What´s the thing with influencers?

So, let’s jump straight into this article: in case you didn’t hear, ‘influencer’ is what we now call people with a lot of followers on social media, and that, being as popular as they are, are often paid to advertise certain products. These people are mostly beauty/fashion/health bloggers, but also people that just record vlogs of their daily lives. Some claim they are the future; others are more cynical. What’s up with those people?

A few weeks ago a Dutch newspaper published an article about influencers, and asked them for tips to become better at it. My parents made grossed out faces and could not believe this had made it to a serious media outlet. Having followed some makeup related bloggers since I was 12, I’d already gotten more used to the concept, so I shrugged and continued my day as usual. Then, another Dutch newspaper published something about two Dutch health/food bloggers. This article sparked about two weeks worth of controversy in the Netherlands, because these women ate vegan, gluten free and sugar free, and, as it would seem, quite protein free as well. They were licensed dietitians, but held some views about food that didn’t seem too healthy despite, or because of, being marketed as the healthiest thing ever. And this while this country is built on mashed potatoes with gravy and pancakes with bacon. The verdict: not only are these bloggers unhealthy, they will also make many people think they need to live on kale, crushed walnuts and stevia in order to be healthy. Bloggers do not need to be licensed in anything; whatever they say just needs to sound like it makes sense and people will buy it. This makes them scary and dangerous.

And now we’re also giving them the ominous name of ‘influencers’. Watch out- they will subliminally message you into a new lifestyle! While they are not exactly that scary and I wish they came up with a better term, there is something about social media as a way of making money that doesn’t sit right with many people. I saw someone ask why people take so much offence to social media ‘celebrities’ making money while not feeling the same about ‘regular’ celebrities. Well, the thing is, bloggers appeal to us because they are normal people. They often start out from humble rooms, using some kind of talent or hobby to make enjoyable videos or blog posts. And then, when they’re famous and can use their platform to make money, they suddenly go on trips to Mexico with some brand you didn’t even know existed, let alone had anything to do with this blogger. People send them free stuff to review or pay them to talk about those products. You find yourself wondering: is any of this real? Are these people relatable at all?

Now, in my opinion, these people are often still quite real. They all bring their own personality to the table, they often don’t *have* to use those products, let’s assume they wouldn’t collaborate with a brand they disliked, not every post has to be sponsored… But the paranoia is creeping in. Over here, at least, bloggers are required to say whether a post was sponsored or not. I’m glad that we have this measure to ensure honesty, but it does help to point out exactly how much is sponsored, which doesn’t really help with the ‘real’ image of bloggers.

It also makes you think about yourself: are you that easily influenced? Were you ever influenced to buy something that the influencer didn’t even care for that much? To be honest, you always have a choice. If a promoted product or lifestyle seems like a total waste of time and/or money to you, you don’t have to use it. But on the other hand, if a person marketing themselves as a relatable, reliable friend, you might think about products that you didn’t even realize you could ever need before. I remember buying a kind of foundation after my two favourite beauty bloggers had given it rave reviews, but after a few months they both switched to a completely different kind of foundation. This was not a case of promoted products so I don’t feel ‘tricked’ or whatever, but it did make me realize how easily I had thought that this product would clearly solve all my problems, because I trusted the bloggers to know what was best. The thing is, companies seek these bloggers out because people feel that way. That’s my main issue; it’s not that these people are trained marketeers that happen to have a good image, they started out with a good image but that image is being used to sell things. Companies would not pay them so much if they didn’t think that the ‘relatable’ image of social media celebrities would help them sell more. Some of them might be growing into full blown glam icons like the it-girls of the 2000s, but until they reach that point, they are not being used as marketing tools for their celebrity status- it’s their status as ‘reliable online friend’ that counts.

Still, despite all this, the blogs that I follow have also taught me about things that I use to this day on without a single regret. I definitely did not buy every product that they gave a good review and no beauty blog has ever made me want to pluck my eyebrows, contour on a daily base or get a spray tan. I can’t blame someone for wanting to make a living out of their hobby, and I know many of these bloggers are nice people that don’t want to ‘sell out’ their visitors to big companies. Yet, I understand why some people feel like that’s what’s happening, because people do listen to influencers. People listen to many other people too, but I think we’re still getting adjusted to the fact that having a social media presence can, in fact, make you rich. We know that commercials want us to buy things, we know that Hollywood celebrities are unattainable. But like it or not, social media is a business now too, and not very likely to go away anytime soon.

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