Since the inception of social media, the promise of being able to share aspects of your life to anyone that was willing to see it has enslaved people at a pace that’s nothing short of phenomenal.
The idea, it seemed, was to connect or reconnect, then foster relationships regardless of geographic location. External to personal gain, we could achieve greater community unity behind causes and drive important change, give voice to the voiceless, promote equality and encourage positive social change through borderless collaboration.
Instead, it’s largely spawned a generation of narcissists bent on achieving social importance through unmiraculous actions, and generated more avenues for us to be bombarded with marketing through the weaponising of social “influencers”.
So here’s the question for today: are social influencers, particularly those in the fitness, beauty, and health industries causing social damage and scientific/moral confusion through the perpetuation of the “right” body image and “good” advice, fuelled by the marketing of dodgy products? Or are they a natural evolution of better, more effective marketing?
Why Do Influencers Work?
Initially, the idea with influencers was great (especially to marketers!) as people could be organically shown products without the overtness of a commercial or advertisement. Essentially, it’s a great example of the inbound methodology – showing you products that are of interest to you, and therefore being ‘helpful’, and not a disruption.
It’s akin to the celebrity endorsement mentality: if Ariana Grande is wearing Nikes then you must want them too right? That was great until everyone caught on and marketers had to find a more subtle way of getting their products in front of your eyeballs.
And like a gift from marketing heaven, social media delivered literally thousands of communicating billboards with up-to-date quantifiable market reach data, plus some excellent case studies thanks to people like the Kardashians who are famous for doing literally nothing.
Now, there are an innumerable amount of “influencers” that are spruiking every consumer product you could imagine under the guise of helping you out by letting you know about great new products.
Trust is the key here. Do people trust other people more than they trust a brand? Absolutely.
According to Pixability, 86% of the top viewed beauty videos on YouTube are created by influencers versus just 14% created by the brands themselves. HubSpot (the largest depository of inbound coolaid) sites that 71% of customers in the US are likely to make a purchase from social referrals. In the same study, they found that 75% of people “don’t accept [traditional] advertisements as truth”.
Who Would You Trust?
On that note, here’s a quick analogy that I use extensively to explain why link-building, and user-generated content is so potent for SEO, but the same can be said when discussing social influencers.
Imagine you’re at the local store shopping for shoes. You try on a pair and the salesperson exclaims “those look great!”. Well, of course, they’re going to say that – they want to sell you the shoes! Your trust in their opinion is low.
Now imagine your best friend is with you and they tell you “those look great”. Hang on, that’s a little different and a bit warm and fuzzy feeling isn’t it? You trust this person, their opinion means a lot to you. Because of that, your chances of purchasing those shoes has increased dramatically.
Now imagine if ten of your best friends were in the store…
You get the point.
The simple fact is that the more you trust someone, the more their opinion influences your decision, regardless of their expertise/knowledge in whatever you’re purchasing.
Not rocket science.
Consumer reviews are a great example too. While you may not know these people, you trust their opinion as there’s no nefarious motive behind their opinions (as far as you’re aware!).
Sounds Great So Far – What are You on About Lu?!
What are the social impacts of this though? Is pushing miracle slimming tea, endless protein powders, and every possible makeup concoction through a medium that’s based on creating trust with like-minded people benefitting anyone, or causing a widespread epidemic of insecurity, self-doubt, and cripplingly low self-worth?
Is It Real?
A trend I’ve witnessed lately (although it’s nothing new) among fitness influencers are lengthy Instagram posts about how what people see on their social channels aren’t the real them. They’re a photoshopped, styled and framed image of a more perfect person. Or in other words, the version of themselves they’re happy with showing you.
To me, this is terrifyingly sad. Imagine creating a version of yourself that connects with people and represents what you want to be so bad, that you feel inadequate being your “actual self”. So much so, that you need to let your “followers” know, that “hey, there’s a real person behind all those lights and cameras”.
This “influencer” profession is breeding a growing number of people that are creating a “better” version of themselves on social media, gaining a level of fame, and are then being faced with the conundrum of “how can people like me when they don’t even know me?”.
There’s been plenty of studies that reference the negative mental health impact of social media on users. Increased rates of depression, anxiety, and stress amongst other issues are rampant. But what about the influencers that are both users and contributors?
The Industry of fear
So if users of social media, particularly Instagram, are experiencing increasing levels of mental health problems, feelings of loneliness, and a fear of missing out (FOMO), many social influencers must also be affected by this. But in many ways, they are also the cause of these issues in other users.
