Gen Z TikTok #influencers

What marketers need to know about activists’ ‘digital guillotine’ on TikTok & Instagram

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By Audrey Kemp, LA Reporter

May 31, 2024 | 8 min read

A new viral movement is putting A-list celebrities on the ‘digital guillotine’ for their silence on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Experts suggest the movement, dubbed #Blockout2024, could have significant implications for advertisers on social media.

screen with the tiktok logo next to the words "Block"

Thousands of social media users have blocked celebrities and influencers in the past month / Credit: Adobe Stock

Following the Met Gala, pro-Palestine activists launched #Blockout2024, a social media campaign catalyzed by TikToker @ladyfromtheoutside. The movement targets the social media accounts of celebrities and influencers, labeling this tactic the the ‘digital guillotine,’ or ‘digitine.’ Thousands of users have blocked celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Zendaya and Justin Bieber on TikTok and Instagram in a bid to diminish their engagement and ad revenue.

In the movement’s first video, @ladyfromtheoutside declared: “It’s time to block all the celebrities, influencers and wealthy socialites who are not using their resources to help those in dire need. We gave them their platforms. It’s time to take it back.”

@ladyfromtheoutside #greenscreen #greenscreenvideo #digitine #digitalguillotine #haleyybaylee ♬ original sound - Meagan

The movement emerges just months after pro-Palestine activists launched a boycott of major brands for their ties to Israel.

Bailey Bellingy, a behavioral analyst at consumer insight agency Canvas8, views #Blockout2024 as part of a broader trend where individuals are distancing themselves from celebrities and gravitating towards smaller communities that align with their values. This trend was exacerbated at the Met Gala, an elite fashion event, during which social media users watched as celebrity attendees appeared unfazed by Israel’s simultaneous incursion into Rafah.

“As global political and social tensions rise, populations are becoming increasingly polarized and assertive about their expectations of powerholders,” adds Bellingy. “The unfolding crisis in Gaza has stoked the flames of growing discontent and distrust toward celebrities, with many netizens feeling they can no longer engage with individuals who ... feel out of touch with everyday life. In response, many people are putting their faith in smaller, like-minded communities, influencers and journalists, who lead with authenticity and relatability.”

The impact on brands & influencer marketing

For advertisers, #Blockout2024 represents a potential decline in the return on investment (ROI) from influencer marketing. Tom Jauncey, head nerd at digital marketing agency Nautilus Marketing, suggests that the digitine could have a considerable impact on brands that rely on influencers for marketing campaigns.

“You would notice a decline in ROI and engagement if the influencer you have collaborated with loses their followers,” he advises.

Amy Kauffman, chief marketing officer of The CMO Room, a network of senior-level marketers, concurs, noting that a “substantial drop in [celebrities’] follower counts and engagement rates directly impact their ad revenue and the effectiveness of their brand partnerships.”

This underscores the necessity for authenticity and transparency in advertising. Advertisers should prioritize collaborations with influencers who are vocal about social issues and demonstrate genuine commitment to social causes. This alignment can help maintain engagement and trust with consumers who are increasingly discerning about the values of the brands they support.

Kauffman highlights the importance of this alignment. “Brands that rely heavily on high-profile influencers may see diminished returns on their investments if those influencers are targeted by movements like digitine. To navigate this evolving landscape, advertisers should diversify their influencer partnerships and emphasize authenticity and values alignment.”

The fine line for content creators

Jasmine Enberg, an analyst at market research company eMarketer, points out the challenges for creators facing this landscape. “The lines between entertainment and politics are blurred and many people now expect social and traditional media stars to speak up on political or social issues,” she notes.

Voicing an opinion can have consequences for creators, from alienating parts of their audience to hurting their ability to secure brand deals. “Many brands are still skittish about aligning with creators who comment on politics or engage in political activism, for fear of becoming caught up in inflammatory rhetoric or charged conversations online,” she explains.

Enberg also points out that some social platforms are reportedly demoting creator content that addresses the conflict in Gaza or other geopolitical issues, which could diminish a creator’s reach.

Bernard Meyer, senior director of communications and creative at Omnisend, agrees that brands should generally avoid contentious topics, unless they have a strong stance. “If those celebrities engage and support one side, they will face backlash from the other side. It’s not an enviable position to be in,” he says.

However, advice from experts isn’t one-size-fits-all and hinges heavily on the nature of each creator’s content. Some experts argue that influencers who have a history of championing social causes but have remained silent on Palestine may find it an opportune time to speak up to rebuild trust with their audience.

For this subset of influencers, Kauffman advises: “They should rebuild trust with their audience by demonstrating a genuine commitment to social responsibility, such as supporting charitable causes and using their platforms to raise awareness.”

Jauncey adds that politically-minded content creators and celebrities should “take a stand ... and handle the concern [of their followers] directly,” adding that “a meaningful discussion [can] build trust [and] mitigate the damage.”

Enduring effects of the digitine

While the long-term implications of #Blockout2024 are still unfolding, some marketers believe it signals a shift towards more responsible and socially aware content creation.

Kauffman describes this movement as a “wake-up call for the influencer marketing industry.” She asserts that advertisers and influencers who fail to adapt to these expectations risk losing relevance. Moreover, she observes a “growing power of consumers in holding influencers and brands accountable.”

Echoing Kauffman’s sentiments, Jauncey believes that this movement has the “potential to shift influencer marketing scenarios towards creating more responsible content that contributes awareness towards a social cause.”

Meyer, on the other hand, offers a more cautious outlook. “If this movement continues growing, then it means there are fewer channels for celebrities and influencers to remain neutral,” he says. “There doesn’t seem to be any shortage of contentious issues in the world and it makes sense for influencers to prepare to be more open about their positions on these issues.”

Adding another layer to the discussion, Enberg brings attention to brand safety implications: “Advertisers should continue to uphold their brand safety principles and align with creators who embody brand values. Social media boycotts of brands or creators have occasionally had dire consequences for their businesses, and the risk of both reputational and monetary harm is now especially high.”

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