Under (or over) the influence

The difference between a celebrity and an influencer

I’m not sure when we stopped using the word celebrity in favour of the word influencer, but I feel like it happened around the time Instagram took off. It seems that once you have several thousand followers, you’re an influencer. Which means you’re kind of a celebrity. Which means you’re famous. Which means … what exactly?

For one thing, it means you have an audience: your fanbase. You have authority: people who listen when you speak.

You could say that social media has democratised fame and influence. We don’t have to be rich or beautiful or talented in the conventional ways – finding our niche and growing our tribe is within reach of us all. We don’t have to be “discovered” to become famous – we can make our own fame.

On the other hand, when marketing talks about strategies around microinfluencers with a following of 10,000-100,000 and nanoinfluencers with a following of 1,000-10,000, the message is that the rest of us aren’t influencers at all. Because really, can there be anything smaller than a nanoinfluencer?

Much has been said about the danger of social media likes and followers determining our worth as individuals. In fact, enough has been said that Instagram decided to hide the number of post likes to show they were responding to these concerns. Still, influencer culture persists in seducing us.

We’re very much under its influence – and I’m kinda over that.

Why influencer culture is so seductive

To be honest, all of this cuts pretty close to home for me. I’ll admit I check my likes and stats, too, I get good vibes when something I post gets lots of likes – and at least a dash of disappointment when it doesn’t.

I don’t have any ambitions of becoming an Instagram sensation and commanding thousands, let alone millions, of followers. But if that happened without me trying, honestly I’d be pretty chuffed. Because deep down, I do on some level want what influencer culture seems to offer.

I want to be admired.

I want to be significant.

I want to speak into other people’s lives.

I want to know that this is within my reach although I’m not especially gifted.

And the part of me that wants this is in constant battle with the part of me that is determined never to sell out. Whether it’s online or in other behaviours, I can see that I am tempted to look for ways to feel admired, significant and influential. It’s futile and unhealthy.

Image credit: Oladimeji Ajegbile.

I suspect a lot of us wander this earth and this life feeling like we’re Nobody and we should be Somebody. That our true potential has not yet been awakened or discovered or recognised. And our natural response is to strive to be Somebody – to prove ourselves and reach our potential.

But seeking to be famous or an influencer is the wrong way to feed the desire we have for approval, significance and influence.

The truth(s) about influencers

I know but need to keep reminding myself that I – like each one of us – am made in the image of God. This crazy truth confers on me a value that cannot be measured in likes or in dollars. This crazy truth is why we speak about human rights and the dignity and worth of every child, woman and man.

Two truths that flow on from this:

  1. You are enough with your 100 followers. Hey, you’re enough with your mum and your dog (I know your dog has an Insta account!) following you on Instagram.

  2. Your voice matters whether you have a million Instagram followers or none at all. Whether you’re even on social media or not.

When you counsel a friend through a rough time, when you rave to your colleagues about a restaurant or brand you’ve discovered, when you speak up against injustice to one person or to one million – you are using your influence.

When you gossip, when you leave a bad cafe review on Trip Advisor, when you share news or opinion on social media – you are using your influence.

When you vote you are using your influence.

Photo credit: Israel Palacio.

Word of mouth is the most ancient form of influence and it’s still worth its weight in gold today – for good and for bad. The hype and work opportunities around the mouths that speak to more ears on social media send the message that certain voices are worth more than others.

But we must not fall for the lie that the people who have those voices are more accomplished or worthy than we are.

Your voice matters. My voice matters. Whether we’re speaking to one person or one million. I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t thoroughly believe this to be true.

Each of us are influencers, already – so let’s wield our influence wisely.

*

These are some of the things I’ve been thinking through as we’ve crafted this campaign around World Day Against Trafficking in Persons with some of our Justice Advocates. I’m proud of IJM‘s volunteers and I’m proud of this video that celebrates them and their voice.

I really believe it’s going to take influencers of every sort to end slavery. We need those with two and three -digit followings as much as those with six and seven -digit followings to raise awareness and speak up against injustice.

*

Afterthought: I wonder if rather than concerning ourselves with the question of how many people we influence, we shouldn’t instead consider how many people influence us?

Read some of my thoughts on this here.


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Header image: Cristian Dina.

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