What is the value we bring in the lives of people who follow us? In a digital world marked by the passivity we experience in front of content (also known as content fatigue), what sort of content should we choose to produce? What are the points of difference between influencers in 2018 and what does it actually mean to be an influencer? Have we lost our own personal filter due to our desire to integrate ourselves in certain communities and false standards?
INFLUENCER = person which has the power to influence many people, mainly via social media networks or traditional media channels
They say 2017 was the year of the influencers. I would say that it was the year of the mobile window showcases. #ad #spon #blessed
Due to Instagrammers’ desire to monetize their content in front of an audience seemingly willing to be bombarded by advertorials, paid images and ads, nowadays anyone with a following bigger than a couple of thousand people gets to call themselves an influencer. Obviously, because the agencies and the companies are still in the beginning period of the Influencer Marketing era, they don’t see ill-fitted to attract on board of their campaigns people who are exact replicas of each other. These people tell the same story with their content, overwhelmingly photograph from the same perspective the watch turned to face them to announce a discount code WATCH15 and each of them addresses to almost identical crowds of users.
This is how, from the same thirst to transform a blog into a business or to make an Instagram account become a source of revenue, thousands of people have lost the contact with their own story, with the elements that used to differentiate them at the beginning and sadly, with their authenticity. There is nothing bad in collaborating with brands or in posting sponsored content. The problem appears once people forget the most important brand – their personal one. We are all already careful with what we post online, with what others post about ourselves and the impressions our social media accounts have on others, so to say that we are all trying more or less consciously to build an image for ourselves would not be far from reality.
In the euphoria of seemingly endless possibilities of collaborating with brands based on a fee, many have forgotten the power that was once given to them when people pressed the Follow button. They have forgotten that they became broadcasters. Today, the information and the content distributed by each of us has the potential to reach thousands of people, so it is sad when bloggers and not only choose to use their audience only to gather some likes and illustrate “results” for the partner companies. It is sad because thousands of people made the conscious decision to follow somebody and that person is not properly using their position. Let me explain myself: in a global society in which social and political problems are worsening each day, all these influencers who continue to post content as if nothing has happened (the selfie of the day, the latte art shot, you go on) intensify the filter bubble phenomenon, which means that they get deeper in their own bubble, isolated from the rest of the society and they drag their followers along with them. This is how bubbles are created – in which somebody talks for instance, only about make up (which is a perfectly normal niche), but avoids to discuss society-concerning issues like animal testing, the improper production conditions of some natural-fibres brushes and the false marketing of some cosmetics as organic. The fashion, beauty and complementary industries don’t have to be superficial and commercial. They can be alternative channels via which we can also talk about some other topics which may not be everybody’s self interest, but are the bigger public’s priorities, like child labour in textile factories, the over dependence on imported resources and products, the recycling of materials, the correct remuneration no matter the production country and yes, even the national governing plan, the funds allocated to the development of infrastructure, the future of education and other subjects which are usually left for the news.
No matter if we want it or not, ignorance is no longer trending.
My conclusions and the directions in which I hope that influencing will got into are the following:
- We don’t need even more commercial influence. Considering that there are already ads, commercials and sponsored content on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube and other platforms, we are already receiving many (some would say too many) prompts to buy a product or a service. What we need are authentic voices, which don’t talk about a product, place, event or service just because they got paid, but because they really believe in these endorsements.
- We no longer need characters who sketch their online lives as inspirational and worthy to be copied, but real people, who already live lives worth following and, who can be used (moderately!) as benchmarks and sources of inspiration. Moreover, I expect 2018 to be about personal stories, authenticity, creating content with which people can relate and empathize with and sharing emotions with the people around.
- Activism and influencing will start to combine more and more. The voices of influencers will be heard clearer and more frequently and they will start offering an increased importance to their long-term strategy. I hope that 2018 will be a year in which we can all reflect at what we are leaving behind, if we are happy with our legacy so far and if not, to take action and change the world as we want to.
If 2017 was the year of slogan t-shirts, I hope 2018 will be the year in which we finally implement them.
- Influencing means a relationship between someone who, thanks to knowing more information, can advice, encourage and even convince someone else to act on something. As in any relationship, the influencers will better understand their positions and power once they will communicate more with their audience. Being an influencer does not mean being a superior, closed and inaccessible figure. (On the contrary, we are more willing to be influenced if we feel like the advice is coming from a friend or from a close and knowledgeable person.) So, I expect to see in 2018 more influencers connecting with their audiences, from the simple act of answering messages and comments to having more moments of honesty and adding more personal touches, even in campaigns with a strict brief.
- Much more transparency. Clearly signalizing the sponsored content will be necessary in order to trace more carefully the borders between personal recommendations and paid ones. The public has the right to be informed and to know whether a post is paid or not. However, tracing this border with a tag or hashtag at the end of the post should not exempt the author from the responsibility of sincerity. Afterall, we all know what happened to the boy who cried wolf up until no one believed him. If influencers will continue to dishonestly incite at buying, testing, listening etc., when the time will come for them to truly recommend something, nobody will be willing to listen to their advice. So, I hope that in 2018 the influencers will work more at consolidating their credibility and, implicitly, they will become more selective with the brands, campaigns and messages they associate themselves with.
Besides all of these dilemmas mentioned above, I believe it would be very interesting to open a discussion about the future of the influencers.Will all of us become influencers? Or are we all already? Facebook seems to support the latter version as for the past months it has been rolling out the option that for every check in, the users can mention if they recommend that place or not. Of course, there are more options: micro influencing, which means having a relatively small audience, but having one’s opinions and directions treated seriously and adopted or separating the influencers into sub categories: tastemakers, product and experience reviewers and commercial content producers being just few of the possibilities. I think the public is not yet over influencers and that there is a real need of recommendations in the paradoxical ocean of options we now have, but if influencers don’t change their strategies, they risk gradually losing their credibility, and eventually, their influence.
This article originally appeared in ELLE Romania, February 2018 issue, number 243
Image via Alexandra Lapp