Really “Influence” Our Society?
Being an influencer is not something new. Charismatic people have been a magnet and an inspiration for followers, and for sellers consequently, ever since the beginning of humankind. Yup, this means influencers are here to stay in one way or another.
However, how much should we hold them responsible for the way they inspire us, for what they do, what they say, what they recommend, and what they stand for? Who can say if what they express is sustainable for our society? Does the size of the community even matter when it comes to accountability?
A debate about accountability
Some days back, we had a debate within the office concerning the accountability of one TV personality posting an image of a brand-new car parked on the beachfront, on his social media channel. Furthermore, the post seemed to be a promotional one. The discussion in the office became broader and even got polarized over the role of influencers in our society and if they should be accountable for what goes south lately in the world. Opinions were very diverse, with one colleague viewing things in a relaxed manner and stating that from a legal perspective, it is not a crime to park a car there. From his point of view, reactions were exaggerated.
Another colleague was pleading for responsible behavior from influencers, who sometimes serve as models for the public and felt that there should be a way to penalize such slips by us as agencies and by brands, which ultimately will be stained as well by the negative wave of feedback. Another opinion was in favor of tolerance and found that hate and judgmental attitude will not help or solve a situation.
So back to our influencer, with a solid image and mostly relevant communication so far, this one post probably reminded everyone of those kinds of people that bend or break the rules each summer at the seaside and get their 5 figures luxury car on the beach just to show off status and get attention. Or the kind that bends rules and laws in general…. All the comments to his post, hundreds, were instantly labeling and blamable, none were answered or moderated with explanations or attempt to calm the criticism wave, and media also picked up the topic to ride the wave of the audience while the news is hot. All in all, opinions were more in the direction of making the influencer responsible for perpetuating a wrong model of behavior and values that are not sustainable within our society.
Celebrity, a Swiss knife
Logic says that the bigger the exposure gets, the more prone one is to receive criticism over words and actions, just because not everyone agrees with their opinions or embraces the same vision and values. Celebrity is like a Swiss knife. It can bring great praise from the community and satisfaction with the sense of meaning and purpose, but it can also make you accountable for uninspired words or actions. Public reaction versus severity of one’s actions is not always proportional either.
We have so many examples of influencers over the years, promoting from superficial lifestyles to domestic violence, showing illegal substances usage, breaking the law in traffic, completely lacking empathy on social or geopolitical situations, or mocking the pandemic safety measures rules, and the list may continue. We say to ourselves okay, let’s face it, most of them are going to be forgotten within days, and then we move on to the next controversy. Or not. Did some of these slips stain their reputation? Did they get less of what they needed to remain an influencer, which is attention? Probably not always.
We were debating if we should hold influencers accountable for their slips. If they have an unintentional educational role in society, or if we should accept that they are popular for who they are and say, and these are their personal values and opinions that we should learn to accept.
At a personal level, each human being has the right to express their opinions and beliefs without being judged or criticized if this does not harm another person. Useless to talk about moral rules in these days when the notion of community and society has changed, and we learn to be inclusive and tolerant.
Water under the bridge or waves in the ocean?
How about influencers? Where do their rights for self-expression stop and the harm for others begin? Is it even a private matter anymore? Should they be aware that what they stand for today might have an effect on a category of people in the long run? Should we rest assured thinking that what they throw over the internet is just water under the bridge that will be instantly forgotten, or that people are responsible for what they read, choose to watch, and learn online? As I am sure you noticed, even though it intrigues us or sometimes exasperates us, some big communities are found with influencers with content that we consider to be of no added value, in other words, not quite sustainable. So, this means quite a lot of water under the bridge… the bridge might become flooded.
Personally, I think that all messages online are drops in a big ocean. They don’t just disappear, they form waves. I welcome the right to self-expression, and I also believe that influencers are humans and subject to fault. It is impossible to always have the best behavior, the best opinions, and the best advice when you are permanently exposed to praise and criticism, tailoring your reality. And when this becomes your way of life and earning your living, you might spend a lot of your time figuring out new ways to stay creative, ahead and come up with something new to inspire your community or to retain their attention. You also have, as an influencer, a certain background and more or less time and openness to learn and become aware of your impact on the world.
Owning your values
What could work is, as an agency, to stay connected to what influencers have to say. Open a constructive dialogue with them and clearly explain how their own image and that of the brands that believe in them and collaborate with them can be stained when associated with a harmful value. Ask them if they really believe in that idea or value or just got carried away by a trend. Act as a true consultant to your brands, pay attention to what can weaken their vision and harm their values when working with influencers. Guide brands to stay true and act transparently when their partners create situations that put their values at risk.
The public also has a role here, and that is to call out inconsistency and concepts that they feel don’t serve us as individuals or as a society. Offer an alternative or a different opinion and do this in a constructive way to maximize the chances for that message to be understood correctly by the influencer and the community.
This is how influencers can gain the opportunity to evolve into better versions of themselves as well, by their own will or by means of public pressure. And this is a way in which we as a society can benefit ultimately.
In other words, your opinion matters and might be worth sharing it with the world, occasionally. Would you consider expressing it?