Being a Social Media Influencer is a second-rate game.
When I first sat down and watched YouTube with my kids, I was really distressed by the amount of sneaky marketing being done. Everything from McDonalds, Crayola, Gucci, iPhones, Lego, Coke, James Charles makeup and Tesla cars were all being portrayed as ‘must have’ items. The scarier thing is that it actually works. I never could have believed my 10-year-old daughter would be drooling over Gucci and having fits of excitement when she sees a Tesla in the street.
When we saw a man wearing a Gucci shirt, she pointed it out — “look Mum, that guy has a Gucci shirt on.” So, I asked her why that was significant. What did that mean for her? Her answer — he must be rich. So, there you go, all of these things being marketed to my kids are there to make them want to not only be rich, but to show everyone else that they are as well.
The projections for social media marketing show that this practice is only going to become more prevalent over the next few years. Current estimates for the amount of spend on influencer marketing is $10 billion. However, as reported in Business Insider, brands are set to increase this by another half over the next few years and spend $15 billion on influencer marketing by 2022.
So, using the philosophy that knowledge is power, in my house we have turned social media marketing into a game. We play ‘spot the sell-out’ and take dibs on a product being mentioned. For every time the product is mentioned that person gets $1 to donate to a charity. Hey, if you can’t beat them, you may as well get in on the fun!
On the surface, these social media influencers seem to have it made. They get paid for doing things they enjoy and subsidised on their path to stardom. But scratch away at the façade and you come to realise that, just like the products they sell, they are a commodity. They will be used as long as they provide the audience and engagement that the big brands require. And when they no longer deliver, they will be thrown away in the scrap heap of social media marketing. Then the next new bright shiny star will come along, and the process will be repeated. This process makes it clear that:
Influencer ≠ Indispensable
Can you imagine the pressure that this would place on the current influencers? The first million subscribers might give them a bit of a buzz, but like the stuff they are selling, it is only ever short-term. They need to get more followers, continually prove their social equity, and sell more stuff to get the same level of satisfaction. They are beholden to people deciding to follow them for their sense of identity and self-worth. It is this reliance on other people that makes being a social media influencer a second-rate game.
However, there is a deeper and more disturbing reason why being a social media influencer is not as glamourous as it seems. By definition, a social media influencer is:
a person with the ability to influence potential buyers of a product or service by promoting or recommending the items on social media.
So, when you break it down, the job of influencers is to make people continually seek external sources of happiness. In this way, they are working actively to keep their followers at lower levels of consciousness and maturity. Let’s see how.
As shown by this model, social influencers largely use force upon their followers to get them to purchase what they are promoting. This takes the form of instigating fear (FOMO), desire and pride. Invoking these emotions in their followers pushes them into the Socialised Mind stage of adult development, which is demonstrated by a greater concern for what others think of you, then your own opinion of yourself. Interestingly the majority of adults (around 64%) are still operating within the Socialised Mind stage of development. I do wonder what role social media plays in maintaining this large percentage.
So, by their very nature as influencers, they work through the use of force on their followers.
Then what is better than being an influencer? What will be the next ‘big thing’ to be?
What about being an inspiration?
Imagine what it would be like to know that you have not only entertained someone, but empowered them to be the best person they can be? What if you could say that you just don’t sell things to people, you actually stir their soul to follow their own passions and gifts. Contemplate the satisfaction that would be gained knowing you are not pushing people towards external sources of happiness but helping them connect with their own unique and powerful spirit.
The models of influencing and inspiration are very different, and one wonders how you may measure success against the latter. In influencing, the key KPI are engagement and sales. Companies can track how much product is sold through their social media channels and put a dollar figure on the benefit. However, when you inspire others to live their fullest and best life, to share their true spirit with the world, the benefit is immeasurable and sends ripples out across the world for eternity.
The other difference is that influencing comes from a place of Ego — having the status and power to made someone do what you want. Inspiring comes from a place of honest care for the other person’s great potential. It comes from a place of love, which in itself, in this materialistic world, takes great courage.
It is said that everything that is done in this world is driven by either fear or love. It is clear that largely social media influencers use the force of fear. It concentrates the follower’s attention on what they have or don’t have. Those who choose instead to be inspirations must work with courage for their own self-acceptance and compassion and share this vulnerability with the world. They choose to create visions of what can be.
Now there are two more questions I discuss with my kids while watching YouTube:
1. What is this person trying to influence me to buy?
2. How is this person inspiring me to live my best life?
Most frequently the answer to the second question is that they are not. But that’s ok, at least it was asked. At least my kids are now beginning to question whether they are the subject of someone else’s attempt at force and expectations of success, or if they are being cared for and empowered to live their best and most authentic lives.
Being a social media influencer is a short-term success. When you are inspiration you create life-long change. What are you aiming for?
 Hawkins, D., 2014. Power Vs. Force. Hay House Inc.