There are two words whose meanings have severely degraded by the internet and their widespread use by plebs. The first is the word is ‘foodie’, which has now been used by basically the entire youthful population. What grinds my gears? It is when people are not able to differentiate between appreciation of food and gluttony. I have another draft for a post on the “foodie culture” but the second word is perhaps more unanimously despised by many who are not in the sphere themselves. This word is “influencer”.
I can imagine people rolling their eyes when the term influencer is being used in daily conversation. I feel that its usage and meaning has been reduced greatly; and that it is almost universally agreed upon that influencers are people who don’t add any real value to society but demand gifts and favour. Slightly (or wholly) narcissistic, self-conscious, and perhaps a little prettier than your average person. Of course that last one is hugely subjective. There was a time about 2-or-so years ago when a handful of self- proclaimed influencers who had become infamous on social media when they asked businesses from hotels to restaurants favours like free nights and meals in return for “exposure”. At that time, I didn’t really jump on the bandwagon to criticise them with my main thought being that there’s nothing wrong with them trying to “get lucky”. Heck, I often do it myself when I cheekily ask the check-in desk if I can be upgraded to business class for free. Unfortunately, I have been mostly rejected except for that one time on Scoot from Singapore to Taiwan. Either that happened, or that I sat on the wrong seat in business class. My point being, most of these self-proclaimed influencers are doing similar things with these requests. Whether their “exposure” was worth to the business owner for some free product was simply a matter of valuation. Most of the screenshots of conversation between the self-proclaimed influencers and business owners that I’ve seen were polite and straight to the point, and which I feel didn’t deserve all the flak these people eventually got.
What does it mean to be an influencer, really? Marketing is a real industry; you would have to be a Diglett for not acknowledging that. Billboards, Youtube ads, those annoying ones you see on this exact site because I don’t pay to use WordPress. Superficially a lot of these influencers just promote products, look somewhat good in pictures, with an inspirational caption and hope that the number of likes exceed their expectation or that of the company that hired them. One in every few teenagers want to become an influence according to this article. I said a few when the number in the article was 54% because I dont trust it’s sample enough but it gives the bottom line which is, people want to be influencers! Why, though? Perhaps it is the social media presence and the showers of likes and comments they get on social media such as Youtube and Instagram, which qualify as proxy measures for popularity. Because, who doesn’t want to be popular when you were 14?
Can you imagine if you ask a child who his greatest influence is and he answers “Jake Paul” or one of the “Kardashians”? If I manage to not let my disappointment show by flipping a table, I might then ask the kid, “why?”
I don’t speak for other people but the fact that this idea appalls me so strongly might mean that others out there might have similar views too. I theorise that the reason this phenomenon exists where internet stars are given a golden pedestal is that these kids might not have a real influencer in their life. “Leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less.” This quote by John Maxwell relates so well here because you can hypothesise that many children might look up to the people they see online more than the people they meet just because they have 15,000 likes? That is horrifying. These so-called influencers are leading children’s lives more than their parents, siblings, teachers, and friends? That is sad. This thought led me to come up with an idea, that we should promote being influencers ourselves. Leading and learning people around us, especially people who are younger and more susceptible to the digital world.
It is a big topic and I don’t know where to start; but first acknowledging that each person have the ability to influence people around them is a solid first step.
“You are the average of the 5 people closest to you.” A quote often attributed to Jim Rohn. It is so powerful because it means that people rub off on each other all the time. That’s why tech start-ups gather at Silicon Valley. Ok maybe that wasn’t the best analogy but it is true that whomever you meet day-to-day, you are able to influence that person. Introverts are similar too. We often assume that quieter people do not know anything or are not social at all. But writer Susan Cain strongly disagrees with that. Acknowledging this is not only an empowering thought but it is also humbling. One of the senior persons at my workplace that “if you do not have a mentor who is at least 10 years younger than you, you will not grow.”
Now that we’ve tackled why we can all be influencers, the how is also important. We don’t have to be a multi-tasking genius who finishes the project 3 weeks ahead of the deadline and somehow still manages to keep up with their social life. The last few years have taught me that authenticity is important. No matter who you are, discomfort with one’s self will lead you to pretend to be like what you think the crowd wants and eventually make you lose your credibility; because the truth will prevail. Be original and explore your own interests, understand your strengths, acknowledge your weaknesses, talk to people honestly. We often underestimate who we are and think that the grass is always greener on the other side, seriously. Even a third-grade dropout can be a strong influence.
Not only is understanding how we can all be influencers in our own circle a strong revelation. I think it also somewhat frees us up a little from having to be conformed.