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Virtual Influencers in the Real World | March 2023

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Credit: VirtualHumans.org

The next time you buy a flashy new outfit after browsing Instagram, or tap the heart button on a particularly compelling TikTok video, you might discover that the person who posted it isn’t real—and you might not care at all.

That is, if virtual influencers (and their creators) get their way.

A virtual influencer is a digital personality that posts on social media to build an audience of passionate fans, just like a human influencer; at least, that’s how it seems. In reality, a team of humans uses computer-generated imagery (CGI), motion capture, and marketing magic to give a digital avatar a voice, a life, and a brand.

The result makes virtual influencers seem like, well, real people. Just like human influencers, virtual ones share behind-the-scenes posts about their ‘lives’, as well as promoting their favorite products and brands. Virtual influencers usually sound and/or look like humans—or cartoonish representations of them—though they don’t try too hard to hide the fact they are artificial.

Not that audiences seem to care. Top virtual influencers like Lil Miquela, Lu, Noonoouri, and Hatsune Miku have millions of social media followers and routinely post about their lives, feelings, and views. Their followers appear as invested in their lives as they are in the lives of human influencers, if the tens of thousands of likes and comments on virtual influencer posts are any indication.

Virtual influencers even turn digital clout into real-world cash. It’s common for virtual influencers to work hand-in-hand with brands to star in their advertisements and promote their products. At least one has even been signed by a talent agency that usually works with human actors and artists.

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Figure. Virtual influencer Miquela Sousa.

“The use of virtual influencers has permeated across many industries, including fashion, beauty, entertainment, and electronics,” says Pierre Benckendorff, a researcher at Australia’s University of Queensland who studies virtual influencers. “And the adoption of virtual influencers is likely to grow in service industries such as tourism and education.”


Virtual influencers are challenging notions of what is possible with technology, and what it means to form relationships online.


In the process, virtual influencers are challenging notions of what is possible with technology — and what it means to form relationships online.

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Virtual Influencers, Real-World Impact

Today, virtual influencers are particularly popular in Asia; in China, Japan, and South Korea, they sell products and star in advertisements. Part of their appeal is that they can be adapted to any country or market, says Li Xie-Carson, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Queensland who has researched virtual influencers with Benckendorff.

“Virtual influencers can be tailored for different target markets and cultural tastes. They can be human-like, animal-like, 2D-animated, or 3D-animated,” she says. “This versatility means they can be designed to appeal to audiences in most countries.”

Today’s virtual influencers are not chatbots; they are fully-fledged visual and conversational personas. They sport complete visual bodies and faces, unique personalities, and entire backstories. Behind these influencers are scores of technical and marketing experts who script the influencer’s engagement and create the content that features them in real-world settings.

One of the most famous virtual influencers hailing from the U.S. is known as Lil Miquela. A virtual human who looks like a 19-year-old girl, Lil Miquela posts photos of herself doing everything from eating at restaurants to flying on planes to hanging out with virtual (and real) friends. With almost three million followers on Instagram, each of her posts gets tens of thousands of likes, and hundreds of comments. Through it all, Lil Miquela and her handlers at Brud, the media agency that created her, make no effort to hide the fact she’s not human. (Her Instagram profile says she’s a “19-year-old Robot living in L.A.”)

Fans are not bothered that Lil Miquela is not real; neither are brands. Lil Miquela has become a brand ambassador for luxury brands like Prada and Dior, as well as auto company MINI, promoting their (very real) products to millions of (very real) fans. These partnerships are so lucrative that Lil Miquela has even been signed as talent by Creative Artists Agency (CAA), a major talent agency.

Another major virtual influencer, the Brazil-based Lu do Magalu, often is referred to simply as Lu. While Lil Miquela works with brands, Lu was created by one; she’s the virtual face of Magazine Luiza, a collection of Brazilian companies that includes Magalu, Brazil’s largest retailer. Lu has more than 25 million followers across social media accounts, driven by massive popularity on TikTok. Like any human brand mascot, Lu does her fair share of promoting the company’s products, but she also acts like an actual, approachable person, sharing mundane details about her day, engaging with followers, and even starting conversations around social issues like LGBT rights.


