berthahenson

The influential crowd

In News Reports, Society on January 4, 2015 at 8:09 am

In the realm of social media, there is this creature known as the “influencer’’. It’s a new term that refers to people with an online following; supposed trend-setters who can shape the behavior and opinions of many. The term is now in vogue because of a spat between blogger diva/social influencer XiaXue and a social media marketing firm known as GushCloud.

It’s over the whole business of “influence’’ – whether faked or not in terms of the number of followers and the kind of analytics used. It’s over whether influencers are really peddling products without telling people that they have been paid to do so. It might also be over getting publicity for sponsors and influencers by generating “news’’ that also made it into the offline media. If so, social media has managed to trump mainstream media. What is news on social media is also news on MSM, expanding exponentially the influence of social influencers….

And there is now the term “style’’ influencers – this refers to trendy IT (not info tech) people who pose in various items of dress and undress and which have thousands of people drooling over their Instagram pictures. MSM readers have since been introduced to four of them, all of whom profess to be simple and down-to-earth girls in their glam outfits. Now whether young people rush to get the same outfits or not is not clear. But in the SunTimes, the sponsors say that this does happen – although you wouldn’t think they could say otherwise.

I congratulate these “influencers’’. Seriously. They’ve shown that you don’t need to join a beauty pageant, learn how to model or enter some Star Search contest to be a star. You just need a sense of style, willing sponsors and a good social media marketing firm. The young ones have achieved in a much shorter time than what their older counterparts took to make the spotlight and become “brand’’ ambassadors. They are making big bucks although no one is on record for saying how much – but I guess it’s more than they would get in an “ordinary’’ full-time job starting at the bottom of the ladder.  It’s a new way of making money off big business.

I suppose there are also eating (gourmet?) influencers and tech influencers who tell you about good places to eat and what high-tech gadget to buy. Whether they have been paid to put up a good review, fed well and given freebies, is something else. Xia Xue, an ex-journalist claimed that some of GushCloud’s “influencers’’ don’t declare this upfront. I know of one such blogger/influencer who told an open forum that she doesn’t do it because “my readers don’t like it’’. Ouch!

I haven’t wrapped my head around the phenomenon. I dislike the term influence because it is too broad and all-encompassing. Can an influencer really change behavior and shape opinion? Or do they simply influence buying trends? Whatever happened to the term “style-setter’’ or “trend-setter’’ or even “social butterfly’’ and “fashion promoter’’? It strikes me as really odd for an 18 year old to be known as an “influencer’’ of young people and crowing about her ability to “impact their lives’’. A little humility and restraint, my dear girl, is more becoming…

It’s all in the power of marketing, I suppose. As someone who used to work in MSM, I have always been wary about using made-up terms that convey more than they actually mean. I would have set some standards in terms of quantifying “influence’’, size and type of fan base before dignifying someone as an “influencer’’. Maybe I would even make a distinction between whether they are “paid’’ influencers or not. The second is more credible than the first of course. Just as a paid newspaper like ST should be regarded as more credible than a free paper like TODAY or My Paper – because its readers bother to pay money for it and it is not totally dependent on advertising. (Go ahead…hit me)

According to Sunday Life, The Influencer Network Communications has about 200 influencers while Nuffnang has 60,000 bloggers but says about 100 of them are the more influential ones. Gushcloud says it has 200 influencers. So all in, there are at least 500 influencers, many more than there are Members of Parliament.

MP: Hi, I am an MP for XX. I have 60,000 constituents.

Influencer: So few? I am an influencer with 120,000 fans.

MP: I speak for the people in Parliament and influence or try to influence policy. I get a monthly allowance.

Influencer: I pose on Instagram and influence or try to influence people to buy stuff I wear. I get paid by sponsors.

MP: Are you more influential than me?

Influence: Of course! Get your party to sign me up as an “influencer’’! I will make sure I mix-and-match everything I wear including eye shadow and lipstick in your party colours! Sure win election one!

(Okay, I was being naughty there…)

Now…to get to the point. Frankly, I don’t think we should be all het up about the influencers. These young people are having fun being in the limelight and their fans are enjoying themselves vicariously through them.

Sure, there is the harm that over-consumption can occur with young ones wanting to emulate dressing and lifestyle. One academic said young people and prospective consumers need to consider conflicts of interest, source, credibility and quality of information when considering what an influencer recommends. To translate: Do you know if the influencer is paid to say/do/eat/wear/use those things? Is all the info coming from one source – the sponsor? Is the info accurate and can comparisons be made? Is there enough information anyway – or is the product, hmm, cancer-causing?

But advertising (whether disguised or product placement) melded with a sort of hero worshipping has been around since the age of communications…think radio stars and television icons and the Beatles. Except that instead of just so many “big heroes’’, we have plenty of “small heroes’’. The problem will be when everything important revolves on status and style – rather than substance. When people want to emulate what is on the outside rather than inside. When style, eating and possessions are what people talk about, not anything heavier that would strain the brain. What’s worse….when we strain the brain just so that we can achieve style and status. When we hanker after good jobs and big salaries not to give our work and life meaning, but to acquire the adornments and accoutrements of status. To say…we have arrived!!!

So I do hope that the influencers of style will also temper their displays with an influence over the mind. You know what they say about having power also means taking responsibility. That is more difficult, methinks, than looking good.

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