Influencers, who are they? What are they? Are they my friends? Are they marketers? Truth is the term social media influencer is a rather fluid term. Influencers can be almost anyone on social media with a significant following that posts pictures representing a brand in exchange for free items from that brand or monetary compensation. So let’s cut to the chase, why am I talking about them?
The Fyre Festival Debacle
Lets imagine for a second you’re a susceptible young adult and you’re perusing your Instagram and next thing you know every model you follow, including Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid, is hyping up this exclusive music festival that promises a luxury concert going experience including a private jet to a private island where top talent will be performing. Enticing right? Now lets flash forward to the day of the event. People are herded onto a commercial jet and taken to the popular Bahamian island of Great Exuma, where they are met with FEMA disaster relief tents and the now famous Fyre Festival cheese sandwich. The moral of the story, the glitz and glamour we see and are promised on social media doesn’t always align with reality.
Where is the Trust?
Social media influencers operate on the premise of having a large following. This following gives influencers clout, that is the more people that follow them, the more likely I am to follow them, because other people follow them. You see it’s like a trust mechanism in a way where since I know 27k other people follow this influencer and like their posts, I trust that this influencer has something to contribute to my life or, at least, my feed. Businesses saw this trust mechanism that influencers built for themselves and exploited it offering free items and/or money to influencers in exchange for a moment in the spotlight with the influencers. What these business have done is taken advantage of the inherent trust and similarities between the influencer and his/her following and exploited it. Businesses know that an influencer’s followers identify with the influencer, and hope that by having their brand be seen with the influencer, the influencer’s followers will also want to be seen with the brand in an attempt to embody their role model. This is where the term influencer is coined, they have the ability to influence their following to like certain brands or even purchase certain products, just by posting a single picture featuring a brand. However, what many followers don’t realize is that the influencer is just doing their job, making money from the brands they post with and commission on every item we buy as a result of their post, regardless of if they actually use the product or not. So why should we continue following them? Why should we trust the brands they post with if the influencer isn’t actually using the brand themself?
Social media influencing is a predatory marketing technique aimed to trick followers into believing that a certain product or brand, is essential to embodying as the influencer. I see influencing as predatory because an influencer’s followers may have a hard time distinguishing between a post they are getting paid for vs. a post the are genuinely posting. This makes it easy for businesses that use influencers to take advantage of the more naive of us that are susceptible to purchasing products our role models endorse without realizing that they may not have our best interest at heart. I think this point if anything is the point I wanted to get across, social media influencers do not always have your best interest at heart.
So, I pose the question how can we prevent influencers from abusing their power, their “influence”, for their own economic benefit? I’m not saying they shouldn’t be able to make money from paid endorsements or commissions from products they sell. I’m just saying we need to be able to quickly and easily distinguish between a paid ad an influencer posts and their personal testimonials. I think the latter has significantly more credibility in the eyes of the consumer, so why shouldn’t we have the right to distinguish between the two? Shouldn’t the influencer we trust and respect share that same respect with us such that they let us know the difference between their paid advertisements and their honest testimonials? Why would they want to breach that trust at the risk of losing their credibility?
In the aftermath of the Fyre Festival disaster, I believe influencers should hold themselves to new standards even if the law lags. Influencers should see that they owe it to us to do their due diligence before accepting paid advertising deals and the Fyre Festival was a prime example of that. All of the biggest influencers on Instagram took a big hit to their credibility. But, I feel worse for their followers who lost money because of their misplaced trust. Without the influencers, Fyre Festival would not have gained as much traction as it did, and people certainly wouldn’t have thrown thousands of dollars for VIP access to what seemed more like Naked and Afraid than a music festival. My stance is that influencers should be held liable for products that they take commission on if there are legal grounds for false advertising; and further, that influencers should distinguish between paid ads and their personal testimonials.
What are you thoughts? Are influencers friend or foe? How can we prevent blatant abuse like this from happening again in the future? Comment Below!