By some counts, hundreds of high-profile virtual influencers exist today, all made possible by a clever mix of advanced technology and human ingenuity.


Other notable virtual influencers act similarly. Noonoouri is a cartoonish virtual influencer who promotes fashion brands worldwide. Hatsune Miku is a popular anime-style virtual influencer who promotes products in the Japanese music industry and performs in virtual concerts. By some counts, hundreds of high-profile virtual influencers exist today, and all of them are made possible by a clever mix of advanced technology and human ingenuity.

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From CGI to AI

Virtual influencers like Lil Miquela and Lu are created using the same technologies that make the latest Hollywood blockbusters or mega-hit video games possible.

Explains Benckendorff, three-dimensional (3D) rendering software and motion capture technologies commonly used in gaming and movie productions “are now employed to produce virtual influencers.” That includes tools like MetaHuman, an application from Unreal Engine, a popular graphics engine, that enables users to create photorealistic virtual humans.

Now artificial intelligence (AI) is coming into play to make virtual influencer creation easier, according to Peter Bentley, a professor of computer science at University College London in the U.K. who researches AI. Bentley says highly skilled professionals can use advanced motion capture and CGI to make virtual influencers look hyper-realistic, but deep learning, a sophisticated AI technique, is lowering the level of technical skill needed to produce a real-looking virtual influencer.

“As deep learning methods rapidly mature, we are increasingly able to generate any image we like by replacing existing features with machine learning-generated imagery,” says Bentley. “That makes the process of producing virtual humans even easier, and soon anyone will be able to do this.”

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Figure. Noonoouri

Soon, AI could also change how virtual influencers behave.

Today, most virtual influencers are entirely controlled by humans in graphic design and content development, says Benckendorff; their actions and behaviors are entirely scripted. However, as artificial intelligence continues to grow more powerful, autonomous AI-powered influencers could emerge, with the potential to act on their own to engage with audiences online.

“In the near future, AI influencers may be able to gather user information through natural language processing, image recognition, and speech recognition; create autonomic posts and reply to the audience based on consumer sentiment through problem-solving, and continually improve the interactive process through machine learning,” Benckendorff says.

Deep fakes, in the form of hyper-realistic AI representations of faces, likely also will play a starring role in creating the next generation of virtual influencers. Today, virtual influencers like Lil Miquela and Lu are quite obviously CGI. Tomorrow, with sophisticated AI visuals and behaviors, as well as marketing-savvy human handlers, virtual influencers may be completely indistinguishable from real people, says Zahy Ramadan, a marketing professor at the Lebanese American University in Beirut, Lebanon.

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Figure. Hatsune Miku

“The virtual lives of virtual influencers are being smartly developed through their omnipresence across social platforms and featuring them next to real people and celebrities,” Ramadan says. “The anthropomorphization is so extreme that many followers [won’t realize] they’re not real.”

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Gen Z’s Love Affair with Virtual Influencers

To some, the concept of real humans following virtual influencers might seem ludicrous, but not to certain generations. Generation Z, those born in the late 1990s to the early 2010s, are embracing virtual influencers, says Mona Mrad, a marketing professor at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. “This generation seems to be well-connected to these influencers, to the extent that they are forming emotional and mental relationships with them,” she says. “They reveal feelings of love and attachment to them.” In some cases, they even perceive virtual influencers to be more reliable than human ones.

These human-virtual influencer bonds are mainly formed on Instagram and TikTok, says Ramadan. The more the virtual influencer is anthropomorphized, he says, the more followers become engaged and emotionally attached to them.

Virtual influencers have already cast their spell on Gen Z, a spell that could grow more powerful if technologies like augmented reality and the metaverse take off. In fact, virtual influencers could become a primary way for us to engage with companies if we spend significant amounts of time in virtual environments, says Sean Sands, a marketing professor at Australia’s Swinburne University of Technology.

