Rise of the Virtual Influencers: Navigating the Fascinating World of AI-driven Social Media Celebrities

Rise of the Virtual Influencers_ Navigating the Fascinating World of AI-driven Social Media Celebrities

Virtual influencers are reshaping influence in the digital age. These AI-created personas offer brands an innovative, scandal-free way to engage with global audiences. Their unique qualities present an emerging frontier for marketing and social media interactions. This article unpacks the rise of virtual influencers, examining how they work, their impact on brands, their global reach, and the ethical questions they raise.

Key Takeaways

  • Virtual influencers, powered by AI and CGI technology, offer brands cost-effective, scandal-free marketing options with full creative control and high engagement rates.
  • Virtual influencers are increasingly being leveraged for brand collaborations, outperforming real-life influencers in some cases due to their curated personalities and ability to transcend cultural and language barriers.
  • Ethical concerns surrounding virtual influencers include the need for transparency and disclosure, authenticity and audience trust, and the protection of identity rights in the age of digital personas.

Exploring the Phenomenon of Virtual Influencers

Illustration of a virtual influencers engaging with social media users

Imagine an influencer who never ages, has unlimited stamina, and is free from scandals – welcome to the world of virtual influencers. These digital avatars are captivating millions of fans and transforming content creation, consumption, and marketing online. The growth of virtual influencers has been fueled by advancements in artificial intelligence, the rise of social media, and visions of the metaverse.

AI influencers, digital personas powered by artificial intelligence algorithms, significantly engage audiences and enhance social media interactions. As an ai influencer, they are programmed to drive social media engagement through their interactions with followers.

They exist in a space between the real and virtual world, taking forms that can range from non-human characters to animated or life-like CGI humans, and have become an integral part of evolving ai influencer and marketing strategies. With the help of ai tools, these digital personas can effectively navigate the complex landscape of social media.

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Defining Virtual Influencers

A virtual influencer is a digital character created using computer graphics software and given a personality to act on social media platforms. These influencers, also known as CGI influencers, are designed to engage with audiences on Instagram and other such social media marketing platforms.

Essentially, AI influencers emulate human influencers’ appearance, attitude, and behavior, functioning as digitally generated personas. They post content, promote products, engage in stories, and interact with followers on digital channels. These AI influencers inhabit a realm that intersects the real and virtual world, adopting forms from non-human characters to life-like CGI humans.

The Technology Behind the Persona

Cutting-edge technology uniquely blends to create virtual influencers. They are fictional computer-generated ‘people’ crafted through the coordination of artificial intelligence, computer graphics, and machine learning, with a team behind the digital personas ensuring their realistic behavior.

The highly realistic human-like experiences these digital avatars provide are largely due to AI algorithms that generate lifelike facial expressions, body movements, and voices.

Furthermore, the use of high-resolution backdrop images allows virtual influencers to be depicted in an array of environments, enhancing their ability to ‘travel’ and appear within diverse settings on social media, thus improving their social media presence.

The Appeal to Social Media Users

In the saturated market of influencer marketing, virtual influencers have successfully carved out a niche. They captivate social media users with their curated appearances and compelling narratives. Moreover, by promoting lifestyle, culture, and products, they manage to generate higher engagement and brand mentions, outperforming real-life influencers by up to three times in brand collaborations.

While virtual influencers offer new creative possibilities, they complement rather than replace human influencers, creating a diverse ecosystem of online personalities. Notable collaborations, such as the partnership between the WHO and virtual influencer Knox Frost, highlight the potential for virtual influencers to successfully engage with audiences on serious issues like public health.

The Business of Virtual Influencers

Illustration of a virtual influencers collaborating with a luxury brand

A new era of digital marketing has been ushered in by virtual influencers. They offer unprecedented opportunities for engagement, innovation, and brand-building. Brands obtain complete creative control from these influencers, facilitating precise alignment with their messaging.

The global reach and appeal of these influencers enable brands to tap into new demographics and markets. Furthermore, they are a cost-effective marketing choice as they eliminate the need for travel or accommodations, unlike human influencers.

Brand Collaborations and Campaigns

The unique advantages of virtual influencers are increasingly being leveraged by brands. These influencers offer:

  • Meticulously crafted personalities and backstories designed to embody and communicate the essence of a brand’s identity effectively
  • Creative freedom to design immersive experiences, blending reality with fiction
  • The ability to cross cultural and language barriers

Utilizing virtual influencers allows brands to tap into the benefits of social media marketing and create impactful marketing campaigns.

Luxury brands have employed virtual influencers in campaigns, such as Balmain’s inclusion of Shudu Gram in their Fall 2018 campaign, demonstrating the potent impact on brand visibility and engagement. Not only do virtual influencers like Aitana garner significant engagement on platforms like Fanvue, but they also represent a new avenue for monetization through subscription-based content and brand endorsements.

