You open the Instagram app on your phone, press like on a bunch of photos, tap on some stories, watch some reels, then close the app. You open the app again after mere 5 minutes have gone by and the same cycle repeats probably 50 times in a single day. With most of us quarantining at our homes for almost a year, our usage of social media has increased exponentially. To stay connected with the outside world, most of us have completely submitted ourselves to the clutches of social media apps like Instagram and Twitter. From following various celebrities, models, comedians and other content creators, the digital space has evolved by leaps and bounds and will only continue to do so in the near future. One term that we have often come across in the past 2-3 years is the term “influencer”. But who is an influencer and why are they called so? Let’s find out.
In simple terms, an influencer is a personality, ordinary people just like us, making and posting content on fashion, comedy, health, fitness, makeup, etc. and having a substantial following on their social media channels. While there are various categories of influencers based on the magnitude of their following (mega, macro, micro, nano), they all more or less possess that same level of likeability or relatability which draws their audience to them. The sense of identity that we the audience feel with them is because we perceive them as the “girl/boy next door” and that is exactly what drives their popularity.
These influencers, in the recent past have amassed a huge following, especially in the backdrop of the ongoing global pandemic. The Generation X (Gen Z) is one step ahead of the millennial cohorts and regularly engage with the content of these influencers by liking, commenting and sharing it among their social circles. Due to the relevance and authority that social media influencers now possess in the digital space, many big brands and corporations have turned to “influencer marketing” as a channel for lead generation. The process is fairly simple- the influencer makes a post (video/photo) talking about a brand’s product/service, its various benefits and other handy features and their overall experience with it. At times, they go a step ahead and incorporate it into their overall piece of content, for example, the script of their comedic video, to make the promotion seem more natural and subtle, along with achieving great engagement. After all, a post explicitly stating it’s meant for promotion and that it is sponsored is likely to be scrolled by and ignored within seconds by a regular user.
Influencer marketing has indeed garnered great results for a multitude of brands. According to a source, consumers trust influencers 94% more than family and friends. For each dollar spent on influencer marketing, marketers see an average of $7.65 in earned media value returned, reveals another source. Many companies are increasing their marketing budget owing to these figures and are likely to continue doing so because of the huge impact influencers have over their audience. However, not everything is always as rosy as it seems. A huge proportion of users are also tired of seeing promoted posts on their timeline. Along with the fear of deception, there’s also a general perception that all promoted ads are inherently self-serving and thus, they often create an air of general distrust and inauthenticity around the influencer.
We’ve talked enough about the influence of influencers in terms of the commercial aspect. What about their social influence on teens? On identity, self-image, physical and mental health? Are they able to add anything to the conversation surrounding topics of body positivity, dysmorphia, sexual identities, etc.? Many studies reveal that food marketing by influencers is having a dire consequence indirectly on the health of teenagers and children since the vlogs created by them contain no restriction on alcoholic or other unhealthy eatables and beverages. In such a scenario, the influence of such personalities on their naïve audiences is indeed a matter of concern.
Besides, some organizations have started recognizing content creators and other influencers for their content and other dialogues centred around building awareness about issues like body positivity and colourism. However, to name them as “digital social activists” or “body positivity influencers” is a big deal and though I might not be the right person to judge the accuracy of such titles, the issue has been raised by some others working in the activism space for years. Creating awareness and leveraging your reach to build greater credibility about an issue is definitely praise-worthy, but I beg to differ if it can be termed as “activism”. Such lousy giving of titles seriously discounts the hardwork and efforts put in by actual activists struggling hard to bring about an impact without any popularity, followers or social capital.
Therefore, we have established by now that though at times, the influence of influencers comes in handy and is a great source of revenue for brands, at times it’s over-exaggerated. It’s all about striking a balance and deciding how much impact should we let influencers have over us and how much to credit them for. While it’s good to see that influencers and other content creators have started to get recognized and respected for their work, which earlier wasn’t the case, it’ll be a good exercise to introspect about their overall presence in our day-to-day lives. The digital space is currently evolving, and this evolution will probably never stop and thus, time is of essence.