24 June, 2019 - 12:31 By Richard Taylor, Managing Director, Simpsons Creative

Under the influence – who really rules social media?

Does social media influence carry the seeds of its own destruction? It begins in innocence, unfeigned enthusiasm and transparent honesty. You share likes and dislikes. People listen and agree with you. You become a voice for others who share your interests and passions.

You acquire a following, modest at first, but slowly and surely you become an Influencer, someone with thousands or tens of thousands of followers. People take your tips, heed your advice and buy the products you recommend. Purely on their merits at first, but then the manufacturers freebies begin. And, of course, you’d never buy likes or followers would you?

And the next thing you know, you might just start to do cash deals without openly declaring your interest. And so it goes. There are social media stars earning up to seven figures a year. Some with followings in the millions auction off their services and can command up to £10,000 plus for a single post on Instagram. But, if you’ve got an audience of millions and your speciality chimes with that of the manufacturer, they would consider such a deal a good investment.

I remember Delia Smith once remarking on the utility of a small aluminium pan which she regretted was no longer available because the manufacturer had gone out of business. Not long afterward we heard that the manufacturer was back in business and doing such a roaring trade he was struggling to fill his order book.

I’m not suggesting that there was any collusion in Delia’s case, in fact I think she was rather surprised at the reach of her own influence. I mention it merely to illustrate the potential power of any kind of media at its best.

But if the game is crooked, how long can it last without loss of public confidence? Apart from mendacity on the part of the influencer there’s the question of the veracity of his following. For less than a fiver you can buy 1000 likes for a post. And for a little more you can buy followers and comments for your post. A far cry from the accredited circulation figures of print media.

Little wonder then that according to a survey by media company UM, only 4% of people trust what influencers say online. Even governments were seen as being more trustworthy than celebrity influencers with 12% saying they thought information shared by governments was ‘mostly truthful’. And the recent story of 18-year-old Arii, who has managed to establish herself as a key influencer on Instagram by relying on brand endorsements and partnerships, failing to sell 36 tee shirts despite having over 2m followers online, begs a lot of questions. Not least of which is was it simply a stunt?!   

Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way, and it’s a pity that the craft and creativity of social media at its best has been given a bad name by a greedy, unscrupulous few. Social media can be a power for social good and change – think of the charity ice bucket challenge and the #metoo campaign for example. Not to mention its value as an indispensable business and marketing tool.

So let’s just keep it honest, OK?

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