What an amazing time we are experiencing with social media. Anyone can become a virtual celebrity or make bucks by just posting a video, text or a photo of a product or even expressing an opinion. They are the social media stars, also known as social media influencers. These are the fitness professionals, beauty bloggers, models and even comedians; many a times, they are invited to high-profile events. Success and comments will be measured by clicks and the weight of e-word-of-mouth. They deserve it; after all, they have built a reputation for their expertise on a particular topic, or they just lend their names to products.
Social media influencers (SMIs) generate a large following of enthusiastic, engaged people who pay close attention to their views. Top influencers like the Swedish Felix Kjelberg, known as PewDiePie, has 97.4 million followers across YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Allegedly, he earns around $12 million each year, reported mediakix.com.
Who are the influencers? The majority fit into the following categories: celebrities; industry experts and leaders — the thought leader: journalists, academics, and professionals; bloggers, and content creators. Supposedly, ‘influencers’ are down-to-earth people who have a passion for something: fashion, photography, motoring, or gardening — the list is endless.
The influencers achieve fame and establish some sort of ‘celebrity’ status by putting a lot of effort in creating a brand for themselves. By posting about their passion, they gain popularity. They stay connected with their followers and often share the same age group and interests. By broadcasting their lives on a daily or weekly basis, they construct their identity online — painting a kind of fairytale life. Social media influence is about attention and trust.
The hype about social influencers centres around three elements: ‘going viral’, the fantasy about the influencer, and having thousands, if not millions, of the right followers. Those who have already developed the ‘celebrity’ status feel entitled to have a mix and match of self-promotion and marketing as the number of followers grows. The reality is that these influencers can shape thoughts, attitudes and behaviour without us being aware of it. Brands love social media influencers because they can create trends and encourage their followers to buy products they promote. This has become a common approach to communication and marketing efforts mostly within the fashion and beauty industries. In fact, SMIs have become an important tool for companies to advertise their products targeting especially young consumers. In the process, companies are hiring ‘influencers’ to endorse products and services. What we see is a remarkable growth of influencers in marketing and branding — 2017 was considered the year of the influencer.
Social media influencer is becoming a career that does not require a college education — possessing a flair for persuasive communication, being young, good-looking, creative and having a decent set of the right followers might hit the jackpot. Nevertheless, going to university has never been a prerequisite to a successful life or career. Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Mark Zuckerberg are examples of that.
So, do we need influencers? Well, they always existed. Years ago, influencers were charismatic people; they influenced others based on the seriousness of their arguments and their discourse. Today’s influence comes from entertainment power, peer recommendation, the social media megaphone apparatus, and whom one knows. However, the definition for an influencer depends on demographic groups.
Now, identifying individuals who disseminate information, ideas or products, as social media ‘influencers’ is a big challenge. What do influencers do, anyway? Succinctly, in the actual context, they are endorsers. Their entertainment power is equalised as expertise. Having said that, I admire those who built their fame on the Internet by creating original content, because getting users engaged to
interact is not easy — no matter who is endorsing it.