Last year we published a comprehensive report on “The Top Instagram Virtual Influencers in 2019.”
In last year’s piece, HypeAuditor collected a list of the 32 most popular virtual influencer accounts based on their Quality Audience numbers. We then analyzed their audience data and sharing behaviors to identify distinctive features and trends.
This year, we’ve expanded the number of influencers to analyze the data of 88 virtual influencers.
Christopher provided a list of virtual influencers and bios, shared his thoughts on the future of the virtual influencer industry, and opened doors to other virtual influencer teams for their perspectives, which are included below. All other views, findings, and reporting in this piece are that of HypeAuditor.
In this study, we collect 88 virtual influencers on Instagram at the moment alongside the latest opinions of some of the most knowledgeable creators in the virtual influencer industry.
- The engagement rate of virtual influencers remains high. Virtual Influencers have almost three times the engagement rate of real influencers.
- The core audience of virtual influencers is women between 18 and 34 years old (44.97%). There is also a large number of younger people between 13-17 years old (14.47%). That’s double the average of regular human influencers, whose young audience averages about 7% of their entire audience.
- 49% of virtual influencers had not posted in the last 30 days. In our 2019 study, 23% of influencers hadn’t posted in the last 30 days.
- 48% of virtual influencers have negative follower growth. This may indicate that accounts lose bots or that audiences don’t like the content and unfollow the influencers. Last year this figure was 30%.
- 31% of virtual influencers have accounts on TikTok.
- The most followed virtual influencer in 2020 is Lu de Magalu, hailing from Brazil. Her Instagram account @Magazineluiza has 4.3 million followers, with her Facebook reaching 14.3M followers and her TikTok adding another 1M followers on top
Christopher Travers on The State of the Virtual Influencer Industry
The virtual influencer industry is growing, yet still infantile and primed for innovation to define it. The multi-year leaders in this space (i.e. Crypton Future Media, Brud, VirtualHumans.org, The Diigitals, Opium Effect, Aww Inc, Factory New, Superplastic, etc.) continue to sustain strong activity in the space, deriving ongoing value from the opportunity and indicating an ongoing, strong confidence in virtual influencers as a medium.
If you have trouble grappling with the concept of virtual influencers, a point of view I advise is to think about the rise of virtual influencers as a more innovative reflection of the rise of human influencers over a decade ago. Early on, nobody knew what to think of human influencers as a content medium—but they were relevant to consumers, and innovative brands activated experiences with them with great success. Now, in this mindset, realize the relevance of early movers in the space, the inevitability of virtual influencer agencies, the likelihood for virtual influencers to be signed actors, the impending regularity of brands sponsoring virtual influencers as a medium, and more. Anything a human influencer can do, a virtual influencer can do with more control, glance value, and engagement. Take this mindset and you may start to understand, at the base level, where the virtual influencer has room to grow and evolve. What piece of this new industry will you define?
Right now, creating virtual influencers is a fruitful endeavor. Analysts will reflect on this period of the virtual influencer industry and deem the players in the space “first movers.” Who will these same analysts deem “trailblazers” and “industry definers”? These answers are still very much up in the air, and that’s why I encourage more brands, studios, labels, and technologists to build in this space. Over the next five years, the window of opportunity to define this emerging content medium as an early mover will close as the general population floods in.
Development Prospects for Virtual Influencers
The virtual influencer industry has an underlying dependence on the computer graphics industry, driving job growth and capital flow towards graphic designers. In other words, the technology empowering the virtual influencer industry already exists for other industries, and virtual influencer teams repurpose them for our needs. However, these CGI platforms are time-consuming and costly to interface with in a high-quality way.
Cost is one of the largest barriers to entry for any team trying to dive into the space. Development teams across the virtual influencer industry work tirelessly on new ways to reduce cost on the development front, such as building add-ons to pre-existing software like Maya or Unreal Engine, developing mobile platforms for easy virtual influencer placement in the real world (augmented reality), or building standalone platforms to design realistic virtual influencers with ease from scratch.
These teams chase a long-term vision where the virtual influencer industry breaks free from its short-term dependence on computer graphics artists, and instead creates dependence on platforms internal to our own industry, keeping capital flow internal. Should they succeed—considering any given virtual influencer storyline is designed to last forever—customer retention on their virtual influencer creation platforms will be high.
Until efficient, cost-effective platforms are developed, brands and creative newcomers alike turn to teams with established workflows for fast virtual influencer creation, or they set out and build a process themselves. For instance, at VirtualHumans.org, we have spent the last two years obsessively building up our incubation process, allowing us to cost-effectively launch a new virtual influencer in a short period of time, and with a proven content amplification strategy to support the growth of the influencer moving forward.
