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The Straits Times

Much Ado About Influence

While the word is most frequently used to refer to popular bloggers, influencers can also be actresses, DJs, socialites, gym buffs, and even CEOs” (Rise of the Influencer, Bryna Singh).

It is easy to scoff at “influencers”, especially when some describe their ability to impact lives “because of [their] following” and influence on “how youth think” (Jan. 4, ST) . This business of influencing, which requires online personalities to amass a huge following, find a niche, and eventually advertise products and services through popular social media platforms, appears shallow and superficial to many. These influencers may couch their intent in cosier terms – “to help [readers] tide through whatever they are facing”, to use their “fame and power for good” – yet the enterprise remains driven by the allure of fame and fortune.

But we doth protest too much, methinks. Besides little to no harm done these are social and commercial transactions after all, and the fact that individuals use their content for lifestyle choices should count for something. Such hedonism seems inevitable in a society overwhelmed by consumerism, and if reckon that the desire for “status and to be seen with the ‘right thing'” – in the words of Professor Mohan Dutta of the National University of Singapore – is problematic, then “influencers” are merely symptoms. For a long time “actresses, DJs, socialites, gym buffs, and even CEOs” have peddled advertisements and endorsements, to few protests.

Unlike these personalities, perhaps our scepticism with new-age “influencers” stems from their relative lack of real-world accomplishments. Their supposed fame is backed by arbitrary milestones which may be fleeting in the long-term.

For the moment at least, businesses are happy with the phenomenon, willing to adequately remunerate these “influencers”. And that matters the most. Of course the companies ST interviewed spoke effusively about the services they engaged, though marketing to the young ones through virtual platforms – as opposed to the traditional ones – is intuitive. More affordable too. These companies will also do well to track their returns on investment. Amidst the brouhaha, we forget that agencies such as Gushcloud and Nuffnang are still start-ups feeling their away around a fledging industry.

We could quibble over how “influencers” define and style themselves, yet some credit is due. Preferences – of lifestyles, of reading, of engagement – are relative, and it can be unfair to dismiss “influencers” in this regard. And in this vein it would do us good to embrace such diversity too.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.

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