Meet the Influencers Without a Human Face

Meet the Influencers Without a Human Face

Violet Zhang
29 January 2020

Influencers continue to be the main avenue through which social media marketers connect with their audiences. The influencer marketing industry was valued at around $8 billion in 2019 and is estimated to be worth around $15 billion by 2022

As marketers pour funds into influencer marketing, they must ensure that they engage the right influencers — but how should brands decide who to work with? 

These days, influencers need not only be someone with a pretty face. Influencers without a human face can have equal or more power over their fans and communities — spawning brand partnerships, becoming a business in their own right, or leading conversations on social issues.  

Here are some unusual influencers that brands shouldn’t neglect:

Pet Influencers

Can’t help but gush over an adorable pooch? Well, neither can the internet. Pets and animals have taken social media by storm in recent years, even going as far as outperforming verified human accounts on Instagram. 

The rise of pet influencers has led to the advent of niche businesses such as pet influencer agencies and provided increased partnership opportunities with celebrities and brands alike.

Pet influencer agencies have sprung up to meet the demand for pet influencer marketing

One such pet is Maru (@marutaro), a Shiba Inu from Japan who gained popularity due to his infectious smile and cheeky antics. 


pet influencer @marutaro

@marutaro’s signature smile

Maru, who has 2.5 million Instagram followers, has been featured in Japanese commercials, acted as the tourism ambassador for Mie prefecture, and was even a store-manager for a day. In addition, Maru boasts a store and museum in his name. 

Pet accounts aren’t the only ones with a loyal following. Twitter account We Rate Dogs (@dog_rates) provides ratings of user-submitted dog photos alongside a humorous caption.

twitter account @dog_rates

@dog_rates engages dog owners worldwide by accepting and rating user submissions

The account, with a follower count of 8.6 million, has an official store selling dog-related merchandise and has even released a mobile game in partnership with Fourth Wall Games.

Food Influencers:

While the people behind great food content (Bon Appetit’s Claire Saffitz, anyone?) can become internet sensations, photographs and videos of delectable-looking dishes draw their own crowd. 

YouTube channel Peaceful Cuisine does just as its name promises — the account posts videos that scarcely feature their creator, Ryoya Takashima, focusing instead on the quiet yet satisfying process of creating a dish. With 2.15 million subscribers, the account demonstrates the hold that food has on an audience. 

Peaceful Cuisine's chocolate pound cake recipe

Peaceful Cuisine’s recipe for chocolate pound cake

On top of his YouTube content, Takashima has released a cookbook and an app featuring his dishes. 

Baker Nick Makrides has attracted over 525K Instagram followers with his neon-coloured cakes and macarons. 

@thescranline bakes neon coloured macarons

@thescranline showcasing his neon-coloured macarons

On top of posting his creations, Makrides has released a cookbook and hosts baking classes. Notably, he has also collaborated with Disney on a special cake promoting the release of their film, Nutcracker and the Four Realms, and with Netflix for the release of their series Sugar Rush.

Illustrators and Artists:

Instagram’s carousel feature makes the platform a perfect avenue for illustrators and artists to showcase their work. Strange Planet, for example, has endeared fans with its cute alien subjects and strange yet relatable dialogue. 

Similarly, the account Highnunchicken (@highnunchicken) makes use of the carousel format to showcase one-panel comic strips reminiscent of the daily cartoon made famous by the New Yorker. 

@highnunchicken speaks out about the Personal Mobility Device ban in Singapore

A @highnunchicken post “mourning” the death of the Personal Mobility Device (PMD) following the ban of PMDs in Singapore

The secret to the account’s 36K followers? Highnunchicken’s creators are simply unabashed when speaking out about controversial yet quintessentially Singaporean issues. 

This has attracted the attention of ride-hailing app Grab, whose collaboration with the account promotes good driving and riding habits. 

Instagram has also amplified the fame of artists such as Yayoi Kusama (@yayoikusama_). With 46.3K followers, the artist uses her Instagram page to feature other users who have visited her exhibits.

Kusama’s installations have quickly become a favourite for the Instagram generation. In fact, museum-goers are willing to queue for hours to spend a few seconds among her whimsical pieces.

Instagram user Elliot Thomas posts about Yayoi Kusama

Instagram user Elliot Thomas in one of Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms

Her work has been featured by Uniqlo as part of the brand’s collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

Novelty Influencers:

Cute pets may seem irresistible, but accounts showcasing slime creation and other novelty trends can be just as captivating. 

Instagram’s best ‘slimers’, for example, know just how to attract viewers by making and playing with stretchy blobs jazzed up with glitter, beads, and toys. 

At the trend’s peak in 2017, famous ‘slimers’ could rake in hundreds of dollars a week by selling their creations on e-commerce sites such as Etsy. Today, slime accounts such as Crafty Slime Creator (@craftyslimecreator) still boast hundreds of thousands of followers. Crafty Slime Creator has released a book of slime recipes and worked with watch brand Daniel Wellington.

slime creator @craftyslimecreator

@craftyslimecreator advocates for slime creation as an artform

On a more recent note, inventions such as CGI avatars have also risen to the rank of viral influencer. 