Christopher Travers, founder of VirtualHumans.org
Virtual Influencers Engagement Rate
Virtual Influencers have almost three times the engagement rate of real influencers. This pattern is consistent with last year, indicating that followers are more engaged with virtual influencers’ content.
Reflection by Cameron-James Wilson, founder of The Diigitals
Virtual celebrities are the future of 3D fashion. Without digital celebrities, 3D garments exist without context and are missing one of the most important elements of the fashion world —the muse. We often care more about who’s wearing something than what they’re actually wearing, and without people following celebrities’ style, there will be no new trends. Virtual trendsetters, 3D models, and digital influencers will be the new A-list, and their 3D garments the new couture, the new luxury. Currently virtual avatars are just starting their fashion careers, but in 3-5 years they will be the veterans of this new industry.
Audience of Virtual Influencers by Age and Gender
The core audience of virtual influencers is women between 18 and 34 years old (44.97%). There is also a large number of younger people between 13-17 years old (14.47%). That’s double the average of regular influencers, whose young audience averages about 7% of their entire audience.
Reflection by Emily Groom, creator of Lil Wavi
Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen the virtual influencer industry boom with the likes of Lil Miquela and Shudu experimenting with identity in new and innovative ways—breaking existing boundaries of conventional branding. When thinking about the future, it is clear that virtual influencers will play a fundamental role within brands due to their affordability and fast turnaround, not forgetting the limitless freedom enabled to sculpt new identities. Likewise, not only will we see brands partnering with virtual influencers but we will also begin to see an increased engagement among everyday consumers who will experiment, create, and interact with virtual influencers from the comfort of their own home. As technologies like this advance, the virtual influencer industry proves to be just the beginning of our journey into virtual reality. Also, Covid-19 has accelerated the speed of the trend the industry is heading in. People are becoming increasingly used to living in a ‘virtual’ reality in their everyday lives (for example, remote working).
Percentage of Virtual Influencers with No Posts
Production of new content for virtual influencers costs money. Real influencers can always take a selfie, and that won’t cost them a cent. But virtual influencers need to hire 3D artists for that purpose.
In last year’s study, only 23% of influencers had not posted in the previous 30 days.
It’s important for influencers to post regularly and constantly communicate with their audience. Instagram algorithms do not like accounts with low frequency of posts.
The increase in the number of accounts without posts in the past 30 days from 23% in 2019 to 49% in 2020 may indicate that not all creators have a sufficient budget for regular content production.
If a virtual influencer does not find an audience and a brand that will sponsor them, then they may simply disappear one day, as happened with @cadeharper , who last year ranked 9th in our rating.
Reflection by Joerg Zuber, creator of Noonoouri
‘Digital’ is one of the fastest growing fields at this time, so it’s no wonder the importance and relevance of digital characters is on a constant rise. Standing out with quality content, creative concepts, and ideas that grab the attention of the viewer are increasingly required, and digital characters are the answer. Moreover, digital characters play a huge part in the discussion of diversity and the acceptance of technology, and they stand for an eco-friendly way of working and connecting real humans in cyberspace like no other.
Negative Follower Growth
48% percent of virtual influencers have had negative follower growth over the last 6 months. This may indicate that the accounts lose bots or that some of their audience don’t like the content and unfollow the influencers. Last year this figure was 30%.
Reflection by Hripsy and Colina, creators of @HripsyandColina
Virtual influencers are a breakthrough in the modern influencer industry. They advance the connected conditions that arise in digital networks. With their immersive capabilities and the power of innovative storytelling techniques, virtual influencers are positioned to have greater levels of success to positively contribute to the individual seeking a friendship by providing them increased immediate and inclusive access to them. With greater levels of intimacy and emotional connections made possible through virtual influencers, the world of immersive media will benefit from their existence.
Virtual Influencers with TikTok Accounts
31% of virtual influencers have accounts on TikTok. Some of them are very successful. For example, FNMeka has 5.1M followers, Lil Miquela has 2.3M followers, Janky has 1.9M followers, and Lu de Magalu has 1M followers.
Virtual influencer production for TikTok is far more expensive than for Instagram; on Instagram, virtual influencers can make image posts, but on TikTok they must make video posts to stand out. The scalable creation of a virtual character in video form can get costly.
Reflection by the Founder of Factory New
The future of virtual influencers has seemed much more obvious due to the spread of Covid-19. Quarantine has taught us that there are many limitations to living in and relying on a physical world. Virtual influencers and virtual beings are obviously the future of how we will interact with one another, not just because of physical limitations, but because of how much more scalable virtual influencers are.
