The influencer landscape is changing, and hopefully for the better. FSC Account Director Laura Cunningham takes a look as the changing face of influence.
Influencer: a person or thing that influences somebody/something, especially a person with the ability to influence potential buyers of a product or service by recommending it on social media (definition from Oxford Dictionary).
The term ‘influencer’ did not really exist 10 years go – and if it did it certainly didn’t have the same meaning it does now. I am the first to admit that I follow a ridiculous amount of influencer and celebrity accounts, and I don’t feel like there is anything wrong with that. I have swiped up and bought the jumper through an affiliated link, I’ve entered the competition and I’ve reposted and DM’d content direct to my friends. We know that influencer culture has evolved rapidly over the past 5 years. We know the power that social media can play to influence not just purchasing decisions but also for elections… demonstrating how influence can play a role in both general consumer purchasing decisions, but also in politics. (I highly recommend that you watch The Great Hack about how Facebook Data was used by Cambridge Analytica around this).
It is fair to say that there has been growing unease towards influencer culture over many years. Highly edited, glossy and luxurious images that don’t quite reflect day-to-day real life for the average person project unrealistic beauty and lifestyle standards to a very young and easily influenced audience. In response to this though, there have been some fantastic social media accounts and influencers that have been born – dedicated to spreading positive messages, as well as realistic and unedited photos. The #FilterDrop campaign by makeup artist Sasha Louise Pallari in the summer of 2020 was a perfect example of this. Following some very worrying results from a survey by Girlguiding, which found that a third of girls and young women will not post selfies online without using a filter to change their appearance, Sarah created a social media movement to encourage people to post selfies without any filters. This has even evolved since to discouraging influencers from using filters whilst promoting beauty products – and recently the ASA banned two tanning brands from using misleading filters on Instagram Stories. This is not dissimilar to regulations around photoshop that have been applied to more classic forms of beauty advertising of recent years. We have a generation that is growing up now that are connected through social media and have constant access to content like never before, so regulations ensuring healthy and realistic content is essential.
There has always been a tiered system with influencers, this is why their numbers of followers, likes and comments are so vital – this demonstrates their ‘worth’ after all. However, we know that numbers can be manipulated and that also there is massive value in a smaller follower audiences (comparatively to the likes of Kim K… not me with my less than 600 Instagram followers) in terms of a genuinely engaged and connected audience. When deciding on an influencer to work with this is really key to consider. There are more nuisances and insight to consider when it comes to choosing an influencer to work with – much the same as considering any traditional media advertising or marketing – but we know that a larger audience will typically deliver large engagement and land that level of general brand awareness, whilst a smaller audience of a micro-level influencer maybe be key to unlocking real sales. When The Ned reopened in 2017 they launched with a micro-level influencer programme to promote their launch – not going for those big hitter numbers, but London-based influencers, with a similar audience who would be very likely to engage with the content that would lead to footfall and sales.
Over the past unprecedented (had to say it) 12 months we have also experienced a new divide in terms of influencer. Those that have made positive change and those that have gone to Dubai…
A humanitarian issue first and foremost, the Covid-19 global pandemic has affected each and every one of us. However, at times it’s been hard to stomach the ‘we’re all in this together’ narrative from celebrities who are lockdown down in their mansions, compared to those that have been furloughed, lost their jobs, or even loved ones. It might seem like a lifetime ago now, but remember the very misguided celebrity sing-along lead by Gal Gadot? The public reaction to this is not dissimilar to the general sentiment now with influencers on their essential business trips to Dubai.
During a very awkward media interview on This Morning in January 2021, fitness blogger Sheridan Mordew spoke to Holly & Phil about her decision to go to Dubai, describing it as an ‘essential business trip’. As anyone would have predicted the hosts were not quite on Sheridan’s side and pulled apart her rationale as to why she had chosen to go to Dubai during the pandemic crisis. A perceptive that the majority of the country agreed with.
Comparing this specific example, and the many other influencers that have decided to jump ship for Dubai, to some high-profile people or influencers who, in contrast, have wielded their influence for positive change over the past year, it is hard to feel sympathetic or really even understand the rationale of an ‘essential’ business trip to Dubai for social media content. Marcus Rashford used his platform and status to lobby the Government to change their policy on free school meals and also more recently pushed for another review of the current supply chain. Dr Alex George, formerly of Love Island fame, has been using his platform to discuss mental health issues for young people and has recently been appointed as the Youth Mental Health Ambassador by the Government. Lizzo, American singer-song writer, also promotes self-love, positive messages around body image and acceptance, as well as unfiltered images in between more professional shots. Thankfully, the list really does go on…
Due to the recent global changes, and the fact that it is a humanitarian issue first and foremost, it has been clear that the way in which businesses and brands react and behave now will be remembered for years to come. This is exactly the same for influencers. And it will be essential for brands looking to partner with influencers in the future to which ‘type’ of influence they might be trying to tap into or leverage. As ever it will need to be strategic, making sure that the activity speaks to the brands personality and what it represents, but also the authenticity behind it all.
Influencer culture will continue to evolve and continue to be incredibly relevant. Hopefully we see more regulations come in inspired by campaigns like #FilterDrop to ensure content and communities online are a safe space – and of course, more influencers using their platforms for positive change. You’d love to see it.