The public feud between beauty Influencers Tati and James Charles shows the power of conflict in brand storytelling
Influencers are increasingly making their mark and it’s no longer just the big-name celebrities. Brands are always looking for the type of influencers that can have real impact on the purchase intentions of their followers. The power of Influencers is driven by some very basic, emotion-fueled instincts, such as social connection, identity and a good story, that create a powerful relationship between Influencer and fans.
The Influencer world is competitive. Influencers with a lot of subscribers can make big money, but fan count alone doesn’t do it. Relationships are the key to Influencer success. A savvy influencer knows the importance of creating an emotional connection and works hard to build sustainable relationships over time to keep their fans feeling nurtured. Fan communities create a sense of affiliation and belonging, powerful drivers of human motivation. An emotional connection can turn subscribers into seeing the Influencer as a friend they can trust.
Influencers are also storytellers. Whether it’s make-up advice, fashion tips or achieving idyllic parenting, each post is an implicit narrative experience. Influencers’ YouTube and Instagram channels are, for all extents and purposes, short-form reality shows with porous boundaries. When Influencers collaborate, cross-post and create joint content, they extend their narrative worlds, creating more avenues for imagination and exploration. A good Influencer understands their brand and tells stories that support the core narrative while widening the narrative experience. Good stories let fans feel like they share in the Influencer’s world, further strengthening what psychologists call the parasocial relationship—the one-sided fan-celebrity relationship that feels “real” to the fan.
Every storyteller and screenwriter will tell you a story needs conflict.
Conflict provides the energy that moves the story forward. Conflict ramps up the emotion and heightens feelings of affiliation and loyalty.
The recent public feud between beauty Influencers Tati and James Charles showed the power of conflict in true Reality TV style. Dueling videos of accusations and apologies quickly escalated out of the YouTube beauty segment to the national press reaching millions of ears that had never heard of them before. James Charles lost over 3 million subscribers (20%) in a couple of weeks.
But don’t worry. Conflict is good for business. The personal betrayals and inappropriate sexual advances reported by Tati may have undermined James Charles’s credibility and authenticity briefly, but it didn’t totally dim his light. While the press gleefully reported how some seriously big celebrities, like Miley Cyrus and Demi Moore, unsubscribed from his feeds, the fact that these celebrities had followed him serves as a validation of his status.
The best part for the fans is that a feud lets them demonstrate their attachment and affiliation, creating, in effect, a Team Tati and Team James Charles. People love to pull heroes off pedestals even when they loved them a few minutes ago. It reminds us that they are human. People also love redemption. Think Prodigal son. The fall from grace and redemption expand the narrative and often reinstate the fallen to the pedestal.
Ultimately, the resolution of the story will be written by the followers. Without fans, there is no Influencer. The authenticity and personalities that allowed James Charles and Tati to connect with their followers in the first place will be the key to, if not reconciliation, then redemption, and seems well underway. As it continues to play out online (of course), watch the way the stories are crafted publicly and how that reinforces or shifts each Influencer’s core narrative.