Advantages Over Real Influencers

Virtual influencers offer several advantages over their human counterparts, including:

  • Cost-effective promotional strategy
  • Continuous engagement without aging or scandals
  • Notable financial impact within the creator economy
  • Customizable appearances and behaviors
  • Seamless alignment with brand campaigns
  • Greater control over potential controversies
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Moreover, virtual influencers can:

  • Be programmed to steer clear of controversies, thereby maintaining a consistent, scandal-free presence that aligns with the brand
  • Show nearly three times the average engagement rates of real influencers
  • Have an average ROI for virtual influencer campaigns slightly higher than that for real influencer campaigns.

Examples of Successful Partnerships

Numerous successful partnerships pepper the virtual influencer industry. Shudu Gram, the world’s first digital supermodel, has significantly impacted the marketing industry with her brand deals and her virtual influence. In a notable partnership, virtual influencer Lil Miquela teamed up with BMW for the launch of their iX2 Series.

Furthermore, Samsung engaged Lil Miquela in their #TeamGalaxy campaign, showcasing the synergy between technology and virtual influence. Steve Aoki incorporated virtual characters Guggimon and Janky during his Color of Noise tour, indicating virtual influencers’ potential beyond traditional endorsements.

The founder of The Digital Agency, Cameron James, has created a roster of virtual influencers, including Koffi and Galaxia, that collaborate with brands.

The Most Popular Virtual Influencers Today

Illustration of popular virtual influencers advocating for social issues

Popular personalities abound in the virtual influencer space. Here are some examples:

  • Lil Miquela: Over 2.8 million Instagram followers and an average engagement rate of 0.47%
  • Lu do Magalu: A massive following of 6 million on Instagram in Brazil
  • Kyra: Over 253K followers with a remarkable engagement rate of 8.92% representing India

Other notable virtual influencers include Imma with 398K followers, K/DA with 527K followers, and Noonoouri with 404K followers, each commanding impressive engagement rates and diverse fan bases. Among the million followers between them, the most popular virtual influencer is yet to be determined.

As the popularity of virtual influencers continues to rise, it’s no surprise that a popular virtual influencer can have a significant impact on various industries. Virtual influencers are not solely focused on entertainment; for instance, Lil Miquela actively advocates for immigration non-profit RAICES.

Imma from Japan raises awareness on critical social issues like race, environment, and gender, while Thalasya from Indonesia is both a travel and fashion influencer and a business owner.

Icons of the Virtual World

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Far from being mere digital personalities, virtual influencers have become icons in their own right. Lil Miquela is a musician and style visionary from Los Angeles, created by Cain Intelligence and reprogrammed by Brud, emerging in April 2016. Lu do Magalu, a digital specialist and prominent virtual influencer for the Brazilian retail giant Magazine Luiza, delivers a range of content including unboxing videos and product reviews.

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Any Malu is a widely recognized animated virtual influencer with a TV show powered by Cartoon Network. With a strong presence on Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, she engages audiences across multiple social media platforms.

Imma boasts over 407,000 followers on Instagram, showcasing her popularity in the virtual influencer space. Noonoouri has captured attention through collaborations with luxury fashion brands like Lacoste, Versace, and Bulgari, as well as high-profile figures such as Kim Kardashian.

Impact on Global Markets

Virtual influencers undeniably have a global impact. Here are some key points about the virtual influencer market:

  • The global virtual influencer market is anticipated to expand significantly with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 38.9% from 2023 to 2030.
  • The growth rate of the virtual influencer market is expected to surpass that of the real influencer market.
  • Virtual influencers are experiencing the most popularity in Japan, South Korea, and China, indicating a regional market stronghold.

AI-driven virtual influencers like K/DA and Shudu have made a notable impact in the global entertainment and fashion sectors. With the metaverse’s expected market value reaching upwards of US$507.8 billion by 2030, virtual influencers stand to greatly benefit from the unique engagement opportunities it presents top fashion brands.

The Creator Economy and Virtual Personalities

Virtual influencers contribute to the creator economy in the following ways:

  • They generate revenue through brand partnerships and sponsored content.
  • They create merchandise and sell it to their followers.
  • They collaborate with other creators and participate in joint ventures.
  • They monetize their social media platforms through ads and affiliate marketing.

The creator economy, which includes virtual influencers, is estimated to be a $250 billion industry as of April 2023 and could reach $480 billion by 2027.

Virtual influencers like Thalasya contribute to the creator economy through entrepreneurial ventures such as co-owning a clothing store. Virtual personalities like Leya Love expand their influence by branching out into areas such as NFT artistry and authorship, further enriching integral role in the creator economy.

Virtual Influencers Ethical Considerations and Public Perception

Like any groundbreaking technology, virtual influencers raise ethical implications. Transparency is a major concern regarding virtual influencers, necessitating clear disclosure to the public when they are used for promotional content. India has implemented regulations requiring social media influencers to disclose promotional content, which also applies to virtual influencers.

Ethical concerns associated with virtual influencers include the risk of exploitation and the need for consent and adequate compensation when using a real person’s digital likeness.

Transparency and Disclosure

In influencer marketing, transparency is paramount. It reinforces trust between influencers and their audience, showcasing a commitment to authenticity and respect for the audience’s intelligence. Virtual influencers, like their human counterparts, are required to adhere to advertising regulations such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines, which necessitate clear disclosure of sponsored content to prevent deceptive practices.