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Figure. Lu of Magalu

“We may all have our own avatar and interact with virtual entities regularly,” Sands says, “so interacting with a service associate that is virtual will seem pretty commonplace.”

Xie-Carson expects interactions between humans and virtual influencers to grow, both online and offline. Even if we don’t spend our lives in the metaverse, virtual influencers have the potential to pop up anywhere we live, work, and shop, thanks to extended reality technology, she says.

“It is possible that technological advances will allow us to get up close and personal with virtual influencers at events, stores, and even schools.”

* Further Reading

Hsu, T.,
These Influencers Aren’t Flesh and Blood, Yet Millions Follow Them. The New York Times “June 17, 2019”; http://bit.ly/3W2IFYB

Kuch, T.,
The rise of computer-generated, artificially intelligent influencers. New Scientist “June 8, 2022”; http://bit.ly/3W1tfng

Xie-Carson, L.,
Fake it to Make it: Exploring the use of Virtual Influencers in Tourism. YouTube “Aug. 21, 2022”; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTR7JI-0QYQ

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Author

Logan Kugler is a freelance technology writer based in Tampa, FL, USA. He has written for over 60 major publications.


©2023 ACM  0001-0782/23/03

Permission to make digital or hard copies of part or all of this work for personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided that copies are not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage and that copies bear this notice and full citation on the first page. Copyright for components of this work owned by others than ACM must be honored. Abstracting with credit is permitted. To copy otherwise, to republish, to post on servers, or to redistribute to lists, requires prior specific permission and/or fee. Request permission to publish from [email protected] or fax (212) 869-0481.

The Digital Library is published by the Association for Computing Machinery. Copyright © 2023 ACM, Inc.


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12 Proven Methods to Make Money Blogging in 2024

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Make money blogging

 

Make money bloggingThis is a contributed article.

The world of blogging continues to thrive in 2024, offering a compelling avenue for creative minds to share their knowledge, build an audience, and even turn their passion into profit. Whether you’re a seasoned blogger or just starting, there are numerous effective strategies to monetize your blog and achieve financial success. Here, we delve into 12 proven methods to make money blogging in 2024:

1. Embrace Niche Expertise:

Standing out in the vast blogosphere requires focus. Carving a niche allows you to cater to a specific audience with targeted content. This not only builds a loyal following but also positions you as an authority in your chosen field. Whether it’s gardening techniques, travel hacking tips, or the intricacies of cryptocurrency, delve deep into a subject you’re passionate and knowledgeable about. Targeted audiences are more receptive to monetization efforts, making them ideal for success.

2. Content is King (and Queen):

High-quality content remains the cornerstone of any successful blog. In 2024, readers crave informative, engaging, and well-written content that solves their problems, answers their questions, or entertains them. Invest time in crafting valuable blog posts, articles, or videos that resonate with your target audience.

  • Focus on evergreen content: Create content that remains relevant for a long time, attracting consistent traffic and boosting your earning potential.
  • Incorporate multimedia: Spice up your content with captivating images, infographics, or even videos to enhance reader engagement and improve SEO.
  • Maintain consistency: Develop a regular publishing schedule to build anticipation and keep your audience coming back for more.

3. The Power of SEO:

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) ensures your blog ranks high in search engine results for relevant keywords. This increases organic traffic, the lifeblood of any monetization strategy.

  • Keyword research: Use keyword research tools to identify terms your target audience searches for. Strategically incorporate these keywords into your content naturally.
  • Technical SEO: Optimize your blog’s loading speed, mobile responsiveness, and overall technical aspects to improve search engine ranking.
  • Backlink building: Encourage other websites to link back to your content, boosting your blog’s authority in the eyes of search engines.

4. Monetization Magic: Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing allows you to earn commissions by promoting other companies’ products or services. When a reader clicks on your affiliate link and makes a purchase, you get a commission.

