What Communicators Can Learn From Gen Z’s Influencer Playbook

Walk into nearly any store, and you’ll hear a new narrative unfolding in the aisles: “TikTok made me buy it.

Influencer buzz is revolutionizing retail sales and consumer choices, eclipsing even the most persuasive in-store recommendations and casual browsing. The phrase echoes the traditional power of word of mouth recommendations. And it is only magnified by the digital reach of Gen Z influencers like Alix Earle and Tony Polcari.

The shift toward digital-driven word of mouth signifies a transformative moment for communication strategies and illustrates how the principles of trust and personal recommendation have evolved in the social media era.

Modern Case Studies: Alix Earle and Tony P

At just 22 years old, Alix Earle has earned her spot on Forbes' 30 Under 30 list as one of the most influential content creators on social media. She has forged partnerships with leading beauty brands like Benefit Cosmetics, even coining "The Alix Earle Effect" for her selling power and ability to set trends.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., Tony P is carving out his own influential space and personal brand, which he calls “vibrant masculinity.” With nearly 200K followers, the 25-year-old consultant has quickly risen in popularity for his extraordinarily ordinary life.

Alix Earle and Tony P's success highlights a critical lesson for PR professionals: the power of authenticity in building trust with audiences. PR campaigns should aim to humanize brands by showing behind-the-scenes content or real-life challenges.

Here's what else PR professionals can learn from these influencers' approach to content creation and digital marketing:

  1. Authenticity and Consistency Breed Connection

Known for her morning debriefs and get-ready-with-me videos, Alix Earle shares it all on social media—and that's precisely what her viewers want. She quickly became one of the fastest-growing creators on TikTok and has amassed nearly 10 million followers across her active platforms. So what’s her secret? She doesn’t have one. Her honest portrayal of her struggles with acne challenges the filtered perfection often seen on social media. This vulnerability resonates deeply with audiences who have similar experiences and crave a sense of belonging.

Similarly, Tony P features content that is relatable to his audience, like meal prepping, selecting outfits for different occasions, and offering local dining recommendations. With his “what you see is what you get” philosophy, Tony P is a refreshing reminder that influence is just as much about relatability and realness as it is about glamor and allure.

PR Takeaways: PR strategies should emphasize a brand's authentic stories, challenges and successes. This might involve highlighting the people behind the brand, sharing genuine customer stories or acknowledging imperfections and areas of growth. By embracing authenticity, brands can foster a more meaningful and lasting connection with their audience, much like the bond Alix and Tony have cultivated with their followers.

  1. Embrace and Communicate Your Niche

Central to Alix's charm is her "hot mess" lifestyle and unvarnished vignettes. Her conversational demeanor during makeup tutorials and video blogs makes spectators feel part of her daily routine, and her followers eagerly await her latest updates. Her candid approach has established a loyal following and has landed her a podcast on “Call Her Daddy” star Alex Cooper's "Unwell Network."

Tony P's “unassuming bachelor” appeal extends beyond social media, demonstrating his ability to resonate with a broader audience. From his culinary skills to his sports enthusiasm, Tony’s positive attitude has caught the attention of mainstream platforms like Food Network and the Washington Commanders.

PR Takeaways: Alix and Tony show how embracing a specific niche can be a powerful strategy for PR professionals. By focusing on a particular lifestyle or set of values, PR campaigns can create more targeted and engaging content. This not only enhances brand identity but also attracts a dedicated audience segment.

  1. Leverage Feedback for Growth

Influencer success comes with its own challenges—and today's darling can quickly become tomorrow's target. This reality underscores the importance of creators staying committed to their authentic content and niche, using positive and negative feedback as a catalyst for growth and adaptation.

PR Takeaways: PR professionals should view feedback as an opportunity to refine their strategies and tailor their content to audience preferences, leading to improved engagement and brand loyalty.

The Blueprint for Genuine Engagement

The essence of digital influence hinges on effective communication and a profound connection with the target audience. True influence is governed by a mutual understanding and a commitment to deep, sincere listening. It's a delicate balance of listening and expressing, one that communicators can emulate through connecting to audiences with authenticity and consistency; sticking to a specific niche; and leveraging feedback to improve engagement.

Jennifer Daniel is Associate Director at CRAFT.