VP of Strategy at Linqia, Keith is a leading voice in the intersection of marketing and technology.
I was recently at a dinner event and naturally started chatting with the people sitting next to me. As conversations typically do, the discussion evolved to speaking about what we do for a living. As I broke down what influencer marketing is and my role at Linqia, one of my new acquaintances asked a very interesting question related to the moral compass of the industry I so passionately serve: How would I feel if my daughter wanted to be an influencer when she grows up?
It’s a valid question as being an influencer has quickly become a sought-after occupation for many young people who see the fame and glamour of high-profile influencers that flood their social streams. The prospect is highly tantalizing. Why work at a desk all day when you can be your own boss and seemingly do low-stress work for a high reward? At least that’s how it would appear to many.
That question is not one that I have gotten before, so I paused to give it the proper thought before providing an answer. My thoughts went to three more core questions:
How does one become an influencer?
It seems so easy to be an influencer these days with millions of social profiles qualifying as influencers based on their following counts. But the reality is much different. I spend the majority of my waking hours in the industry, so I know better than most that garnering a following and gaining influence is incredibly difficult. Even more difficult is fostering engagement from your community, which is a critical piece of the equation in monetizing your social presence. The only way to do it consistently is to speak about topics that people care about and that have impact on their lives. Sure there are influencers who just post about their glamorous lives, but the vast majority of brands seek partnerships with influencers who offer their communities value and education on a niche topic or subject matter. This includes topics like activism, parenting, financial well-being, health and wellness, beauty, fashion and more. I can’t remember the last time I worked with a brand who sought out influencers just for their following count.
The world of influencer marketing is also heavily self-regulated. It’s almost like its own democratic, capitalistic society. If you don’t keep your audience engaged, you will lose the audience, and if you lose the audience, you lose the ability to make a living. Influencers are thus incentivized to create quality content that their audience wants to engage with and that means only working with brands that fit their persona and thus can authentically be woven into the fabric of their content. The system mostly polices itself.
Is being an influencer a real job?
I’ve met many marketers in my life and can confidently say that many influencers are as knowledgeable and talented as the best marketers I’ve encountered. The glamorous lifestyle that people see on their social feeds is not typically the reality behind the phone. Influencers work long hours and wear many hats, including marketer, accountant, salesperson and CEO of their personal empire. Its constant work building a personal brand and then effectively monetizing that brand to enable the work to be a full-time job is even more backbreaking. The respect I have for the businesspeople that influencers are is immense, and the backbone needed to not be taken advantage of by some of the largest, most powerful brands in the world is commendable.
What is the value influencers bring to society?
We have entered a world where independent contracting and self-employment is becoming commonplace, especially given the great work migration of the last few years. This, combined with a growing skepticism of large companies and a desire to learn and do things for oneself, has turned the internet into an education platform for every facet of life. People, especially younger generations, flock to TikTok, YouTube and Instagram to learn about personal finance, home renovation, healthy eating, proper fitness, gardening, language and an endless list of other tasks and passions. Prominent voices are emerging that can help the masses understand and act on this information, and these voices are becoming as trusted as professionals.
A personal finance influencer, for example, has significantly less monetary incentive on the actions each follower/viewer takes with their money than a professional financial advisor does with his/her clients, and thus often has more selfless intentions. So do they bring less or more value to the world than their “professional” counterparts? I don’t believe that’s for me or you to answer, the power is in the hands of the consumer in the actions they take, and every day more flock to social instead of professionals for their education.
Closing the loop on my dinner conversation, it likely took you much longer to read through my thought process than I took to answer the question posed to me, but the answer I provided was similar to many answers of moral compass: It depends. If my daughter is able to create value for a community on a topic that she is passionate about and can help others, then I would be honored for her to pursue that passion and turn it into a career.
I don’t believe we should have a negative reaction when kids express interest in future careers like influencer marketing. I think we should make sure their moral compass and intentions are admirable and contribute to society. For generations, we have prioritized money over all else when it comes to business and career growth. If we change that mentality to social impact and look closely at how each person is acting on that goal, I have a feeling we will all look at influencers differently.