0283F: Social Influenza

R4vi from London, UK [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]
A local resort in Siargao is making the social media rounds this week after they posted a strongly worded critique of "influencers" pestering them with requests for free stays in exchange for whatever it is influencers are supposed to give businesses. It ended with a strong rebuke for such influencers to get "real jobs" and naturally this has stirred the pot when it comes to this odd aspect of social media.

This is not the first time we've seen a hospitality establishment complain about influencers making ridiculous demands in exchange whatever social clout or publicity their visits are supposed to guarantee, but it's certainly one of the first of its scale of virality in the local scene. And the viral wave is largely defined by people talking about who was right or wrong in this situation.

It's easy to criticize influencers - or at least what the industry terms to be "micro-influencers" who have smaller, more niche enclaves of followers instead of big-time celebrities. They're the ones who are trying to make a name for themselves by hustling like mad and being open to almost any deal in exchange for opportunities. Some just try to get on the mailing lists for different marketing or PR agencies so that they stand a better chance of getting invited to events and receive promotional items for review or just bragging rights.

Ironically these smaller players don't start with influence or networks of contacts - more often than not they started with nothing and just decided to pursue the influencer life as a possible career. Many are still juggling full-time work to pay the bills. Others have other sources of income (e.g. family) that enable them to commit to this more fully as they build an audience.

But is that really influence? How does one measure influence? We know that the number of followers does not immediately equate to influence since it's hard to determine how many of one's followers are real. Moreso the ever-changing game of social media content curation where the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter control what people see in their news feeds and timelines based on what they think is most appealing to the user but also opening the door to paid ads when targeting aligns with demographics.

And that's where the problem lies. On the one hand, I suppose we should give them some credit for trying to take this whole thing as seriously as one possibly can. On the other hand, is it just plain foolish to try to make a living out of, well, living the most Instagrammable life one can? Is the profession, if we can even call it that, flawed or is it more about a subset of people. Should people be able to just decide to become influencers or should we limit this definition to people who already have some degree of social sway whether online or offline?

Who knows, really?