A few nights ago I posted on my Instagram stories a few thoughts about the social media platform and the issues around the sponsorship/influencer aspect of it.
Turns out, A LOT of you had A LOT of thoughts about it as well, so I decided to collate those thoughts into one blog post.
In the past few days I’ve been reflecting on it, and looking to other influencer’s opinions (and defences) of what they do, so I’ll add that on here as well.
So here goes…
Influencers and sponsored posts made followers question their sincerity…
Practically everyone who took the time to engage in this conversation spoke of how frustrated they were when an Instagrammer that they really liked (because of engaging content) suddenly started making every second post a sponsored post. Many commented on how insidious it could be, they didn’t even realise it was a sponsored post until they looked at the hashtags, or they were following along on an IG story and the end of it was neatly wrapped up with a link to a product/service etc. Everyone said that this made them unfollow the account and that it made them feel heartbroken, frustrated and upset. It appeared that many felt they’d been betrayed by a “genuine” Instagrammer, and now all the sponsored posts put this into question. How sincere can one be when they are being paid to push a product? Can we really trust that the influencer genuinely likes the product and would use it themselves had it not been for the money? Many believed it was almost impossible to have sincerity where money/sponsorship was involved. Are we expecting too much from influencers? Shouldn’t we just accept that this is a reality, and that maybe influencers with lots of followers should be entitled to sponsors and freebies?
I don’t know. Sometimes I see parent/family influencers literally take sponsored HOLIDAYS. It actually makes me feel sick to see it. That they have no qualms with being made into marketing tools, and taking their kids along for the ride. And these are families/parents that I actually liked! That I thought were genuine! Whose sincerity I trusted in! Does the fault lie with me though for trusting an online figure in the first place? Maybe the issue is that the basis by which many of these influencers accrue followers is by being “genuine”. By being “real”. By being “honest” about their lives and struggles and so on. So is it really my fault for trusting in them? IS IT?
Despite this, a lot of people also acknowledged that Instagram allowed them to find great products that they never would have found without it. So maybe what we need are influencers who are ACTUALLY GENUINE. Who have a strong sense of self and dedication to their values and who sincerely want to share a fantastic and beneficial product with their followers (is this like, hopelessly idealistic/unrealistic/impossible?) This leads us to the next big idea which is that…
Businesses benefit greatly from giving freebies and doing sponsored posts…
Both big and small businesses seem to benefit hugely from giving a freebie to an influencer. It seems to come with the expectation/assumption that a freebie would be shared on the influencer’s page in some way. Many small businesses expressed that it was an important element of their marketing and that it had made a drastic impact on their brand reach and therefore, sales. One particular business owner expressed frustration with Instagram in general (in terms of how time consuming it can be), but conceded that it had given her business the exposure it needed, that sales increased, and that this gave her the opportunity to employ refugees, many of them widows. A free product given to an influencer can make all the difference for a small business and therefore, the employees’ lives.
There were some small businesses who did express uncertainty about how to navigate this new form of marketing, and how they could do it with sincerity, without offending influencers when asking them to do a review of their products, or a sponsored post and so on.
And speaking of benefit to people’s lives, influencers themselves spoke up…
Influencers expressed the quagmire that sponsored posts and freebies left them in, in terms of businesses preferring to throw a free product at an influencer rather than actually paying them for a post. A lot of time, effort, creativity and skill is invested in producing one image to put on Instagram and influencers were frustrated that (particularly big) businesses did not acknowledge this, nor did they think it was worth paying for. What made it even worse was that these same businesses would then use these images (featuring their products) in their own marketing without asking for permission from the influencer/photographer, or paying them for it.
Despite this, influencers made sure to assert that this platform had given them incredible opportunities to connect with businesses and opportunities that they otherwise could not have come across, and that it gave them an opportunity to use their creativity to support themselves and their families financially.
They did acknowledge though that many, many influencers were not genuine. That the reason why businesses felt that they could simply throw a product at them without having to actually pay for what is effectively advertising, was because for every influencer who asserts their right to get paid fairly, there are ten other influencers willing to take the freebie and feature it on their accounts, whether or not they genuinely liked the product.