  • Choose relevant affiliates: Promote products or services that align with your niche and resonate with your audience.
  • Transparency is key: Disclose your affiliate relationships clearly to your readers and build trust.
  • Integrate strategically: Don’t just bombard readers with links. Weave affiliate promotions naturally into your content, highlighting the value proposition.

5. Display Advertising: A Classic Approach

Display advertising involves placing banner ads, text ads, or other visual elements on your blog. When a reader clicks on an ad, you earn revenue.

  • Choose reputable ad networks: Partner with established ad networks that offer competitive rates and relevant ads for your audience.
  • Strategic ad placement: Place ads thoughtfully, avoiding an overwhelming experience for readers.
  • Track your performance: Monitor ad clicks and conversions to measure the effectiveness of your ad placements and optimize for better results.

6. Offer Premium Content:

Providing exclusive, in-depth content behind a paywall can generate additional income. This could be premium blog posts, ebooks, online courses, or webinars.

  • Deliver exceptional value: Ensure your premium content offers significant value that justifies the price tag.
  • Multiple pricing options: Consider offering tiered subscription plans to cater to different audience needs and budgets.
  • Promote effectively: Highlight the benefits of your premium content and encourage readers to subscribe.

7. Coaching and Consulting:

Leverage your expertise by offering coaching or consulting services related to your niche. Readers who find your content valuable may be interested in personalized guidance.

  • Position yourself as an expert: Showcase your qualifications, experience, and client testimonials to build trust and establish your credibility.
  • Offer free consultations: Provide a limited free consultation to potential clients, allowing them to experience your expertise firsthand.
  • Develop clear packages: Outline different coaching or consulting packages with varying time commitments and pricing structures.

8. The Power of Community: Online Events and Webinars

Host online events or webinars related to your niche. These events offer valuable content while also providing an opportunity to promote other monetization avenues.

  • Interactive and engaging: Structure your online events to be interactive with polls, Q&A sessions, or live chats. Click here to learn more about image marketing with Q&A sessions and live chats.

9. Embrace the Power of Email Marketing:

Building an email list allows you to foster stronger relationships with your audience and promote your content and offerings directly.

  • Offer valuable incentives: Encourage readers to subscribe by offering exclusive content, discounts, or early access to new products.
  • Segmentation is key: Segment your email list based on reader interests to send targeted campaigns that resonate more effectively.
  • Regular communication: Maintain consistent communication with your subscribers through engaging newsletters or updates.

10. Sell Your Own Products:

Take your expertise to the next level by creating and selling your own products. This could be physical merchandise, digital downloads, or even printables related to your niche.

  • Identify audience needs: Develop products that address the specific needs and desires of your target audience.
  • High-quality offerings: Invest in creating high-quality products that offer exceptional value and user experience.
  • Utilize multiple platforms: Sell your products through your blog, online marketplaces, or even social media platforms.

11. Sponsorships and Brand Collaborations:

Partner with brands or businesses relevant to your niche for sponsored content or collaborations. This can be a lucrative way to leverage your audience and generate income.

  • Maintain editorial control: While working with sponsors, ensure you retain editorial control to maintain your blog’s authenticity and audience trust.
  • Disclosures are essential: Clearly disclose sponsored content to readers, upholding transparency and ethical practices.
  • Align with your niche: Partner with brands that complement your content and resonate with your audience.

12. Freelancing and Paid Writing Opportunities:

Your blog can serve as a springboard for freelance writing opportunities. Showcase your writing skills and expertise through your blog content, attracting potential clients.

  • Target relevant publications: Identify online publications, websites, or magazines related to your niche and pitch your writing services.
  • High-quality samples: Include high-quality blog posts from your site as writing samples when pitching to potential clients.
  • Develop strong writing skills: Continuously hone your writing skills and stay updated on current trends in your niche to deliver exceptional work.

