In the ever-changing, fast paced world that is social media, we are seeing regular people becoming ‘influencers’ constantly.
Before I begin, it’s important to define what an ‘influencer’ is. The term influencer is a spin off idea from the term entrepreneur in the sense that they’re not necessarily creating a company, but a brand or online persona that generates income and success. A formal definition would be
“A person with the ability to influence potential buyers of a product or service by promoting or recommending the items on social media”
This definition, while suggesting influencers’ sole purpose is to influence followers to buy a specific product from a paid sponsorship, isn’t always the case. Sometimes influencers will post content to generate more impressions and engagement to their social channels but do so without promoting a product. Don’t be fooled however, the only reason they’re posting useless videos is to
1) generate more of a following to reach a larger audience when it’s time to promote a product,
2) because applications pay you for getting views.
While one might assume this is a phenomenon that happens over night, one evening you post a video, and the next morning you wake up to millions of views. And while this is incredibly common with applications like Tik Tok including complex, updating algorithms that allow random people to ‘blow-up’ easily, that doesn’t necessarily mean the followers, and overnight ‘fame’ will stick.
While in the past we’ve seen situations where this theory is proven wrong, for example, ‘Alex From Target’. In this case, a male teenage cashier at Target was photographed without his knowledge as he was bagging items for the customer. This picture was tweeted and blew up overnight, resulting in Alex’s social media being discovered and even him being a guest on the Ellen Show. History demonstrates ‘overnight’ virality can result in 10 seconds of fame, or a little more considering the Ellen Show gets around 1.5 million viewers, however, who knows what ‘Alex from Target’ is up to now? Nobody, because the fame didn’t stick.
On the other hand Tik Tok and similar applications are a successful medium for consistent fame, but it’s harder than it looks. Going viral once is one thing, but it’s another thing to keep those followers interested, stay consistent, interact with your audience, and find out what they want to see. Recently, we’ve seen an uptick in the social virality of influencers primarily from Tik Tok and although they’re young and sometimes controversial for the reasons they’re ‘famous’ (aka cringey Tik Tok dances), it’s undeniable they are entrepreneurs. If you think about the thousands of viral videos you’ve watched in the past, out of all of them, do you even know the name of the creator? What they are up to now? Anything relevant? No. The difference between ‘overnight’ virality and this new wave of Tik Tok influencers is the entrepreneurial characteristics they hold. Not only do they specifically target their audience, but they know how to market, advertise, stay relevant, and make millions of dollars….which they flex and show off to their followers…the ones who….um….got them there? It’s a complicated and strange relationship these influencers have with their young fan bases, but they know what works.
So what does work? How do regular people become influencers? We’re so quick to mock these cringey Tik Tok dancers, and ‘thirst traps’ but who really has the last laugh (if you’re talking about success and fame, dignity is another conversation)
Well, the whole reason these influencers do so well is because they possess traits of an entrepreneur. Like we learned in class, entrepreneurs obtain characteristics of creativity, planning, knowledge, social skills, being open-minded, having a vision, and knowing their consumers. It’s undeniable that these influencers poses mirror-like characteristics, they know what drives engagement to create retention, they are constantly following market trends (or if successful enough, creating trends), they’re sociable and likable, they constantly research algorithms and expand their knowledge on how their respective application is updating or innovating. They both know what works for them and their business by marketing it for their targeted audience. A brand like GymShark knows they’re primary audience is young adults who enjoy working out, but influencer Vinne Hacker, knows his audience is pre-teens and teenage girls who find him attractive. Therefore, as GymShark markets to fitness lovers, by promoting athletic wear, Vinne uses his body synced with suggestive audios, and markets to teenage girls, both brands resulting in more traffic, more impressions and either buying the product (in regards to GymShark) or buying Vinne’s image or a product he says is cool.
But that’s the other side of the conversation, brands. Influencers, while sometimes actually being innovative and creating a brand or product, are always their own product. Being an influencer is their brand. For example, Sienna Mae, while currently controversial, has a brand to protect, that of being an influencer who used to be known for body positivity and inclusivity. Although she hasn’t physically created a product or label, she is her own brand and the intangible item she promotes was an inclusive body type. On the other hand, we see influencers like Tana Mongeau who (in my opinion thanks to the help of a Tik Tok trend marketer) created an alcoholic cooler. This was a genius and well-thought out marketing move on her part considering her online brand is going clubbing, partying, doing drugs and then doing it all over again. This was a great idea because her fanbase enjoys her crazy stories and partake in similar activities. Therefore, while all influencers are their own brand, we often also see influencers creating a physical product on top of their brand. Often, they leverage this fame and following to eventually create a product, generating more revenue and more followers. It’s really a never ending cycle. You could even take this a step further in researching services influencers provide. For example, internet influencer Jake Paul was offering an online course that will “help you become social media famous”. As controversial as Jake Paul is, he also used his brand to appeal to his target audience. It is deemed so desirable to want to become an influencer, making millions of dollars, hanging out with celebrities, even being a celebrity yourself. Jake knew his followers were interested in fame and how to achieve it. Therefore he used his followers and money to create this online service. Again, his brand but pushing that into an intangible service, but he knew would do well because of his targeted demographic.
Influencers really do have a sixth sense if they’re the type of influencer who’s focused on keeping fame. For example, influencers do their research on social media. Examples of this include finding the optimal time of day to post content, (which varies on each platform), discovering applications like Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook are pushing video content to become more like Tik Tok, seeing as though Tik Tok just surpassed Google for the most used web application. And (if they’re somewhat of an ethical influencer) discovering brands and sponsors to work with that your audience will love and you (meaning the influencer) actually value. Now, some would argue that a trend is considered popular songs or catchy phrases. And while that is true, that’s more of a ‘overnight’ viral characteristic. Actually understanding trends within the market, i.e. apps pushing video content, is a great example of influencers looking ahead and planning to continue to create content that does well. That’s what separates ‘overnight’ fame from fame that sticks.
Another layer to influencers includes their ability to promote products and services, the sole purpose of the title influencer, influencing consumers to buy. For example, many companies like HelloFresh, Manscaped, and Ipsy are all subscription based services. They offer subscribers a box or kit typically every month that contains products the ve consumer is interested in. A recent uptick has been influencers promoting Audible, an online program that allows users to have books read to them. Recently, Influencers have begun partnering with these brands, in a business exchange. Influencers agree to promote the brand’s products or services (whether it’s actually a good product or not) resulting in the company getting more purchases, while the company pays the influencer for the ‘shout out’. While the companies being promoted are following a subscription business model, the influencer gets paid both a flat rate and commission based on how many of their followers purchased the product typically with a specific discount code. Therefore there is incentive for the influencer to choose items their audience would actually buy, but if the flat rate being offered is hefty, all bets are off.
Overall there is an established difference between influencers and one time virality. Influencers work hard for their earrings and are underestimated when in reality they are constantly analyzing market trends, targeted demographics, and staying consistent all of which helps them thrive. And while this isn’t the case for every influencer, it’s obvious when looking at an influencer if they’re really dedicated to their fan base, or if they just want to keep generating the income, or maybe both. They are entrepreneurs in almost every sense besides not always having a company or product to sell, they’re constantly selling their brand. They’ve done an incredible job and I’m curious to see how influencers will continue to shape and take over the future of social media.
What do you think? Are Influencers considered Entrepreneurs? Are they not? Let me know below!