Miquela (@lilmiquela), the most famous of the lot, has an Instagram account with all the trappings of your typical model-musician. However, she is nothing more than a digital avatar. Miquela has collaborated with Baauer on one of her songs, modelled for Wonderland Magazine, and, on a more controversial note, shared a kiss with Bella Hadid for a Calvin Klein campaign. She was even made one of TIME magazine’s most influential people in 2018. 

virtual influencer @lilmiquela

@lilmiquela promoting her CLUB 404 collaboration with tattoo artist Manuela Soto Sosa

While endorsement, copyright, and ethical guidelines surrounding the use of virtual influencers still have to be developed, Miquela’s success demonstrates the power that nascent technologies will continue to have over audiences moving forward. 

Why should brands consider alternative influencers?

 At the heart of it, these influencers promote positive sentiments

Cute pets, mouthwatering food and funny comics have one thing in common: they elicit positive sentiments. Owning or observing pets is known to have therapeutic effects, while social media mentions concerning food have been shown to be generally positive. Art, too, helps to relieve stress and alleviate symptoms of anxiety. Even slime videos, which have been said to trigger an Autonomous Meridian Sensory Response (ASMR), reportedly allow viewers to relax.

By extension, associating yourself with these feel-good factors can also help to strengthen positive brand perception. Emotionally-connected clients are more valuable to a brand than clients who are typically satisfied by their products or services, providing greater purchase intent and frequency of use. 

Wonder how your customers feel about your brand? Meltwater’s Media Intelligence tool provides you with a comprehensive view of the conversations that impact your brand and industry. 

With unlimited searches and full historical data from up to 15 months, you can access reviews, online news, articles from blogs and forums, and data from social media channels such as Instagram, Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook. In addition, you can perform searches on-the-go with our mobile app. These insights will help you to better understand your brand health, market insights, competitor strategy, and audience needs. 

Alternative influencers are effective sellers

The best part about using alternative influencers is that they aren’t limited by geographical boundaries. Pet influencers are able to reach large and diverse audience groups that often engage more with their posts than they would with posts made by human influencers. Maru’s Instagram page, for example, attracts a large fanbase from the US.

Meltwater data on @marutaro

According to Meltwater’s Social Influencer tool, @marutaro’s main audience comes from the US

Similarly, in a survey conducted by Facebook, nearly half of 18-34 year-olds identify as foodies. These audiences regard food-related content both as social capital and as resources for ingredients, cooking techniques, and most importantly, brands. 

These factors suggest that brands that work with alternative influencers can expect high engagement on their posts and greater audience interest in their content. 

Consistent collaborations can help you to build your fanbase

Brands that make an effort to highlight trends in popular culture not only reach new target audiences, but also prove that they understand their existing customers. This can help to increase perceived brand value. 

Uniqlo, for example, has consistently featured artists such as Keith Haring and Andy Warhol in their UT collection. The brand has also worked with Disney, Sanrio and Nintendo to feature cartoons such as Mickey Mouse and Gudetama as well as games such as Mario Kart and Pokemon. 

Uniqlo UT collaborations

Uniqlo’s diverse range of UT brand collaborations

Uniqlo’s limited-run items have proved to be extremely popular. Their collaboration with artist KAWS, for example, sold out online and in stores within minutes. 

In order to emulate these results, brands must have an in-depth understanding of their consumer base and the trends that they pay attention to. 

Meltwater’s Audience Insight reports allow you to understand the communities that drive conversations on your social media channels. Our tool allows you to discover your audience’s consumption habits, analyse shifts in their demographic, and identify key influencers within these groups. You can then use these insights to determine which trends and influencers your target audience resonates with. 

Brands that align themselves with the right message reap greater benefits

Consumers now expect brands to go beyond selling their products or services. According to Havas’ annual study, brands that prove their commitment towards social or political issues and work to add value to their community create a better impression among their audiences and generate greater purchase or re-purchase intent. 

As social media becomes the leading route for influencers and brands to promote their message, consumers too look towards social media for proof that the products or services they consume align with their own beliefs. 

By extension, brands that engage influencers who promote certain values solidify their stance towards these issues. For example, by engaging openly pro-LGBT influencer @thescranline, Disney and Netflix demonstrated their support for progressive representation in their programmes. 

It is also important to note that influencers value their personal branding in the same manner. For example, Aussie food blogger @mealsbymiri drives home her commitment to veganism by including plant-based ingredients from The Honest Pantry and Super Duper Food Co. in her recipes. 

@mealsbymiri works with The Honest Pantry

Branded collaboration between The Honest Pantry and influencer @mealsbymiri

To find the influencers whose content best resonates with your brand message and target audience, use Meltwater’s Influencer Discovery tool. Find influencers based on your audience’s demographic as well as your target market, industry, or topic. These influencers will have fans who are familiar with brands in your industry, ensuring that your content effectively targets your audience. 

Next Steps

Now that you’ve considered the different types of influencers, make sure that you’ve got the right strategy to kick your campaign into full gear. Check out our comprehensive guide to influencer marketing in 2020 for more information!

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