I have a new pet peeve.
Or, more importantly, people who deign to refer to themselves as an influencer.
Yes, them. They are my official new pet peeve.
The word first registered in my conscience on a Facebook page that I am (though probably should no longer be) a member of. It’s from when I had the business, so there’s a bridal slant to it. We’ll leave it at that. Anyway, it’s a place where fellow industry people ask for advice/suggestions/recommendations etc… etc… In essence, for a bunch of people who are largely self-employed and work alone or in small groups, it’s a sounding board. It’s the place you go when you want to sense check if you’re over reacting or being a bit of an idiot.
Anyway, long story short (that avoids naming and shaming and revealing the full glory of a so-called self-appointed ‘influencer’ and ‘celebrity’ that I had to Google and still have no flipping clue of who they are), they wanted a load of wedding stuff for free. In return for instagram coverage and tweets. Their instagram account is not one that you’d immediately think of to follow if you were planning a wedding. In fact, you’d be hard pushed to find anything on it that hints a wedding is being planned. But send free cake. And flowers. Obvs.
This is nothing new. Well I suspect it is relatively, in that it’s very much a social media led thing, so pre Facebook/Twitter/Snapchat/Instagram (I think Vine has gone away now) I’m not sure this would have been quite so blatant – you would have at least had to go to a press day or something – but this asking for free stuff does appear to have reached new dizzying heights.
One of my favourite people in the world (she doesn’t know it, but now I’ve outed myself, I am a fan can I have some free stuff please*), is owner of Anges de Sucre, Reshmi Bennett who not only makes the most amazing cakes, but isn’t afraid to call out people asking for free stuff. I direct you to one of her blog posts here which you absolutely should read.
*IN CASE IT NEEDS SPELLING OUT, I’M JUST KIDDING.**
(**Though send macaroons should you want to.)
This blog post that she’s written hints at how much people value themselves, when perhaps it’s not worth that much.
I have no problem with people earning a living from advertising for companies via social media. My eyes have been opened to loads of amazing brands thanks to instagram, twitter and pinterest that I would never have heard of before. I am here to be influenced! But I don’t want you to refer to yourself as an influencer. Refer to yourself as a journalist, or a designer, or (and I know it’s a bit noughties) blogger. Be open about when you are paid to advertise something. Don’t even get me started on the conflicts of interest that derive from you being paid by a company throughout the year to push their products and are also paid to write somewhere else (look, when I was 19 I worked for a very large record brand as a student rep… I also worked as music writer on my student paper… my bands got some GOOD press from me before I realised quite how immoral it was. Though they were good bands. One of them even had a hit single once. It was a cover version, but still….).
The problem is, it all gets murky. Of course if I get something for free I think it’s brilliant (once at 5pm on a Sunday passing a Millie’s Cookies stall in the shopping centre, I was offered a huge bag of cookies FOR FREE. They tasted so much better than if I’d paid for them I swear. I mean, I never would have paid for them. I like cookies, but not enough to actually spend my own money on them…). Influencers take things further still… not only do they get it for free, some savvy PR company will sometimes give them money to say it’s brilliant too! EVEN BETTER! But they aren’t always open about it. Hashtag spon. Hashtag ad. I’m a consumer, I consume. I am happy to have my eyes opened to products and shops that I never even knew existed. The internet and social media is magic. (I’d like to add, that several of my absolutely favourite instagrammers, who influence me daily but do not use that word, are very open about sponsored posts. And that is why they are my favourites. I can see it’s sponsored. There’s an honesty. I appreciate honesty). But please be honest. In business, if you’re given lots of things by a company you have to declare it. They can be taxable. They can certainly cause a conflict of interest. But whilst they are very much businesses these platforms, they aren’t open to the same rules and regulations. Whilst some people openly declare a post or a feature as sponsored (which means they have been paid for it), some don’t. Or write it in VERY small letters at the end. We need to be open about this. I suspect industry regulation is not going to happen here, but we, the consumer (the influenced) need to open our eyes to it a lot.
I don’t want it to stop! I love the evolution of advertising and media, it’s brilliant, it’s immediate, and it fills me day with interesting things that I didn’t know about or have never seen before. HOWEVER. CAN WE PLEASE NOT USE THE I WORD. AN INFLUENCER IS NOT A THING. SOMEONE WHO CALLS THEMSELVES AN ‘INFLUENCER’ IS IN FACT 2017’s MARKETING TOOL. People have harnessed social media to make a living. It’s brilliant. I am all for the rise of this, however, the only influencers are the people who set the trends. Them sitting there in head offices. It’s them that set the trend, and they filter down to us via ADVERTISING.
To be given free stuff and to tell everyone how great it is, is not the same as actually believing it to be great. It is not the same is starting a trend. It’s just spreading it.
This is a larger problem with younger ‘grammers. Which I accept, I am not the target market of. Lord, I envy them their eyebrows (having over plucked mine in the ’90s and never having been able to recreate the overgrown look that is the fashion now), but not a lot else. I am proudly RUBBISH at selfies. I am not that generation. I do not know my angles, and I firmly follow a series of women who have lives that are not dissimilar to my own, or people who make pots (my instagram, my rules). But if anyone calls themselves an influencer? You’re not. You yourself are influenced by a well oiled PR machine that adapts and changes quicker than we do. That’s how it works.
Please note, Millie’s Cookies had no influence in the writing of this article. They were good free cookies, but I don’t think I’ve bought one since. And the chances are high that I won’t again.