In recent months, the metaverse has become an increasingly popular buzzword. Companies are building metaverse platforms and exploring unique ways to engage consumers in these new digital landscapes. Influencer marketing is likely to remain a key tactic for increasing engagement within the metaverse.
An important precursor to full immersion in this space is the gradual emergence of virtual influencers – real-life characters who create and manage CGI artists, digital agencies (and sometimes even artificial intelligence). The most famous example is P’tite Miquela, although there are several others.
Some brands are embracing virtual influencers. They can have as strong an audience as real human influencers, while having much less risk and cost. After all, virtual influencers don’t have to fly across the country, put them in hotels, feed them or receive daily allowances.
However, brands and agencies still need to be careful. They need to understand the legal issues that arise during human and virtual influence campaigns in the metaverse.
In addition to sponsored posts, virtual influencers often create organic social content for themselves. As such, some have developed riskier personalities than others. As with human influencers, companies considering working with virtual influencers should carefully monitor their past social media activities. In addition, companies should check previous mentions of the virtual influencer and ensure that there is no image-damaging material.
Moreover, if the behavior of a virtual influencer is easier to control than that of a human, it is still wise to include a morality clause in the contracts of virtual influencers. As a result, the company could be terminated if the virtual influencer exhibits unexpected behavior that could damage its reputation.
As brands dive deeper into the metaverse, the prevalence of virtual influencers is likely to increase. Some brands can create dedicated virtual influencers. When considering this strategy, communications professionals should consider how virtual influencers will organically accumulate enough followers to significantly benefit the brand.
Some companies claim to sell “followers” to social media accounts. Keep in mind, though, that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and several state regulatory agencies have shut down many of these activities in recent years.
For example, in a high-profile case against Devumi, LLC, regulators prevented the company from creating thousands of fake accounts and selling them to influencers. Influencers have used them to fraudulently inflate their followers, view counts, and other engagement metrics.
The driving force behind all marketing regulation for influencers is the principle that influencers must disclose when they have a material connection to the brands they promote. For example, influencers are required to make this information public through clear and understandable disclosures, such as #ad or #sponsored. Effective disclosures remain a defining requirement for influencers, human or virtual, who create content on behalf of brands within metaverse platforms.
Brands must also be transparent about disclosing that the influencer is not a real person. For years, Li’l Miquela posted like a real person.
Today, it is common for virtual influencers to prominently identify themselves as robots or artificial creations. The FTC has not issued any guidelines on this, but it seems like a safe bet that regulators would expect virtual influencers to reveal that they are not real people. Such information can influence consumer perception or conclusions about the influencer’s recommendations.
Since a robot cannot taste, how reliable is its opinion of the taste of Brand X’s new snack product? Wouldn’t such a message be misleading? For this reason, it is recommended that virtual influencers not only reveal their material connection to a brand, but also that they are not real people.
Until new influencer marketing regulations specifically target the Metaverse emerge, brands should remain aware of current marketing regulations and apply them to the Metaverse.
Allison Fitzpatrick is a partner in the Advertising + Marketing Practice Group and Samantha Rothus is a partner in the Advertising + Marketing practice group at Davis+Gilbert