A cynic (me) would say that marketing is the industry of fear. In order to provide a solution (a product/service), you need to have a problem. What better way to sell products than creating those problems.
Some could say that by offering makeup tutorials, you’re perpetuating a societal bias that women should wear makeup because it’s their responsibility to look ‘pretty’ and that you look inadequate without it. Not only that, but it’s not good enough to just wear makeup, you have to become an expert in it in order to show your face in public. (To be clear, I’m not commenting on wearing makeup vs. not wearing it, I’m drawing a distinction and saying women should be able to look however they want and feel good about that – not be judged to a standard visible on social media).
By posting endless selfies and pictures of your toned lean body while saying ‘love yourself’, you’re actually perpetuating body insecurities by telling people that this is how you should look.
It’s not about acceptance, it’s about changing yourself until you’re acceptable.
Surely That’s Not The Same for Everyone?
Absolutely not. There is undoubtedly a wide range of influencers that promote ‘healthy’ opinions and strong social messages without the tarnish of also promoting a product, or trying to encourage people to live healthier lives without being tone deaf. The sad case, however, is that I fear they’re a minority.
Expert Advice or Nah?
If that person’s not “real”, then why bother? Why continue to dedicate your life to highlighting what you believe to be your inadequacies. Why organise those aforementioned lights and cameras to photograph yourself telling other people to love themselves.
Do you love yourself? Or are telling your audience what you want to hear?
While I’m sure anyone bothering to read this would think “well, what’s wrong with that?”. To be fair, nothing I guess, one can do as one pleases, my judgment (or anyone’s) is of no importance. But what about the message you’re actually spreading?
Are you not proving to the audience that this is what it takes to be “successful” on social media. You have to forego your own self-image to embellish your own narcissistic greed by first assuming that anyone would be interested in you, then telling people they should care about you, then tell everyone that will listen that being the product of your own creation is just an idyllic copy of you.
In a world that’s never been more connected, or less anonymous, we seem disconnected from reality and prefer to display an artificial construct of our most desired self to be willingly judged by a society that we’ve deemed appropriate to be judged by – while simultaneously claiming to not need affirmations to be content.
The dichotomy of not wanting to be evaluated by our peers by openly presenting images or worldly insights into our personal lives for all to see is challenging to understand at best, and woefully sad at worst.
We’ve never had such a strong opportunity to connect with the world and bring light to the darkest misdeeds of people and nations. While this has certainly been done, a greater accomplishment was illuminating the innate greed in humanity on a global scale.
STOP USING YOUR PLATFORM TO SPREAD GARBAGE
Given marketing is largely about making you feel inadequate, incomplete, or that you’re missing out on something, therefore, creating a value and desire for product ‘x’. It’s no wonder that social platforms have been weaponised to push products that achieve nothing but insecurities.
In a gross display of irony, fitness and health “bloggers/entrepreneurs/actors/singers” promote healthy living and an active lifestyle by shaming those who oppose an image first mentality.
Let’s get something straight – for the most part, social influences have zero qualifications to be telling you anything. The majority of the time, they’re pedaling absolute garbage that exacerbates your insecurities in order to make you purchase products that offer you a quick-fix for anything from weight-loss to teeth whitening.
Influencers are the ultimate example of gullibility as they believe any garbage products that morally bankrupt companies can offer them or worse they understand that it’s garbage but prefer to take the cash and profit off lies and unsubstantiated nonsense.
Can Influencers Provide Any Benefit?
Yes, they can. But the majority won’t, because the money isn’t in the truth. Why actually try to benefit society by providing strong messages that further social cause and promote scientifically backed information when you can flog slimming teas without any effort at all and bankroll a lifestyle that you’re desperately trying to maintain in order to stay relevant.
What Can Consumers Do?
Ultimately, beware of the bullshit (or ‘woo’ as our Canadian/US friends would say). Be skeptical of everything that you see on Instagram or other social media. No, a tea can’t give you a six-pack. A blue light cannot give you white teeth, and being body positive doesn’t mean being defined by someone else’s image of perfection.
What Can Influencers Do?
Stop being a mouthpiece for narcissistic, hollow and meaningless BS. Somehow, you have a platform, so use it for good. Connect with products that make a difference. Don’t offer advice on things you know nothing about, and consider spreading a message that’s focussed on something other than yourself.