The Rise of the Influencer and its Implications on Social Media

I think my first memory of using a social media platform was probably MySpace. In all honesty, I only had one friend — two, if you count Tom — and I had no idea how to even work with the site, but I loved the fact that you could build a playlist in your profile and play YoVille, which is essentially the only reason I even had a MySpace account. It wasn’t until Facebook became a big thing amongst my peers that I completely transitioned to the online world. I’d say that was the beginning of my attachment to social media. Now, that may have sounded like a personal confession, but I think a lot of people could relate when I say that I have an attachment to social media. I could even argue that a lot of people (myself included) is addicted to the lure of social media platforms. But the question is: How did this happen? There are tons of reasons why this could be, I’m sure, but my biggest theory involves social media influencers.

If you were to ask me during my MySpace era what a social media influencer was, I wouldn’t have had an answer for you. The term wouldn’t have even existed in my vocabulary, and at that time, it really didn’t exist anywhere on the internet. The term “influencer” started being passed around during the Vine era (though it could have been earlier, but I’m going off memory), where companies would reach out to popular creators on the app to promote their products. This became a way for companies to attract the big audience of teenagers and young adults living on the internet. For the creator, it allowed them to monetize their work and create an ad according to their own personal style. It’s a win-win situation for both parties involved. At first, I didn’t mind the ads, mostly because they weren’t so frequent as they are now and it was nice to see that my favorite creators could monetize their work and possibly go from entertaining people as a hobby to having an actual career in entertainment. However, as the years passed on, and as Vine was exchanged for and now TikTok, the internet has seen a rise in the number of influencers. As if that wasn’t enough, Instagram became the primary platform to accommodate to those influencers. After every couple of posts on my timeline, I can see a TikTok creator promoting something on an ad:

As someone outside of that bubble, I’ve noticed how much value is put into being an influencer, both because of the economic and personal advantage. Influencers thrive on popularity, which is how they get companies to reach out to them in the first place. If an influencer is not popular enough or not popular for the right reasons, the less money they are able to gain, because companies are less likely to reach out. Ultimately, it all boils down to how you present yourself, both to the audience and companies. Social media influencers not only market products for companies, but also market a certain type of image or lifestyle to their audience. Now, you would think that the average Joe on Instagram has nothing to do with the world of influencers, but I think that’s actually false. The truth is, whether you are an influencer or not, you also play a role in perpetuating that kind of illusion. And this can be proven by the way we post on social media.

Back then, social media was used to share whatever you wanted, whether it’s a picture of you at the beach or a silly cat video you found on YouTube. Sure, I’m not saying people don’t do that anymore, but now there is a pressure to look a certain way and/or say things to improve your image. I think that affects young people most of all. We see thousands of influencers every day taking pictures in Italy or on their yacht in Greece, showing their toned, bronzed bodies with the perfect skin and perfect clothes and we feel like we also have to be like that. At the very least, and to a certain extent, we’re pressured to create an illusion of perfection that is marketed to us every day. The sad thing is, most of us know that real life is nothing like what we see on Instagram. Yet, we still play the game. For whose benefit? No one really knows…

As far as I can see, social media platforms like Instagram will continue to be used for economic benefits, and influencers will become more prominent than ever before (if they aren’t already, that is). I guess the silver lining to this is that a lot of companies are starting to reach out to the average Joes too, so we too can have a slice of the glamorous pie that is the world of influencing. At least, I think it’s a silver lining.