The power of social media can sometimes feel too fleeting, too ephemeral, to have lasting impacts. Daily at Fohr, we work to create beautiful, thoughtful content to post on Instagram, TikTok, etc., and sometimes I wonder—who does this serve? What is at stake? Where is this going? Does all this energy—brands, influencers, mine—just flutter into the abyss? Does our work actually have the potential to influence people and drive change? Scarier still: if it does have that potential, who is the subject of that influence, and to what end are they being influenced?
I see the marketing performance in our reports (and in decades of evolving media coverage)—impressions, engagement, clicks, sales—the accumulated economic impact is inarguable. Still, (and to inaccurately paraphrase 20th-century philosopher and poet Mike Tyson) data is just numbers on a page until you get punched in the face. Could something as fleeting and informal as an Instagram Story have real-life consequences, such as changing the habits of real people and impacting the decisions of actual communities?
In considering this, I took a look at my past online orders. I was startled (although subconsciously, not surprised) to see that 15 of my last 30 orders were inspired or driven directly by creators I follow. Wow—50% of my spending power had been influenced by social media and the creators I chose to follow without me realizing it! As I’m writing this, I can see the impact rippling through my home; I’m wearing the perfect white tee and gold eye masks @graceatwood recommended, a leather tissue box cover inspired by @farahpinkk is sitting on my table, I just took the vitamins @maddy_gutierrez_ posted in a previous Olly campaign and spritzed on the Fenty Eau Parfum @funmimonet is obsessed with.
For generations, corporations, cultural figures, and marketers have sought out, acquired, cultivated, and prided themselves on this type of influence over consumers’ choices. In that regard, the core of what “influence” is remains the same—the ability to inspire action, the power to persuade, the capacity to alter the trajectory of a choice—and it is all made possible by tapping into our innate human desire to become more like the people we admire. However, social media has shifted the foundation of this power dynamic by putting the power into the hands of everyday people, thereby democratizing influence by multiple orders of magnitude.
"The core of what “influence” is remains the same—the ability to inspire action, the power to persuade, the capacity to alter the trajectory of a choice"
Anyone with a cell phone can now capture and retain an audience more immediately than ever before. Individuals can wield the kind of social impact that inspires a community of followers to pay attention, learn new things, discover ideas, change mindsets, speak out, spend money, and more. As audience members, we participate in this cycle eagerly, seeking community to provide entertainment or a sense of belonging and purpose. The influencer’s power is not an illusion; it’s our reality.
Every influencer is—whether they acknowledge it or not—fired, as if out of a cannon, through a gauntlet of complex choices. They must determine what values they stand for, what worldview they model for their audience, how they add (or subtract) value, and who they align themselves with along the way. Most people are not used to this type of attention, scrutiny, or power. Understandably, it can be paralyzing at times. When your personal actions, choices, or silence can make or break your business, and you can be judged by a vast world of “critics” at any time, it’s easy to let fear creep into what you post, the deals you take, or what you promote.
Do you follow the status quo and “stay in your lane” or speak out about a cause you care about even though you may lose followers? Do you share about a product you know doesn’t work because the payday is big enough, or do you only promote products you believe in, even if it means losing out on financial rewards?
With this largely unmediated and unregulated power at their fingertips, how are we preparing this new generation of social-first leaders? To first comprehend the inherent gravity of their position and then to make choices that manifest a net-positive impact on the lives of the people who follow them.
In my role at Fohr, I have worked with hundreds of creators seeking advice on how to move past the aforementioned paralysis. I’ve observed that it all comes down to the power of individual choice—deeply understanding that every decision has a consequence and that when you can effectively embrace this agency, you tap into the superpower of your purpose in new, unexplored ways. Everything you choose to share and how you share it shapes your audience’s worldview through your implicit endorsement. Each decision has an impact beyond what analytics can measure.
Based on these deep-diving conversations with influencers, five pillars stand out as the most important considerations for responsible influencing. These build a foundation for creators to embrace the power of their choices, navigate an evolving social space with confidence, find abundance, and show up for their community in impactful ways.
5 Easy ways to balance the unbearable lightness of influencing
Define Your Purpose:
True influence is a function of deeply internalizing one’s purpose. Interrogate your internal voice—write the values guiding your choices and spell out the purpose you aspire to fulfill. What’s the best possible future you can imagine? Get clear on your non-negotiables.
Act from Your Values and Purpose:
Make decisions based on the things you took the time to call out as being the most important to you (your values and purpose) rather than temporary, reflexive, or circumstantial conditions such as fear, a scarcity mindset, or the need to prove yourself. Get really comfortable listening to your intuition rather than the voices around you. Helpful tools include writing it down, creating time for silence to make choices without distractions, and creating a consistent practice of listening to your gut.
When you’re being intentional, you’re acting on what matters. When you’re acting on what matters, you’re naming your priorities. When your priorities become clear to others, you have as good a chance as anyone else at being well-understood. Being understood is one of the prerequisites for compelling anyone else to want to follow along, join your cause, or root for you. Focus your time and energy on the content you deem most essential to share. Look for resources (such as supporting team members, outsourcing admin, managers, lawyers, or technology) to support the non-essential areas for you as the creator. This helps stave off burnout and protects your space for creative exploration.
Focus Not on Virality But on Authenticity:
Share your message as if the person watching is the only person in the room with you. This job is inherently personal, and you must be willing to be vulnerable. A genuine connection holds the potential for long-lasting impact versus short-term rewards. When you’re intentional and show up with authenticity, your choices are clear enough that others will want to get on board time and time again.
Keep Humanity at the Core:
Determine how you add value to people’s lives. Without adding value, you’re taxing society instead of contributing to it.
The power of social media is not an illusion; it is a gift. Being an influencer gives you the opportunity to embrace the power of your choices and see the ripple effect of your decisions on your community and beyond in real time. It can look like leading wide-spread cultural movements à la 15% pledge, allowing someone to feel comfortable talking about their mental health, sparking joy when a follower shares the perfect gift with their family, leaving your 9-to-5 to build a community that shares your passion, altering someone's perspective to help them build confidence, and a million other things.
It’s more than a post—it’s possibility. The possibility to encourage more grace, compassion, kindness, strength, and connection in the world.
Suzannah Tarkington is a Director of Client Services at Fohr, focusing on Sephora and the Sephora Squad ambassador program. For questions about this piece or any other comments, reach out to Suzannah at email@example.com.