Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Humanising virtual influencers: the key to authentic audience engagement

By Patrik Wilkens, Vice President of Operations at TheSoul Publishing

From fashion icons to tech gurus, influencers have taken social media by storm, rapidly becoming the go-to marketing tool for brands worldwide. Both creators and advertisers are curious about the future of the influencer market and how it will evolve. Eyes are now glued to the rapid rise of virtual influencers, with more brands recognizing the unique benefits of working with them.

Virtual influencers are computer-generated characters designed to engage with consumers in the metaverse and on social media. No matter their design style – from hyper-realistic to animated – they often resemble humans in their appearance. However, where their success lies is in their authentic, engaging and relatable personalities.

They are already proving effective at driving purchases, with 40% of sales from virtual influencer promotions coming from Gen Z and Millennial audiences. While there is no doubt that these virtual characters have huge potential to drive future revenue, a more human theme is emerging for influencer engagement.

Brands see partnerships with influencers not only as a way of boosting sales, but as a means to increase their visibility and humanise the company. Today, virtual stars are fast becoming perceived in this same way, being treated as part of the team, with their unique personalities and spirits showcased and celebrated.

Virtual influencers have paved the way for a new generation of artists – virtual, holographic, and hybrid – born from the minds of innovative creators. At TheSoul Publishing, our virtual star Polar consistently achieves remarkable success as she combines her cutting-edge, feature-rich talents with her mysterious, engaging persona in ways that continuously captivate audiences.

Polar, the rising star

Polar’s career skyrocketed in 2021 after the release of her debut music video, ‘Close To You,’ which has since garnered 8.8 million views. Polar’s fresh voice appeals directly to Gen Z, and her fans gravitate toward her mysterious persona and unique style. Because of this, a lot of Polar’s fans talk to her directly on social media and as avatars during her concerts in the popular metaverse game Avakin Life. These events have attracted more than 2.2 million players for a combined watch time topping 100,000 hours.

The key to this unrivalled success is just how humanised Polar is. So much so that one of our colleagues recently corrected that Polar is a “she,” not an “it.” Polar’s humanisation transforms her into another teammate whose relatable persona connects her with her fans on a much deeper level.

The need to humanise the metaverse

In today’s digital world, Gen Z is seeing less of a separation between the virtual and reality, which means they look to engage with both types of influencers in the same way. They want to comment on their outfits and engage with them directly on social media. To achieve this, creators should give their virtual stars distinct likes and dislikes, much like those of real-life celebrities. By promoting a point of view that an audience can engage with and relate to, you create the human touch that audiences crave.

Our creative team has always treated Polar as if she were a real person, considering what is suitable for her brand, what will connect with her fans, and what is best for her as an artist. From the beginning, this humanisation has been integral to Polar’s success, allowing her to create the unique persona her fans have come to adore.

Creating authentic audience relationships

Authentic connections between creators and audiences are highly sought after, and as the lines between the virtual and real worlds increasingly blur, brands are seizing the opportunity to engage like never before. Audiences invest in influencers long-term after they can see themselves in them and connect with their values.

One key element in building these relationships and trust is building the credibility of your virtual star. Similar to real-life stars, Polar has recently expanded into press interviews, speaking with outlets like Reuters and Forbes. She has also taken on presenting her own radio show and performed in front of audiences on stage and in the metaverse, becoming a pioneer for this new way of performing.

These facts mean she truly has taken on a life of her own, far beyond the constraints of being ‘just’ a digital creation.

At a time when the influencer archetype has been around for decades, it now, more than ever, offers tremendous potential, especially for humanising a brand’s persona. With no geographical or physical limitations, virtual influencers allow brands to maintain highly nuanced creative control over their projects. However, whether every brand will succeed in transforming this control into a relatable virtual persona remains to be seen. In order to thrive in this competitive market, creators must successfully humanise their virtual stars, enabling them to authentically connect with their audiences.