Instagram star Essena O’Neill may have been a familiar face to her (not inconsiderable) 612,000 followers – before she dramatically quit the platform – but, up until the end of October, she was still completely unknown to the wider world. Almost overnight, however, as soon as she deleted more than 2,000 pictures from her Instagram account and ‘honestly’ re-captioned the rest (with such statements as “was paid $400 to post a dress… this photo had no substance, it was not of ethical manufacturing, SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT REAL [sic]”), her story was picked up by the international press and she achieved instant worldwide fame. Every major news outlet ran her story, including The Guardian,The Daily Mail, The Telegraph and The New York Times, to name but a (very) few.
While thousands of teenagers on Twitter flocked to join the swelling ranks of her fans – one even tweeted “I never paid attention to Essena O’Neill but I really admire her bravery and honesty now” – and various thought-leaders in the marketing industry published pieces on how Essena O’Neill (has) signalled the end of influencer marketing, Essena herself used the media furore to launch her new website (Let’s Be Game Changers), with the kind of rabid press fanfare and worldwide attention that PR executives would kill for.
It is surely ironic how Essena – in taking down her public Instagram account and dismissing Social Media as “contrived perfection made to get attention” – nevertheless managed to get more attention than she would have done in another ten years of posting, all of which she could handily channel to her new website.
The appearance of authenticity (whether real or manufactured) is evidently the real secret of success – for both brands and influencers – not only on Social Media, but in the wider marketing sphere. Essena may have stopped marketing other brands’ products on Instagram (for now), but she has nevertheless pulled off the marketing coup of a lifetime for herself and her own personal brand.