Opinion

Influencers are ‘bloody influential’ despite what the media gatekeepers say

In this response to Facebook exec Neil Stewart's call for an end to use of the word 'influencer' – during a recent Mumbrella Asia conference – Rochelle Sheldon argues that the term has been hijacked to unfairly demonise social media creators

Whether you realise it or not, you will have an opinion on the term ‘influencer’. It will either make you cringe, sit up with curiosity or it’ll confuse the hell out of you and raise more questions than it provides answers. It’s divisive to say the least; the coriander of social media, you might say.

So when I read about Facebook Asia-Pacific’s head of agency Neil Stewart’s fervent dislike of the word, it stoked my interest. And while perhaps not his fault, Stewart has got influencers all wrong.

Here is exactly what he said during Mumbrella Asia’s Travel Marketing Summit last month:

“Can I just ask that we don’t keep using the word ‘influencer’. Because there’s an assumption that they have influence.

“To be an influencer, you must have influenced something. I don’t necessarily think that’s true for a lot of influencers. There are plenty of ‘influencers’ who have friends, followers; they have a blog and people who see their content. But until you can prove that they have ‘influenced’ – so changed behaviour, an attitude or an action – I think we could almost sue them for using a false or misleading description.”

As I see it, the media has demonised ‘influencers’ by ignoring why this cluster of people have become influential in the first place. And Stewart has done the same with these unfounded statements.

Sure, there are people out there on the take for free stuff and event invitations. But the majority of these people labelled as ‘influencers’ are very hard-working, successful creatives with a unique point of view and, because of it, have gained a following of likeminded people. These ‘influencers’ are speaking directly to them in a way that no one has ever done before.

Until now, mainstream media has held all control when it comes to entertainment and infotainment. Producers and executives have decided who will be our influential people. They’re cast, presented, celebrated and packaged in formal ways and brought into our homes through the mediums of television, print and radio.

Enter a new influential person; the raw, unabashed, authentically packaged people using low-fi tools. They are unscripted and produce, direct, edit, curate, plan everything they say, do, and are – and find their way into hearts and minds. They inspire their followers to make food, dress a new way, rearrange their homes. They resonate with their stories and yes, sometimes they even buy stuff recommended to them. And that, is influence.

‘Influencers’ also hate the term

What Stewart and his ilk have missed, many ‘influencers’ themselves hate the word. Not because they don’t influence people (because they have oodles of evidence to prove that they do), but because it diminishes them.

Take Maria Foy from Happy Mum Happy Child , who has 238,602 followers on Facebook. She says that by definition, anyone who has a large audience is a person of influence.

Maria Foy: ‘Content creator or blogger is much preferable’

She argues: “Each and every single one of us influences people just by being ourselves; and in turn we are influenced by others. I think that’s just the way the world works.

“Obviously if you have a larger audience on social media you do fall into the social media “influencer” category. But I really don’t like the term ‘influencer’; content creator or blogger is much preferable for me.”

Or Dane McGregor, of food blog Baker Gatherer, who says: “I don’t like the word “influencer”. First and foremost I am a creator. I create content for myself and for others to connect with.” And he’s right. These powerhouse people are content creators and to their followers, and subscribers, what they create matters.

Asad Naseem: ‘The word influencer makes him uncomfortable’

Finally there’s Asad Naseem, of the YouTube channel Poke Collection,  which has 38,000 subscribers. He also says the term ‘influencer’ makes him uncomfortable

And those just the tip of the iceberg. When I asked a group of other prominent influencers what they thought of the word and whether it applied to them, almost all baulked. The predominant title – if any actually exists – is content creator. Or food blogger. Or makeup obsessive. Or stylist. Or photographer. Or fashion blogger. In fact, it was anything but influencer.

So perhaps it’s time we ditched the influencer – the word, that is – because it simply does not fit this creative group of people who just happen to be bloody influential in their world.

Rochelle Sheldon is the chief strategist of social media marketing agency Socialites

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