Conclusion:

Building a successful blog that generates income requires dedication, strategic planning, and high-quality content. In today’s digital age, there are numerous opportunities to make money online through blogging. By utilizing a combination of methods such as affiliate marketing, sponsored content, and selling digital products or services, you can leverage your blog’s potential and achieve financial success.

Remember, consistency in posting, engaging with your audience, and staying adaptable to trends are key to thriving in the ever-evolving blogosphere. Embrace new strategies, refine your approaches, and always keep your readers at the forefront of your content creation journey. With dedication and the right approach, your blog has the potential to become a valuable source of income and a platform for sharing your knowledge and passion with the world, making money online while doing what you love.

Image Credit: DepositPhotos



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Snapchat Explores New Messaging Retention Feature: A Game-Changer or Risky Move?

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Snapchat Explores New Messaging Retention Feature: A Game-Changer or Risky Move?

In a recent announcement, Snapchat revealed a groundbreaking update that challenges its traditional design ethos. The platform is experimenting with an option that allows users to defy the 24-hour auto-delete rule, a feature synonymous with Snapchat’s ephemeral messaging model.

The proposed change aims to introduce a “Never delete” option in messaging retention settings, aligning Snapchat more closely with conventional messaging apps. While this move may blur Snapchat’s distinctive selling point, Snap appears convinced of its necessity.

According to Snap, the decision stems from user feedback and a commitment to innovation based on user needs. The company aims to provide greater flexibility and control over conversations, catering to the preferences of its community.

Currently undergoing trials in select markets, the new feature empowers users to adjust retention settings on a conversation-by-conversation basis. Flexibility remains paramount, with participants able to modify settings within chats and receive in-chat notifications to ensure transparency.

Snapchat underscores that the default auto-delete feature will persist, reinforcing its design philosophy centered on ephemerality. However, with the app gaining traction as a primary messaging platform, the option offers users a means to preserve longer chat histories.

The update marks a pivotal moment for Snapchat, renowned for its disappearing message premise, especially popular among younger demographics. Retaining this focus has been pivotal to Snapchat’s identity, but the shift suggests a broader strategy aimed at diversifying its user base.

This strategy may appeal particularly to older demographics, potentially extending Snapchat’s relevance as users age. By emulating features of conventional messaging platforms, Snapchat seeks to enhance its appeal and broaden its reach.

Yet, the introduction of message retention poses questions about Snapchat’s uniqueness. While addressing user demands, the risk of diluting Snapchat’s distinctiveness looms large.

As Snapchat ventures into uncharted territory, the outcome of this experiment remains uncertain. Will message retention propel Snapchat to new heights, or will it compromise the platform’s uniqueness?

Only time will tell.

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Catering to specific audience boosts your business, says accountant turned coach

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Catering to specific audience boosts your business, says accountant turned coach

While it is tempting to try to appeal to a broad audience, the founder of alcohol-free coaching service Just the Tonic, Sandra Parker, believes the best thing you can do for your business is focus on your niche. Here’s how she did just that.

When running a business, reaching out to as many clients as possible can be tempting. But it also risks making your marketing “too generic,” warns Sandra Parker, the founder of Just The Tonic Coaching.

“From the very start of my business, I knew exactly who I could help and who I couldn’t,” Parker told My Biggest Lessons.

Parker struggled with alcohol dependence as a young professional. Today, her business targets high-achieving individuals who face challenges similar to those she had early in her career.

“I understand their frustrations, I understand their fears, and I understand their coping mechanisms and the stories they’re telling themselves,” Parker said. “Because of that, I’m able to market very effectively, to speak in a language that they understand, and am able to reach them.” 

“I believe that it’s really important that you know exactly who your customer or your client is, and you target them, and you resist the temptation to make your marketing too generic to try and reach everyone,” she explained.

“If you speak specifically to your target clients, you will reach them, and I believe that’s the way that you’re going to be more successful.

Watch the video for more of Sandra Parker’s biggest lessons.

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