Influencers also wanted people to stop criticising Instagram because…
One particular influencer that I follow myself shared an article about the need for people to stop slagging off Instagram (I can’t for the life of me find it anymore) because it was a unique way for creatives to be well, creative! She discussed how it pushed her to see and appreciate the beauty in their everyday lives, and more so, to be able to see and create a story through their photographs. She didn’t agree that capturing it in a photograph and sharing it hindered her ability to appreciate this beauty, and the moment. In fact, she felt that having that intention to share and capture was what made her see the beauty and the running threads between them.
To some extent I do agree. Since I’ve been on Instagram I have felt that opportunity to flex my creative muscles, and the joy in creating a story that was visually appealing but also added value to others’ lives. But I also believe that it comes at a cost. It drains your time and mental energy. And whenever I pick up my phone/camera to capture a moment I am reminded of that scene in the film “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” where the photographer (Sean O’Connell) spies a snow leopard (which is a feat because they are very rare) and rather than capture it with his camera, he simple watches it. When Ben Stiller’s (Walter Mitty) character asks in disbelief why?!! he didn’t take the picture, the photographer replies:
“Sean O’Connell: Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.
Walter Mitty: Stay in it?
Sean O’Connell: Yeah. Right there. Right here… Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.”
Like, whoa. Right? Sometimes I think a moment needs to reside only in our memories, and not in a photograph. The magic of that moment is felt fully and completely, and when our children ask about them later (like the moment they were born) we can relate it to them orally, and allow their imaginations to fill in the gaps. Isn’t that more beautiful then simply handing over a photograph?
What some people mentioned was the impact of all this on the younger generation…
I think that thus far though, the demographic we are talking about are 25 and over, adults who hadn’t grown up with Instagram, and were generally more mature and had more clarity as to why they used Instagram and what they wanted from it, whether that be the sense of community and connection that it can (and does) provide, to finding great/beneficial products for themselves and their families, and even getting educational/self-help/health/food etc ideas and inspiration.
And how they believed that growing up in this world of insidious marketing and photoshopped lives depicting unrealistic lifestyles and people and physical appearance and material wealth was having a catastrophic impact on our youth. Growing up with something like social media is having a crippling effect on young people whose lives are governed by what people think of them, and the image they present to their peers, along with FOMO, cyber bullying and so on. Constantly having these images of unattainable perfection is creating a crisis amongst our youth, and many studies show that since the creation of Facebook, depression amongst our youth has escalated (this is backed by stats).
Ultimately it is a difficult and messy web to untangle. I myself have tried multiple times to let it go, to delete the app, to stop using it. I’ve shared my struggles on social media. I’ve discussed it with family and friends and other influencers. I’ve read all the analyses of the social, physical, biological, spiritual impacts of social media use on us. And I wholeheartedly agree with them.
Each time I take a break from it however I must admit that I begin to feel lonely. Not to mention that it has afforded me personally connections with some incredible people, people I would not have met if not for instagram. More than this though, it has given me to opportunity to reach out and connect with anyone, everyone, mothers, women, youths, and be able to ruminate about life’s challenges and positives, and to even impact them in some way. Positively I’d hope 🙂
So my conclusion essentially is that, I have no answer to this social media mess. In some way I think that it has just become a part of our lives, that this IS what the future looks like so maybe we need to learn the best way to navigate our way through it, that we need to take it back into our own hands and do with it what we want, in the way we want, and for the right reasons, to make a positive difference in people’s lives.
That’s the idealistic part of my thoughts.
Then there’s the cynical/realistic side that thinks maybe it’s just too much of a monster where the harm far outweighs the benefit and we should just stop using it altogether to assert how unhappy we are with it. And to find other better, more real ways to connect with people and make a true impact on their lives.
So, I’m putting it to you… what do you think? Where are you at in terms of how you navigate social media?
Featured image via Andrei Lacatusu