The Problem With the Influencer Generation

The existence of social media has inevitably brought about a new demographic of users and creators, many of whom rely entirely on digital platforms to push a product or promote their brand. And while the business side of this industry may be thriving, the social ramifications that have been introduced through these digital mediums are showcasing a whole new kind of issue that younger generations must now navigate.

Instagram & Twitter

Though no one would dare argue the fun and unique connectivity that is provided through social sites like Instagram and Twitter, there’s also no denying that they have brought about a plethora of problems for young people who haven't had the fortune of knowing adolescence without the presence of a cell phone. Instagram, for example, allows users to capture their lives through the lens of an iPhone camera. While the concept might sound light in theory, others have learned how to capitalize on the business prospects that can be provided through it. Thus, the role of ‘influencer’ was born.

Influencer

In marketing terms, an influencer is defined as a person who can influence potential buyers of a product or service by promoting the items on social media. The role has spread far beyond the days of celebrity infomercials, though. Now, many are using social apps and sites to garner a general following and expand on their brand potential by partnering with different companies to promote products and services, like airlines, tourism organizations, hotels, and even unique culinary experiences. Though some influencers often aren’t influencers at all. Photographers, writers, artists, and bloggers have learned how to adapt the role as a “side job,” which allows them to get more funding and more of an audience for their work.

While even I can admit that the gig sounds appealing; I mean, who wouldn’t want to get paid to travel and promote products, services and places on behalf of brands? I’ve also had a front-row seat to see how this career often sends an unsettling message to some younger users. And how overall, it is encouraging generations to associate their idea of success to something as unsubstantial as Internet fame, rather than to find it through fulfilling work that capitalizes on their unique talents and capabilities.

Life of Dreams

The influencer culture tries to sell the notion that to live the life of your dreams, you should strive to be famous and make that the basis of your brand and market. Even scrolling through my current Instagram feed, I’m stunned at the number of high schools and college-aged women who I follow that post photos of products or outfits, and then encourage their following to “use a code” to get a certain percentage off of a product or service. What have we come to as a society when junior high girls are now referring to themselves as “brand ambassadors” in their social bios, and are ad-tagging their posts?

Social media is entertaining; while I respect the role of the influencer – trust me, I’ve worked in PR for several years, I completely understand the work that goes into creating a brand entirely off of yourself and admire the dedication of those who make it happen. But, I’m still concerned about the greater issue at-hand when we, as a world, continue to expose children to the already-damaging effects of social media, which are only heightened thanks to the ‘influencer generation.’

We need to move away from this idealization of self-absorption and re-encourage youth to strive to be talented, rather than just to be famous. To strive to create content that inspires others and that promotes cultural change, rather than to just create memes that might garner retweets and temporary Internet fame. To strive to encourage innovation by developing their business-changing products and services, rather than to just secure enough Instagram followers to serve as a brand influencer for someone else. To strive to capitalize on their uniqueness, their craft and their one-in-a-million mind, rather than to just fill in the career mold of what social media and the Internet tries to sell as real success.