Top Virtual Influencers List
HypeAuditor has aggregated the following list of the most popular 88 virtual influencer accounts based on their Quality Audience number and analyzed their audiences and behavior to find distinctive features and trends.
VirtualHumans.org defines a virtual influencer as 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.. This extends to include two-dimensional characters because they are characters who don’t break the illusion of being real (i.e., they always act as if they, themselves, are the influencer).
This top list is made with the help of VirtualHumans.org, though is not entirely comprehensive. Find the full list here.
Top 20 Virtual Influencers on Instagram List
Quality Audience: 2.5M
Followers: 4.2M (grew by 2 million followers in the last year)
Operator: Magazine Luiza
Brand mentions (180 days): 12 brands
About: Lu first came to life on YouTube in August 2009 to promote iBlogTV on behalf of Magazine Luiza (“Magalu”). Since 2009, Lu has used her massive, rapidly growing social media accounts to feature unboxing videos, product reviews, and software tips on behalf of the company, one of the largest Brazilian retail companies. Magalu saw $552M in profit in 2019.
Lu can be seen on the navigation bar of Magalu’s website and Magalu’s Android and iPhone apps, and commands a massive following, particularly on Facebook, making her the most visible virtual human in the world.
While Lu may have a massive following, it’s important to note her notoriety and reach is reserved to Brazil.
Quality Audience: 1.8M
Followers: 2.8M (grew by 1.1 million followers in the last year)
Country: United States
Brand mentions (180 days): 19 brands (Del Taco, Givenchy Official, Bershka, Dior, Olive Garden)
About: Miquela took the world by storm in 2016 when she mysteriously started posting her life on Instagram. Miquela is a kind soul and ambitious dream chaser who uses her transmedia platform to spread awareness, advocate for equality, and advertise for forward-thinking brands. She’s highly fashionable and respected by many clothing brands, and she’s even gone as far as to launch her own clothing line called Club 404 Not Found (now discontinued, or paused).
Miquela released her first single, titled “Not Mine,” in August 2017. Her songs have since amassed 15M+ net streams across platforms.
Miquela is the project of Brud, founded by Trevor McFedries and Sara DeCou. In addition to Lil Miquela, Brud also created Blawko and Bermuda. Lil Miquela and her friends have been represented by PR firm Huxley and have received ~$30M in investment at a $125M valuation from Spark Capital, Sequoia Capital, M Ventures, BoxGroup, Chris Williams, Founders Fund, and WME.
Quality Audience: 1.3M
Followers: 1.8M (grew by 286K followers in the last year)
Country: United States
Brand mentions (180 days): 11 (Netflix, Spotify, US Open, Pandora)
About: Barbie meets the definition because she adopts a first-person personality on YouTube that emulates a Vlogger, and in that medium she does not break the illusion by drawing attention to Mattel — it’s just her life and her world. This is called a VTuber, and she’s a leading example for other virtual influencers on YouTube.
Quality Audience: 1M
Followers: 1.3 M (grew by 1.2 million followers in the last year)
Country: United States
Brand mentions (180 days): 7 (Redbull, Alexander McQueen, Tinder)
TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@jankyandguggimon 1.9M
About: Guggimon has stated he’s a “fashion horror artist & mixtape producer with obsessions: handbags, axes, designer toys, Billie Eilish, & The Shining 🐰🏠” Superplastic is the world’s premier creator of animated synthetic celebrities, designer toys, and apparel. Home to Janky & Guggimon. Superplastic was created by artist and entrepreneur Paul Budnitz (Kidrobot, Ello, Budnitz Bicycles). Legendary toy artist Huck Gee oversees art and production. A bunch of other brilliant people of all colors, shapes, and sizes also work there. We’re located in Burlington, Vermont, because they think it’s awesome.
Guggimon and Janky showed impressive growth this year. They like to break rules, and our internal research team discovered their favorite trick to gain new followers is to take part in giveaways.
In this picture you can see Guggimon, Janky, and Superplastic are participating
in a Russian influencer’s giveaway. Participation costs about $1,000 and brings at least 60,000 followers.
Superplastic gaining new followers via Russian influencer giveaways:
Based on the data in our HypeAuditor platform, it’s no wonder that most of the @guggimon audience is from Russia.
While working on this article, we learned from our source at VirtualHumans.org that Superplastic (owner of Janky and Guggimon) has raised $6M in funding from Google Ventures and with support from top investors in entertainment and technology.
