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Op-Ed: Influencers – Social media fruit flies, or what?

I find influencers almost half as interesting as 200-year-old road kills

Blue ticks return, for some -- Elon Musk's blue tick next to his name on a smartphone in 2023
Blue ticks return, for some -- Elon Musk's blue tick next to his name on a smartphone in 2023 - Copyright AFP Chris DELMAS
Blue ticks return, for some -- Elon Musk's blue tick next to his name on a smartphone in 2023 - Copyright AFP Chris DELMAS

Influencers always get a lot of news space for literally anything and everything they do. Ever since social media became a bot paradise, this “collateral publicity” cranks up whatever they’re publicizing.

I find influencers almost half as interesting as 200-year-old road kills. I find it hard to obsess about a two-dimensional branch of advertising. I’ve done a mega-lot of real advertising and impressed, I am definitely not.  

I’m doing this article as a sort of market overview, but to my surprise, I found some interesting stuff, too.

On Shopify, of all places, I found a strangely useful beginner-level article about influencers and their rates. This is the purely commercial perspective, it’s very clearly written and gets to core values very effectively.

Instinctively, I searched “influencers crime”. Where there’s that sort of money, there’s a dirty side. What a surprise that wasn’t. This is the tacky, predictably sleazy side of influencers. One look at this link to that search will say it all for you. It’s like a weather report from Rikers Island.

Add these two elements together and you get the real message. There’s a lot of money in influencing and everyone wants in. From the mainstream marketers to the money launderers, it’s a business opportunity.

Might as well spend a few paragraphs on what’s called influencer culture. It is a culture, just a noisy, no-class culture like most social media. It’s like a rap track. Much repetition, minimal content, maximum payout, and nobody remembers a damn thing about it 10 minutes later.  

Influencers are themselves effective opportunists if nothing else. They’re salespeople, and some of them are obviously pretty good and effective. A good salesperson can work in any medium, even the two-dimensional social media vacuum, and sell.

The mainstream markets see them as drivers of sales, They, in turn, see a market, and work for and to that market. They’re shills, and usually pretty amateurish. Their audiences seem to be baseline, and deliberately so. The audience is self-consciously “ordinary”.

…Which is why this audience watches lifestyle stuff about how great it is to be rich. Pandering to aspirations is what all Z-grade advertising does. It’s a type of direct marketing.

Yeah, it’s great to be rich! Give it a try! This is how to prevent Fortune from breaking down your front door and getting an exclusive when you make the Top 50! Subscribe now, before puberty kicks in!

If you want someone to be your friend, get an influencer. If you want a life, make your own. It’s pretty shameless stuff for the severely undereducated and social media ingenues. It’s advertising’s distant cousin, just not quite far distant enough.

To put it as dramatically as possible – Yawn. If you’re impressed by this stuff, you’re impressed by your own ability to make toast without dying.

The word influencer is itself almost meaningless. The commercial definition is the benchmark in dictionaries. It translates literally as people who influence their audiences, and as “people who like to make a lot of money out of their social media accounts” for anyone who’s spent 5 seconds on social media.

Influencers also include “thought leaders”, aka self-important bottom feeders, but the main emphasis is and has to be purely commercial. Rolling Stone has a useful if irritating article called Rise of the Influencer Employee, which is a bit more realistic than anyone would expect. Seems that LinkedIn is the place for this type of influencer and that engagement is growing “explosively”. Really?

This is a useful follow-on from the Shopify article and in much the same vein. The business realities take the spotlight. This is a very different audience, though. LinkedIn is a B2B (business-to-business) audience. These people can read whole sentences by themselves, without the need for a chaperone or a coroner.  

They are also by definition a much tougher audience. I really like writing B2B, because I’m talking to an informed audience. You can get into the substance of the topic and deliver useful information. You can make points to people who understand those points.

Which leads to a question – Is the influencer thing finally growing up? It’s taken long enough. “Influencer” as a term has been around for at least 20 years, surely? I’m not sure if it has ever been taken seriously as a professional thing before.

Meanwhile, the headlines about influencers chug on regardless. I do have to say that I think the influencers have missed a trick about themselves. If they can hook up with Sportsbet about outcomes…?   


The opinions expressed in this Op-Ed are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Digital Journal or its members.

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Editor-at-Large based in Sydney, Australia.

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