It is undeniable that new technologies and social media offer great marketing opportunities. Television, newspapers and traditional media in general are on the decline – and have been for a while. Although advertising on traditional formats is far from extinct, brands have turned to social media massively.
The word influencer has become part the vocabulary of almost every individual, at least in the Western world. Social media users were quick to discover the business opportunity that lies beneath content creation, and a new occupation (for lack of a better term) was born. The amount of money influencers make has everybody sighing: six figure deals are struck everyday, and this is certainly starting to look a lot like a dream job.
However, the role of the influencer has been put into question this year. Many have even claimed that the influence bubble is about to burst, after Reading the following headline: An Instagram star has sparked a discussion about how powerful social media influencers really are after failing to sell 36 T-shirts to her 2.6 million followers.
After the so-called ’36 t-shirts fiasco’, many theories have been formulated. The most popular out there is the one suggesting that this business model has reached its limits. This, to me, is a great overstatement. Why are we so willing to predict the end of an era? Only because a modestly famous Instagram user failed at creating proper engagement? Maybe it is time to dig a little deeper.
How influence works.
As a psychological mechanism, influence is the application of power to accomplish a specific purpose. According to research, people typically try to lead and/or influence others using several positive influence techniques: logical persuading, legitimizing, exchanging, stating, socializing, appealing to relationship, consulting, alliance building, appealing to values, and modeling. Influencers use them all, although in different degrees, and according to their goals. Social media tends to favor visual imagery and emotional content, neglecting logic in the process.
But there is also a “dark side” to this set of positive tactics: avoiding, manipulating, intimidating, and threatening. Avoidance is without doubt the most frequent malpractice among influencers when a campaign goes wrong: refusing to address the backlash, deleting comments, blocking users or erasing the offending content altogether.
Influence is just a mechanism. As such, it can be put to any use.
True engagement and positive influence.
Lizzy is an 18-year-old dancer from Delaware, who has been struggling with bullying her entire life. Being fat has never been easy, but in the dance world it can be practically unbearable. A year ago, this video of her doing foueté turns went viral.
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a year ago today i posted this video. not because i thought it was “perfect”, not because i wanted attention, i posted it because i thought my friends and family would like to see what i do on a daily basis. little did i know that in january of 2017 my life would change forever. thank you to everyone who has believed in me during this journey❤️
A post shared by Lizzy Howell (@lizzy.dances) on
Since then, Lizzy has become an advocate for body positivity. Her passion for dance knows no boundaries, and the challenges she faces have become a motivation to help others in similar situations. In a recent Instagram post, Lizzy told her followers she would like to get involved in fashion design.
“Hi guys! as many of you know, I spend a majority of my life in a leotard and a pair of tights. trying to dance in a world where most of the people are not my size, i face a lot of challenges. One of the greatest challenges i find is finding dance wear in my size! (…) I’d like to change that, and make leotards that are size inclusive, where all styles are available in all sizes. if you have any contacts who can help me with this goal, please message me! I need a whole team to accomplish this, as I’d like to design them myself. (…)”
The comment section is full of testimonies of people who are going through the same predicament, especially women. Unlike Arii, Lizzy has found a potential market that is yet unexplored. Yes, there are (many) people that look like Lizzy. Yes, fat dancers exist. However, media does not (yet) acknowledge their existence. Would her active wear collection see the light of day, who knows how many people would actually support it with their hard-earned dollar? As for me, I am positive Lizzy would sell at least 36 units.
Lawful and unlawful practices.
In our world, the excellence of professional activities is guaranteed by specific codes of ethics. On account of its ever-growing relevance, maybe it is time for influencers to write their own codex. The fact that you do not need a college degree to become influential on the Internet sounds like a feeble excuse. The influence craft is not exactly a licensed skill, but a huge set of responsibilities come with it all the same.
Internet has grown at a blindingly fast pace within the last two decades, and it will continue to do so. Legislation is certainly two steps behind practice.
Audiences today are becoming increasingly conscious of the values they pursue, and influencers need to take this into account when promoting products or actions. If a social media starlet cannot sell 36 shirts, why would that mean the end of a business model? Maybe the products did just not resonate with the audience. An influencer is, first and foremost, a role model. In order to create engagement, he or she has to become and advocate for the needs of their followers.
Traditionally, advertising has been all about “selling a dream” to audiences. Today , those dreams are clashing with fundamental values that many influencers and companies are failing to read. The infamous case of the ‘pregnancy diet tea’ is a great example of corporate values clashing with audiences’ true interests.
A couple months ago, a very pregnant Amber Rose posted a picture promoting a product that promised flat stomachs…to pregnant women. The public’s reaction was pretty negative, so much so that Rose took the picture down.
The importance of feeling represented.
Just like a Little girl needs to find a doll at the toy store that looks just like her, people need to feel represented in pop culture. Instead of battling the natural image of a pregnant women, influencers need to engage subcultures that live within their audiences. Aspirational values cannot be the only motive of advertising, and influencers should take due note of that fact.
A final word.
The online influencer business needs to be regulated by law, yes. But that may take a while.
In the meantime, influencers and advertisers should put their heads together and come to the rescue of the human factor. What makes the influencer really special, that unique human-like quality, is what makes he or she connect with the audience. In this two way mirror, audiences feel reflected, identified and heard.
In here, my friends, lie the business opportunity.