There’s been quite a bit of discussion amongst media, marketing and PR professionals lately about the perceived rise of so-called social media ‘Influencers’ and the – dare I say it? – fall of journalists.
Some insist that Influencers are a fad, and judging by the recently articulated frustrations of an industry not truly being able to justify the ROI, on the high investments Influencers have too-quickly grown into requiring, they may well be right.
I said as much myself https://shahzadsheikh.wordpress.com/2016/05/13/end-of-the-influencer-is-nigh-and-thats-official/ – and I stick to what I wrote then.
However the fact is that it may not be as clear cut as all that, because journalism itself is suffering and there are signs that it may already have been damaged beyond repair – as highlighted here https://shahzadsheikh.wordpress.com/2016/08/08/journalism-is-dying-the-world-is-getting-dumb/
But let’s break it down into Journalist Vs Influencers shall we?
Journalists – in theory
They provide facts and information from a bedrock foundation of research, expertise and credibility. They’re unencumbered and are able to be independent, analytical and potentially critical – striving to bring their readers/viewers/listeners the truth.
Journalists – in reality
Most, if not all, journalists work for media organisations that are private entities which potentially have financial concerns, as well as their own political or commercial agendas.
Media outlets these days have far less resources than previously and journalists are paid cripplingly low salaries (with severely curtailed expense accounts).
Media organisations are often mired in legal shackles that give publishers pause for thought before risking costly liability.
And there’s always the chance of upsetting a big advertiser who then pulls what’s left of limited and dwindling advertising revenue.
Influencers – in theory
They are ‘one of us’ – they’re ordinary people ‘telling it how it is’. There’s little or no delay in them conveying information, which itself is completely candid and off-the-cuff, and you have access to them directly as they are on social media. They look like they’re ‘living the life’ and it seems entirely plausible that anyone could aspire to be in their shoes.
Influencers – in reality
In fact they’re professionals that are extremely adept at creating a brand around themselves. But for the most part they offer no credible analytical value to any content they produce because a) they are not trained or naturally inclined to do so and b) that’s really not what they’re actually about.
They’re simply there to grab some selfies and put up some posts and videos – none of which are usually as candid as you may think. Many of these Influencers now have managers who charge for them to even turn up at a press or other event – and there can sometimes be contracts many pages deep stipulating what they will or won’t, and what they can and can’t post.
Nonetheless, there seem to be more and more of them every time you scroll through your timeline, they’re pushing tons of content out there, and they’re making the big bucks.
So Influencers win then?
No, not exactly. Influencers are only ahead because of the very reasons that are so potentially negative in the eyes of traditional journalism.
They are easily managed and malleable – whether they are on a freebie or a under contract, it doesn’t behove them to be analytical, never mind actually critical, of any product, event or service they may be ‘covering’.
Organisations love this because it means they can fully control the tone and content of the output from Influencers.
The only problem is of course that no one can prove if these people are indeed influencing any audience that’s worthwhile or not, as follower numbers can easily be faked and even where there exists an audience, it’s the very young with very little disposable income.
So ultimately journalism will win out then, and this Influencer fad will indeed pass?
Not really, certainly not for now, because journalism is on its knees with a begging bowl in hand, whilst Influencers are out partying!
Even so, journalists tend to have a more substantial and even measurable impact on their audience – one that is mature enough to still look beyond Snapchat, and hence are decision-makers and money-spenders (which is what advertisers are really looking for).
The ‘Everybody wins, Everybody loses’ Scenario
There is a solution. For everyone involved. Though it’s a bitter pill to swallow.
And as with anything in human history, it’s more of a necessary evolution than a simple solution to a complex dilemma.
I believe that there will be an inevitable merging of these disparate entities much to the chagrin of both, as journalists’ get a little more mercenary and Influencers get a little smarter.
‘If you can’t beat them, join them’ goes the old adage. So, what if journalists stopped being so repulsed by the shenanigans of the Selfie-Specialists? What if they even learned to embrace them?
What if they became social media experts too?
And in fact journalists are actually in a slightly stronger position to be reclassified as ‘Influencers’ than the other way around because, as already mentioned, they are experienced and trained communicators with an established and truly influential reach into a meaningful audience.
Having said that, some Influencers are also straddling the gap already, by being smarter and more thoughtful about their content, as they strive to stand out in an increasingly, ferociously competitive arena.
So I think this fusion process has already begun, and we are already starting to see the emergence of ‘Journofluencers’!
Eek – sounds horrible right?
Well that’s because it is, even as it is inevitable.
Now, where’d I put that Selfie stick…?