e spend considerable bandwidth covering applications of virtual influencers, though we rarely stop to outline and review what a virtual influencer really is, by definition. It is due time for a more fundamental drop. The goal of this short piece will be to share our well-researched definition of a virtual influencer, then dissect and reflect on that classification.
Without further ado, here's the definition of virtual influencer:
A virtual influencer is a digital character created in computer graphics software, then given a personality defined by a first-person view of the world, and made accessible on media platforms for the sake of influence.
A virtual influencer is a digital character.
Virtual influencers are digital creations. They are exclusively created and consumed in digital mediums. While real-world robots exist on social media, such as Sophia Robot, she does not qualify as a "virtual" influencer, as her image is not of virtual origin, among other reasons we cover below. Further, it's important to understand when a virtual influencer classified themselves as a "robot", they say so in-character when speaking about the lore of their fictional storyline.
Knox Frost and Lil Miquela are famous examples of virtual influencers who are "robots" in an entirely fictional sense, yet do not exist anywhere in the real world—as in, they are not actual robots; they are the Marvel equivalent of a robot. The important learning about digital characters is the emphasis on "digital".
A virtual influencer is created in computer graphics software.
Virtual influencers are created using software. Popular softwares that appear in the virtual influencer creation pipeline include the likes of Maya, Houdini, Cinema 4D, Unreal Engine, ZBrush, Modo, 3ds Max, Daz Studio, Blender, Photoshop, Lightroom, Illustrator, and more.
While a physical Barbie doll, a Sesame Street character, or a paper comic falls short of qualification as a virtual influencer, the recreation of a character in a virtual medium differentiates them from simply being an "influencer", adopting the 'virtual' influencer title. Mattel is an example of a brand who has done this well with VTuber Barbie, as well as KFC with virtual Colonel Sanders.
A virtual influencer is given a personality defined by a first-person view of the world.
This is fundamental for virtual influencers. Virtual influencers, like fictional characters from Garfield to Spiderman, exist behind the fourth wall. These characters rarely, if ever, break the immersion of their own storyline. The art of placing the character in a life they believe to be their own allows fans to immerse themselves in a similar suspension of disbelief.
By giving a fictional character belief in themselves, you grant them self-agency. When a first-person virtual personality is paired with well-thought-out storytelling and captivating design, the virtual influencer truly comes to life in their own right.
If a character on social media regularly (or always) breaks the fourth wall, they are not a virtual influencer.
A virtual influencer is made accessible on media platforms.
Media is given life when consumed, and virtual influencers are no exception. By nature of virtual influencer creation and logical distribution, leveraging media platforms is required for a virtual influencer. Popular media platforms for virtual influencer distribution include Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Twitter, and Spotify, with Instagram being the common platform most virtual influencers use.
Historically, television has served as the media platform for certain first-mover virtual influencers, such as Max Headroom and DK-96. Today, holograms bring other virtual influencers to life, such as Hatsune Miku. A virtual influencer can exist in physical mediums such as merchandise, magazines, comic books, and more, but they drive their storylines forward in the aforementioned digital platforms, first and foremost.
A virtual influencer is for the sake of influence.
As by the definition of influencer alone, a virtual influencer is a person or thing that influences another.
By sticking to this definition, we draw a line in the sand to segment art pages from augmented reality from human influencers, from the rest. I hope this piece helps you further wrap your mind around the concept of virtual influence. If you've enjoyed reading this piece, consider sharing with your network.