Have you ever listened to an epic piece of music and been touched by it so profoundly that it has driven you to simply create something of your own?
Have you watched a film that has resonated so deeply that you’ve used it as a source of inspiration in your everyday life?
Have you read a book that is so perfectly splendid that the power of its story has moved mountains within you?
Have you been motivated by watching someone else’s hard work, commitment, and dedication to get fit and into shape?
Maybe you were recommended a TED Talk video that made you really re-examine and reassess your outlook on your corporate, social, and personal life.
Have you ever watched someone work so passionately and purposefully, totally in their zone, displaying such masterful craftsmanship and unbridled finesse that your very own professional journey got a spark of inspiration?
Let’s cut to the proverbial chase here.
Have you ever been influenced by someone?
Of course you have. I have. We all have.
A musician or composer. An actor. A writer. A philosopher. An entrepreneur. Or perhaps an artist or playwright. An inventor. A philanthropist. Perhaps a political leader. A religious figure…
Our earliest influencers are naturally our parents, siblings, and relatives. Thereafter, it’s part of the natural progression to be influenced by our teachers. Those early life lessons, values, and ethics are ingrained in us by people who we look up to, respect, trust, and can connect and relate to.
A different kind of animal
An influencer in today’s context is an entirely different animal.
Influencer culture can make or break a generation.
An influencer in classic marketing lingo is someone who possesses the ability to impact a buying or purchasing decision of a customer, through promotions and endorsements on select marketing platforms. A modern-day influencer is someone on social media who uses their credibility, popularity, and status to raise awareness for certain issues and topics, promote themselves and brands or services (be it their own or otherwise), and also persuade others to think, speak, and act based on their recommendations and influence.
Let’s take a modicum of time to really analyse the entire big picture here. Is a social media influencer someone who has a positive or negative impact on people’s lives, businesses, industries, brands, and society?
Is it driving people to build bridges, connect, network, share wisdom and experiences, and inspire camaraderie, productivity, growth, success, respect, stability, and harmony?
Or is it a mere trigger to damage people, cause ruptures in relationships, harm and hurt those you envy, destroy identities and reputations, and irresponsibly disrupt lives and livelihoods?
With the strain of increased influencers globally, what is the outcome of following someone who is cantankerous, boastful, narcissistic, and detached from reality? You have considerably more people penning a narrative to cultivate responses as part of the greater collective consciousness. This is great that influential individuals are shedding light on key issues – be it global warming, climate change, advances in technology, change in world economies, social problems and conflicts, racism, prejudice, and harmful stereotypes.
Yet, how does one gauge authenticity, honesty, conviction, and integrity in a world where one’s status of credibility is based on likes, followers, shares, and retweets that trend?
The real McCoy
On the one hand, there are actual social media influencers like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who uses his profiles to engage with audiences and even address key issues. Simon Sinek rocked the world with his TED Talk on “Three Golden Circles” and his status of influence has only grown exponentially and reverentially. Ryan Reynolds is a great example of a modern-day social media influencer. He is the Brand Ambassador and Co-Owner of Aviation Gin. Chances are you’ve seen his whip-smart and hilariously engaging tongue-in-cheek posts. Yet, how he creates posts with nuances of disruptive marketing and playful banter is remarkable.
Take Blok and Dino. They use their experience, notoriety, inventiveness, and brand of slapstick humour to promote brands with a brilliant underlying message in their skits. Their work is iconic and these guys have revolutionised the “influencer” arena in the isle.
Daily Dose is a digital marketing agency with over 1.4 million followers on Instagram and one of the foremost motivational platforms on social media.
Pro footballer Christiano Ronaldo is one of the top social media influencers today. Kylie Jenner is another, who is considered to be a media personality, a socialite, and a businesswoman. Donald Trump is an example of an entertaining influencer on Twitter.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they are popular figureheads with varying achievements and they use their positions of power, popularity, and privilege to influence others.
If one considers to look at the entire gamut of influencers, you’d soon discover that the digital kingdom is saturated with influencers. So how does one pick and choose from the spectrum of self-appointed messiahs and prophets of the digital realm?
Quality over quantity
It’s a bit tricky, as anyone with a decent mobile phone, who is reasonable-looking, has a controversial leaning, a credit card, material wealth to brandish, and is somewhat popular, can easily position themselves as a social media influencer today. Oh, you know of what I speak. Many of you’ve even thought about it; some of you may have spoken out. But let’s make eye contact with the bloody elephant in the room.
Anyone with millions and thousands of followers and likes (bots notwithstanding) on social media is perceived as potential role models for the masses. Thick-as-a-brick-headed people in need of personality transplants, a reality check, and no aesthetic or acuity to lay claim to are counselling, advising, and influencing people unchecked. Shallow people with a whole lot to say with very little depth or value in what’s being said.
Far too many boys and girls using such tags as “influencer”, “visual storyteller”, and “motivational coach” when in truth posting every aspect of your life 24/7 from your breakfast to your bathroom to your barber and body all photoshopped in glorious filters, doesn’t actually give you any substance or add value to your person.
This leads to practically anybody with an opinion and half a functional brain to raise issue and fight causes as woke and cancel culture pundits to advice others on relationships, professions, finding balance in their lives, and addressing serious issues of mental health, depression, grief and despair, loneliness, abuse, suicide, etc. Unqualified and inexperienced people offering therapeutic value – unsolicited – to those in need. Therein lies the danger. Any influence isn’t necessarily a good influence.
Like some folk who were frequently posting lavish gourmet meals during lockdown while a vast majority were stuck without supplies, having run out of basic essentials and had their incomes crippled and spirits crushed. There are posts by individuals talking about karma and universal harmony and spreading positive vibes and forgiveness from inside their luxury bungalows or premium vehicles. Then let’s not forget that anyone with a social media page and a blog plays the role of the almighty oracle, judge, jury, and executioner to anyone who offends their personal views and opinions.
Vanity begets vanity
Let us not digress. The point isn’t your social status and material lifestyle. It’s just that there is a massive disconnect between how some people position themselves with their intent and how they choose to articulate it.
Consider also the swathes of attention-seeking people who only care about the numbers and figures, with the focal point being the “performance” and not the purpose.
This has resulted in feeding egos and breeding vanity, where more and more people are seeking attention, regardless of how they go about it. An existence fabricated by a desire to be validated, praised, adored, loved, and worshipped by others.
Vanity begets vanity.
Misery loves company.
Just because someone is influential does not mean she or he is an influencer.
We all choose our heroes with such care and caution. Mayhap, it’s time to choose our villains with equal fervour.
Suresh de Silva is the frontman and lyricist of Stigmata, a creative consultant and brand strategist by profession, a self-published author and poet, thespian, animal rescuer, podcaster, and fitness enthusiast.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.