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Ethical management more control of virtual influencers entails not only transparency about their nature but also sensitivity to cultural and social implications, requiring creators to navigate their responsibilities carefully.

Authenticity and Audience Trust

Authenticity plays a key role in creating lasting relationships between brands and influencers. Virtual influencers can create a sense of inauthenticity due to their AI-generated nature that lacks real human experiences, potentially impacting audience trust. The use of virtual influencers might set unrealistic beauty or lifestyle standards, affecting how audiences perceive themselves and the authenticity of the virtual personas.

Audiences may become skeptical of virtual influencers due to their scripted nature, raising questions about the sincerity of their product endorsements. Building audience trust in influencer marketing also involves navigating legal and ethical aspects, which includes being transparent about collaborations.

Nevertheless, virtual influencers provide brands with a stable and controlled image, eliminating the unpredictability and potential controversies often associated with human influencers.

The Future of Identity Rights

The advent of virtual influencers illuminates the future of identity rights. Virtual influencers might be subject to legal challenges if they are found to be appropriating the likeness of well-known individuals without proper licensing or permissions.

Ethical questions related to identity construction in virtual influencers highlight the need for a legal framework to safeguard the rights of individuals and their likenesses. The right of publicity laws protect the commercial use of an individual’s name, image, and likeness, potentially restricting the creation of virtual influencers that resemble real people and providing recourse against unauthorized use.

Strategies for Brands Embracing Virtual Influencers

Illustration of a brand crafting engaging stories for a virtual influencers

By identifying the right ambassador, using ai tools, crafting engaging stories, and staying ahead of trends, brands can successfully embrace virtual influencers.

Brands can create a virtual influencer by following specific steps, such as using specialized AI platforms like rendernet.Ai to generate and maintain the influencer’s digital presence on social media.

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Identifying the Right Virtual Ambassador

Brands should select virtual influencers whose personas, aesthetics, and values harmonize with their own identity to ensure authenticity and resonate with their target audience. It’s critical for marketers for a brand to consider a virtual influencer’s engagement rate and niche locality to determine the most valuable partnership for their marketing strategy.

Moreover, brands must assess the potential reach and influence a virtual influencer has within the market to ensure their followership significantly overlaps with the brand’s intended audience.

Crafting Engaging Stories and Content

The virtual nature of influencers opens up a myriad of creative possibilities for storytelling. Brands can place virtual influencers in unique, imaginative settings which can captivate audiences and enhance product and service showcases.

Investing in the creation of a cohesive and credible life story for a virtual influencer is key to fomenting a genuine connection with their audience. Short-form videos, specifically those ranging from 31 to 60 seconds, effectively engage viewers and are key to lead generation and audience interaction on trendy platforms such as TikTok and Instagram Reels.

Staying Ahead of Trends

Staying ahead of trends is key in the fast-paced world of digital marketing, especially in the fashion industry. The rise of virtual influencers is just one example of the many shifting currents in this vast ocean of opportunity. Savvy brands are those that are able to ride these waves and maximize their potential.


To sum up, virtual influencers are transforming the digital landscape. The rise trend of AI-driven digital personas is reshaping content creation, marketing, and the creator economy. Brands looking to stay ahead of the curve will do well to consider the potential of virtual influencers.

Despite the ethical considerations, with transparency and authenticity, virtual influencers can provide a powerful tool for brands to connect with their audience in novel and engaging ways.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are AI influencers?

AI influencers are social media personalities created by artificial intelligence, with realistic digital avatars designed to look like anyone and can be programmed to say and do anything. They act like real human beings interacting with the world in a first-person perspective.

What is the difference between virtual and real influencers?

The key difference lies in the fact that virtual influencers are AI beings created by brands to promote content, while real influencers are actual individuals with substantial followings who personally engage with their audience and endorse products. This distinction is important to consider when evaluating the authenticity cost effectiveness of influencer marketing.

How do I make a virtual influencer?

To create a virtual influencer, you can follow these steps: create a RenderNet account, sign in to the Studio, select the model, input the prompt, download images, create more images, and start posting. Then, you can make your virtual influencer go live on Instagram.

Who is the most famous virtual influencer?

The most famous virtual influencer is Lil Miquela, among other notable virtual influencers like Lu do Magalu and Barbie.

What do virtual influencers do?

Virtual influencers are computer-generated characters designed to engage with audiences on social media using 3D modeling, animation, and artificial intelligence (AI). They interact with and influence followers just like human influencers do.


About the Author

Tom Koh

Tom is the CEO and Principal Consultant of MediaOne, a leading digital marketing agency. He has consulted for MNCs like Canon, Maybank, Capitaland, SingTel, ST Engineering, WWF, Cambridge University, as well as Government organisations like Enterprise Singapore, Ministry of Law, National Galleries, NTUC, e2i, SingHealth. His articles are published and referenced in CNA, Straits Times, MoneyFM, Financial Times, Yahoo! Finance, Hubspot, Zendesk, CIO Advisor.


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