for Miquela’s appearance in the scene have been a bit more secretive about their involvement.
Brud, Miquela’s mastermind, chose to include the narrative of her being artificial within her profile.
“We all kind of know what they’re doing, but they haven’t let down their guard. That’s part of the intrigue. They know once the veil is lifted, the intrigue is gone. Also, if you know too much about them, then little Miquela can’t really shine. So they are building these personalities, and if you know the man behind the curtain, all of a sudden the whole ‘Wizard of Oz’ thing just kind of falls,” Chowdhary added.
Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom admitted to adopting a “wait-and-see approach” to previous phenomena that have appeared on the platform, so the social network may not feel the need to act on the appearance of CGI influencers. Miquela even has the ever-coveted blue verification checkmark.
For the moment at least, this particular trend is here to stay. Though this might spark some talk among flesh-and-blood human influencers, the online world appears to be big enough to allow them to coexist with their artificial counterparts.