Although the industry is gaining acceptance from brands, marketers, and businesses, some still experience what we at Fohr call "the ick" when discussing influencers.
So, when will individuals identifying as influencers be given the same level of respect as the industry? How can we help to redefine what ‘influencer’ means?
Why the ick?
Anecdotally, there are a few well-known tropes: influencers are vain, vapid, and self-obsessed. Or, influencers are just in it for the cash grab, taking any brand deals they can without regard. Accounts like @influencersinthewild, with nearly 5M followers, perpetuate and mock these stereotypes.
In an article by The Washington Post, they sum it up like this: "For me and maybe for you, the term 'influencer' conjures up a conceited young woman posting endless Instagram selfies. Or we think of influencers as spreading garbage information or doing stupid stunts for attention."
On a personal note, before I took this role at Fohr, I proudly touted ‘the ick,’ and considered myself un-influencable.
After introspection and a few months working here, I realized it boiled down to envy. Truthfully, we all want that type of attention. What did these people have that I didn’t? What gives them that star quality? How did they masterfully construct their lives in a way people wanted to tune in, like their very own Truman Show?
I've since had my mind changed, and my perspective widened. Slowly, through this new environment at Fohr, I was shown that influence is not always negative. It doesn't change who I am at my core but instead changes some of my everyday choices.
It opened my eyes to the accounts I followed that genuinely influenced me for the better: creators who dared to be vulnerable online and share their interests, thoughts, and expertise with the world. I started noticing more and more that I followed influencers who promoted healthy habits, shared educational resources, and changed perspectives.
Beyond the word, it's a business
We've repeatedly addressed the negative connotation of influencers here at Fohr. We interviewed DonYe Taylor in episode 11 of Negronis with Nord about this exact phenomenon, titled 'Redefining the Word Influencer.'
In the episode, she admits feeling reluctant to introduce herself as an influencer because of the negative connotation and actively trying to redefine it.
"I think influence is more related to using your persuasion, like the gift of persuasion, to get somebody to take a positive action, whether that be to change their lifestyle or change how they think about themselves."
In the episode, DonYe challenges influencers to earn that respect by changing the conversation and nailing down the messaging of who and how you influence: “I’m introducing myself as a business, you know what I mean? I'm introducing myself as a brand instead of saying, ‘Oh yeah, I'm an influencer.’ It's like, what are you influencing?”
And the conversations will have to continue to slowly shift culture.
In honor of her new book Extremely Online, Taylor Lorenz was interviewed for a piece by The Washington Post headlined, "Influencer is a dirty word. It shouldn't be." She says in the article: "Maybe more than any other quality, successful influencers are great at cultivating a connection with people and creating a feeling of camaraderie and belonging."
But we aren't just envious of influencers for the attention they garner or their ability to build communities - it's for their financial success, too.
Spoiler: Consumers weren’t deterred by #ads
What about the making money that causes a supposed 'ick'?
There was another lesson to be learned here. Not only do influencers create a sense of belonging in their communities and positively impact those they reach, but their followers also want to be influenced in their purchasing decisions.
This article from Fortune writes, "Not only did their followers not seem to care that their posts were sponsored, but some engaged with sponsored content at an even higher rate when labeled as such."
Fohr's founder & CEO, James Nord, stated for Fortune: “What we misjudged is that audiences actually thought it was cool that brands they knew and respected were working with creators that they respected and followed."
“What we misjudged is that audiences actually thought it was cool that brands they knew and respected were working with creators that they respected and followed."