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Throughout history populations have been influenced by monarchies, artists, philosophers, scientists and spiritual leaders, just to name a few. The most admired of these held leadership roles with honor; they created previously unimaginable worlds and opened us up to new ways of thinking. Their influence has shaped cultures into what they are today, but now a new wave of influencers have taken over. What is their preferred platform to make ideas flourish? Social media.

Hop onto your Instagram really quick and just scroll through, but pay attention to how many likes and comments the people you follow receive. Do you see high numbers? Ok, go to their pages and see how many followers those people have. Is it above ten thousand? If so, then you’re following what brands and marketers deem as today’s “influencer.” These people might be bloggers, fashionistas, beauty gurus, artists – the list goes on, but ultimately there is something about them that people admire. However, during my time in the digital marketing world, I’ve noticed that there are issues with this shift, ones that should make us rethink the way we are influenced and by whom.

Like their historical counterparts, today’s influencers have a primed audience for ideas and trends. The main difference between the two: It’s now quicker and easier to disseminate ideas, whether they are benign or not.

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Over the past few years with the boom of Instagram, Podcasts and YouTube, brands have begun to utilize online influencers. Instead of paying for a commercial that reaches an older audience, companies are paying influencers to test products, write blog posts, attend parties and act as brand ambassadors.

To become what a brand considers an “influencer,” all you’re required to have is 10 thousand followers, even though this does not always translate to a high participating audience. Instead of creating content that people enjoy and find inspiring, some influencers have resorted to buying these followers, likes and comments. You’re probably thinking, “Hey what does that have to do with influence?” But it actually has everything to do with it!

As soon as people began manipulating this influencer-follower system, the influencer world became saturated with those who were less interested in doing their own thing and instead sought opportunities to simply make money. The term “influencer” has become less and less impactful to the extent of people in the industry opting for titles like trendsetter, blogger or creative with a focus on their specialty.

Now in an inundated market, true influence is getting lost in the white noise – not just because people can buy their followers, but also because there’s an increasing amount of influencers who don’t hold true to their personal brand. The key is to distinguish the social media manipulators from the real deal. Healthy influence affects choices and behaviors, but does not force changes or opinions – those are natural and authentic.

… true influence is getting lost in the white noise – not just because people can buy their followers, but also because there’s an increasing amount of influencers who don’t hold true to their personal brand.

For example, a makeup artist turned beauty blogger can authentically promote a new makeup product, but wouldn’t it be weird if a male model #sponsored the same product because his demographics are heavy with female followers? It just wouldn’t fit. Manipulation, on the other hand, is the aim to exploit an audience to serve personal interests. Sometimes marketing-deemed “influencers” use the audience they’ve gained (or paid for) to acquire brand partnerships without caring about the quality of the products they sell to their followers. They are simply in it for the paycheck.

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Over the course of human history, people have used their influence to manipulate others and fulfill their own agenda; this social media boom is no different. However, true influence — something we should take care to authentically spot — does not manipulate or use an audience for personal gain.

Real influencers have relationships with their followers, readers and subscribers; they aren’t afraid to take a stand for something, even if it does not directly affect themselves. These kinds of people have gained trust and kept it even as their numbers grow. It’s time to declutter our social media and follow people who truly inspire us – the people who influence us with every pure and good intention.

How do you decide who to follow online? What accounts do you enjoy?

Images via Anastasia Casey of The Identité Collective

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2 comments

  1. Dear Hayley,
    Thank you for sharing your point of view in this article. The topic is very current for me.
    A few months ago I realized how much influence repetitive images had on my way of thinking about the world and myself. They were not only constructive thoughts so I “got rid of” every influencer who, from my point of view, was promoting unsubstantial or unhealthy ideas and images. Until then I had only been thinking of Instagram as a form of news or entertainment platform and suddenly found myself loathing the power it could have over our way of thinking. But little did I know then that this influential power actually goes two ways. We have the power to decide what we want to see and how we want to be influenced. Today I use Instagram almost as an educational tool. I feed my brain with images and ideas that help me shape my view of the world, for example by minimizing bias towards the unknown. It was intriguing to notice how quickly my sense of beauty changed or how quickly I could minimize uncomfortableness with the unusual. The more images you see, the more encouraging open minded posts you read, the more this unusual or just unknown becomes familiar. After growing up with media that so often dictated what we were to think or what we were to look like, the rise of social media actually enables us to regain power over what we let ourselves be influenced by.
    That’s why I like to follow @bostanley @rawbeautytalks @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y

  2. I’ve never thought about the word “influence” this way. It’s certainly true – what kind of people do we look to? I personally choose to follow people not based on “highly Instagrammable” content, though I do like that kind of stuff. But I tend to favour bloggers who show more of their real lives and personal stories, rather than glossed up magazine shots.

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
    http://charmainenyw.com

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