Beyond the screen: There’s more to being an influencer than meets the eye


Jack Donnelly

Influencers have become an integral part of the modern–day PR industry. With their thousands of online followers, they can help build a brand, launch a new company on to the map or elevate the unknown into a household name.

Their impact can be seen across all forms of media. Television programmes such as Love Island can create celebrities that emerge from the vanity villa as polished products ready to promote clothes, make–up and other commodities that we as the general public want or think we need. They craft lucrative deals with radio stations and television companies to front shows in the hope that their personal following will come to platforms – an understandable perspective when traditional forms of media are seeing their readership and audience share collapse.

Summertime bodies, sun–kissed skin, perfect abs, squat–sculpted bums and with outfits that at times leave little to the imagination, these Love Island ‘stars’ breed envy across their social media garnering thousands of likes, exclusive collaborations and become the living desire of what many people wish to be. But there’s a question that has been asked repeatedly – is this healthy? Is this a bad influence on people who cannot differentiate between what is fake and what is real? Is this now the only way brands can ‘cut through’?

At the start of 2023, Forbes reported that influencers sold $3.6 billion of goods (just under £2.8 billion pounds) on the shopping platform LTK in 2022. This is a staggering amount of money for products that I would question whether said influencer actually used or believed in. But does this matter when you’re being offered considerable amounts of money to flog an eye–liner or aftershave? You’ve got to ask yourself: would you turn down these opportunities if they were offered to you?

Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way questioning the integrity of all influencers and I believe that their work holds great merit. These people are entrepreneurs and when you think about it, are living, breathing businesses. They spend time building their own brand, understanding what their customers want and then delivering that to them. What’s the difference in your local gastro pub sourcing the best ingredients, best drinks, best staff and over years building a reputation of quality food and service, and an influencer producing content curated over years for your aural and visual pleasure?

Many people who criticise influencers say that they are fake and disingenuous. I had two experiences recently where I was in the company of a male and female influencer, on separate occasions, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. At a concert in Dublin, I was dumbfounded when three women asked for a photo of a friend of a friend. I politely asked my cousin’s fiancé, “I wonder how they know each other?”, to which she replied “oh, she’s an influencer.” Who knew I was in the presence of social media royalty. Another instance I saw an elderly lady ask a man I was working with could he go and say hello to her daughter as she “just loves all your videos [on Instagram]”. He went up to the girl, took a photo and it made the little girl’s evening. Everyone went away happy.

With experiences like these, brands would be mad not to monetise the cult of personality. People trust influencers, follow them, like them – hell, maybe they even adore them – and the impact this can have on a brand can be staggering. People trust what influencers say. They believe that this product is tastier than its closest competitor, even if it isn’t, that this concealer is more sustainable than the next, even if it’s not and the latest gym wear that their toned and tanned video god has donned while going for their morning run, is the most aerodynamic. If the brand is good and to borrow a phrase from a well–known wood varnish brand, ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’, then coupling with an influencer is win–win for all. Especially the consumer if a tailored discount code is provided.

For these partnerships to be successful, there needs to be a mutual understanding of what a brand is and what it stands for, and what an influencer can provide and what the brand wants them to deliver. Understanding the brand’s brief is paramount but there must also be a collaborative understanding that an influencer is a creative and has cultivated their audience over time and with attention. A genuine and authentic match should see alliances that allow for creative freedom that will resonate with followers, the target audience and prospective customers.

All in all, influencers are not going away and any brand that teams up with one that is commercially prudent and professional will reap the dividends. Although the use of the phrase “I AM OBSESSED!” does give me the ick and makes me scroll on. That said, what annoys me may be catnip to others.

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