5. @Knoxfrost – private account
Quality Audience: 568K
About: Knox Frost is a 20-year-old robot living in Atlanta, Georgia. His decision to start sharing on Instagram brings him turmoil, as he receives tens of thousands of comments telling him he’s “not real.” Despite difficulty ‘processing’ the internet’s mixed reactions to his existence, Knox perseveres on his life’s mission: to fit in.
Knox Frost has partnered with global organizations from the World Health Organization to Rock the Vote. Knox has appeared in Forbes, Business Insider, AdAge, Fortune, Adweek, Buzzfeed, Mashable, Dazed, Betches, CNN, and more.
Quality Audience: 464K
Followers: 507K (grew by 164K followers in the last year)
Brand mentions (180 days): (Cartoon Network Brazil, Cartoon Network LA,)
About: Brazil media personality, YouTuber, and Instagrammer
Quality Audience: 430K
Followers: 497K (declined by 6.4K followers in the last year)
Brand mentions (180 days): 2 (Superplastic, Gallery Nucleus)
About: Anna is an illustrator and animator from Russia. Anna’s art style is cute and edgy with a little bit of attitude.
Many of her pieces are sketches and cartoons that are created through digital media, and she shares a lot of her daily work through Instagram. She is also a part of a visual label called Honkfu.
Quality Audience: 300K
Followers: 502K (grew by 436K followers in the last year)
Country: United States
Brand mentions (180 days): 10 (RedBull, TikTok, Tinder, McDonalds, Prada)
About: Janky is owned by Superplastic. Superplastic is the world’s premier creator of animated synthetic celebrities, designer toys, and apparel.
Quality Audience: 281K
Followers: 363K (grew by 32.5K followers in the last year)
Operator: Opium Effect
Brand mentions (180 days): 87 brands (Versace, Miumiu, TikTok, Trussardi, Bulgari, Netflix, Lacoste, Siemens)
About: Noonoouri is a cartoony, 19-year-old fashionista hailing from Munich, Germany. She has worked with most of the top brands in the fashion industry and continues to wow consumers with her unique look. Noonoouri balances her platform between social good and promotion. She’s vegan, advocates for sustainable fashion, and refuses to wear furs while making countless cameos with fashion brands all around the world. The creator of Noonoouri has said the primary goal is to provide entertainment while informing audiences in a new medium.
Quality Audience: 220.9K
Followers: 287K (grew by 173K followers in the last year)
Operator: Foundation de France
Brand mentions (180 days): 1 (Guerlain)
About: Bee, while not human, is the first influencing bee. He or she wants to please brands around the world to raise money to save the bees, many of which disappear every year. B says, “I need you: the more Instagram followers I have, the more brands will be interested and the more money I will make.” Projects are selected by B and will be funded by paid partnerships on B’s Instagram account.
Quality Audience: 278K
Followers: 509K (declined by 40.5K followers in the last year)
Operator: Magnavem Studio
About: Thalasya is an Instagram “it” girl who spends her time traveling Indonesia going everywhere from the beaches of Bali to the shops and balconies of Jakarta, all the way to the recording studio in Florida. Thalasya has advertised for restaurants, health pills, hotels, resorts, and more to fund her travel habit. She owns a clothing store called Yipiiiii with her friend Zeline.
Quality Audience: 214K
Followers: 297K (grew by 142.3K followers in the last year)
Operator: Aww Inc
Brand mentions (180 days): 11 brands (IKEA Japan, Burberry, Adidas Tokyo, TikTok, Y’s Official)
About: Imma is Japan’s first virtual model. She is easily identifiable with her signature pink bob, but it’s not easy to tell she’s virtual. Imma enjoys collaborating with top artists and brands to display her realness and authenticity in a world of reality-lacking, digital social media, making her a contrarian voice for the future.
Imma was selected as a “New 100 Talent to Watch” by Japan Economics Entertainment. She also appears in numerous headlines, from fashion to business magazines, on TV, and online. Imma’s name is from the Japanese word “ima,” which translates as “now.”
Quality Audience: 180K
Followers: 283K (grew by 108K followers in the last year)
Country: United States
About: Bermuda is an LA “it” girl and aspiring musician who identifies as a robot woman. Bermuda is on a mission to change the world and is quoted as saying, “I want to inspire young entrepreneurs to pursue their business dreams, particularly if it centers on the intersection of tech and beauty. I’d also love to encourage more women to pursue careers in robotics, a field historically marred and clouded by the sexism of its inventors.”
