The Evolution of Influence

The word “influence,” thrown around often in our society, was originally used to describe a celestial fluid that, flowing from the stars, would make its way to Earth and affect human decisions.

As the word changed meaning over time, the initial description still holds relevance as today’s influencers send messages and marketing to followers, impacting more and more of their decisions.

“Social media influencers” is a set of words we hear often — and if you’re on Instagram at all, you’ve probably bumped into them. They typically have glamorous, cohesive photos that follow a certain aesthetic or color scheme. Between photos of their booties, brunches, and babies, you might find a sponsored post or two. These are posts they’re paid to share, woven into their night routines and their eating habits, all in the hopes that they’ll convince us to buy their pushed products.

And statistics show it works.

We buy the Flat Tummy Tea, the SugarBearHair Vitamins. If Kendall Jenner tells us Proactive cured her acne, we believe it… and we want it. We aspire to be like those we see on social media, and marketing companies know and capitalize on this. Nearly $1 billion was spent on Instagram influencer marketing in 2017. That’s one billion advertising dollars given to “social media influencers” to impact the financial decisions of their followers.

What a dream it must be to have that influence? I mean, who doesn’t want to get paid to post? To be someone who can claim the title of “influencer” as a following grows? To influence thousands of people and their allegiance to brands? To affect the level of satisfaction and the decisions of the masses?

Fitness, self-care, and overall lifestyle are just a few areas in which influencers make a living by creating a vision to aspire for.

Behind generic messages of positivity and abstract references to “the hustle,” they promote a warped perspective of the American dream, financial stability, and reality. Of course, we all know that Instagram is glamorized, styled, and photoshopped, but we still chase it. We still yearn for it.

It’s easy to spiral into wishful thinking for this lifestyle, but there’s a lot to live up to. The truth is that social media is a tricky monster, and every illusion has its price. The monster who was so easily pleased before suddenly rears its ugly head, constantly morphing. Between the mysterious, ever-changing algorithms and fickle followers, it doesn’t take long to realize the power is not actually in the influencer… it’s in us, the follower.

Influencers hold a pseudo-power knowing that their value is dictated not only by entertaining their current following but also by drawing in new people. This is a necessary step for any business growth… but things get tricky when the product being sold is an individual’s life, words, and the ability to bring value. You see, they’ve monetized their own lives — so they stand on a tightrope, coaxing followers to stay engaged with comments and likes, while simultaneously convincing them to buy and believe the illusion.

We watch and we judge. We follow, like, and comment. We’re inspired, then repulsed or simply, disinterested. Finally, we unfollow. When they can no longer command our attention, we simply turn them off. Their numbers drop, their business suffers, their influence decreases and their voice goes silent.

Deep down we all want to be influenced, but we don’t know exactly what we want it to look like or where we want it to come from. Like the celestial fluids that might have flown from the heavenly bodies, trends come and go — intangible. We’re captivated, but we give out our attention, loyalty, and support as easily as we take it away. Today, social media influencers are the trend we’re captivated by, and tomorrow? Who knows.  

Based out of Los Angeles, Iona Brannon is a writer and photojournalist who deeply enjoys hearing the stories of others and drawing out the beauty of the mundane. Her hobbies include sitting in LA traffic and occasionally yelling at other drivers. You can see her work and connect with her at ionabrannon.com.

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