Bermuda is the project of Brud, founded by Trevor McFedries and Sara DeCou. In addition to Bermuda, Brud also created Blawko and Lil Miquela. Bermuda and her friends have been represented by PR firm Huxley and have been invested in by Spark Capital, Sequoia Capital, M Ventures, BoxGroup, Chris Williams, Founders Fund, and WME.
Quality Audience: 146K
Followers: 178K (grew by 125K followers in the last year)
Country: United States
Operator: Shadows Interactive
About: A “high school grad who accidentally fell into a surreal-ass future.”
No posts for 90 days
Quality Audience: 129K
Followers: 189.1K (grew by 19.1K followers in the last year)
Country: United States
Operator: Shadows Interactive
Brand mentions (180 days):
About: Ralph is a fitness influencer that can’t take his own advice. He lives life to the absolute fullest—work hard, play harder. He can burn almost as many calories as he consumes, which is a lot. Ralph owns and operates his own gym with a belief that anyone can look as good as he does if they try hard enough. He’s constantly trying to come up with the next fitness craze, like that time he invented the protein vape.
Ralph likes shadow grow methods – one of his favorites was the follow/unfollow trick.
The follow/unfollow trick
The follow/unfollow method used to be the most popular trick to gain new followers using very simple mechanics:
- An influencer chooses their target audience (using hashtags, geotags or competitor’s account).
- An app is used to follow accounts within the targeted audience, thensome accounts will follow the influencer back.
- The influencer then, using the same app, unfollows all new followers after a couple of days. Then, the cycle repeats..
According to HypeAuditor’s internal research, up to 28% of influencers with less than 100K followers used the follow/unfollow trick to grow their number of followers.
On the 5th of June 2019, Instagram began to massively action block accounts that use third-party apps for automatic following and unfollowing.
Quality Audience: 113K
Followers: 209K (grew by 2 million followers in the last year)
Operator: The Diigitals
Brand mentions (180 days): 9 brands (Samsung UK)
About: Shudu is a digital supermodel and fashion queen in her mid-to-late 20s hailing from South Africa. Shudu has made great strides to advocate for the virtual human race, having worked with Cosmopolitan, Vogue, Balmain, Smart Car, and more. Shudu spends her time posing in premier, mystical shoot locations to display eye-popping fashion pieces. Shudu has many virtual friends and always looks her best.
Shudu is the creation of Cameron James, founder of The Diigitals Agency in Weymouth, Dorset, England, and creator of 7 virtual humans including Koffi, Brenn, Galaxia, Dagny, and more.
Quality Audience: 113K
Followers: 152K (grew by 15.3K followers in the last year)
Country: United States
Brand mentions (180 days): 1 (Amazon)
About: Qai Qai (pronounced Kway-Kway) is the doll of Alexis Olympia Ohanian, the daughter of American professional tennis player, Serena Williams and Reddit co-founder, Alexis Ohanian. When Williams bought the doll for Olympia, she indicated that she wanted her daughter’s first doll to be black because growing up, she did not have many opportunities to own a black doll. Qai Qai got her name from Williams’s nephew.
18 @Fnmeka – account is private
Quality Audience: 102K
Country: United States
About: FN Meka is a robot rapper who is known for his extravagant style and Hypebeast aesthetics. He has the appearance of a cyborg with green hair and eyes, lots of tattoos, and a hand made of gold. FN Meka embraces the ambiguity of being a virtual influencer and his social media presence extends beyond social media—in 2019, he released two rap songs.
Quality Audience: 83K
Followers: 92.7K (grew by 18.7K followers in the last year)
Brand mentions (180 days): 6 (Calvin Klein, Supreme)
https://www.tiktok.com/@amara_gram 1300 Followers
About: Virtual model from Mongolia
Quality Audience: 80K
Followers: 153K (grew by 8.2K followers in the last year)
Brand mentions (180 days): 1 (Ali Express)
About: Ronald F. Blawko, popularly known as Blawko, is a self-proclaimed low-life who identifies as a robot man. He spends his free time either fangirling over his virtual friends or venting on YouTube to his subscribers. Blawko is the project of Brud, founded by Trevor McFedries and Sara DeCou. He even has a Brud tattoo on his right thigh. In addition to Blawko, Brud also created Bermuda and Lil Miquela. Blawko and her friends have been represented by PR firm Huxley and have been invested in by Spark Capital, Sequoia Capital, M Ventures, BoxGroup, Chris Williams, and Founders Fund.
Please feel free to share your ideas and thoughts on virtual influencers.
Also, if you find virtual influencers on TikTok or Instagram who are not included in the list and have over 1,000 followers – feel free to leave links to their account in the comments section.