5 Reasons Social Media Influencers Are Getting Even Weirder
Being a social media influencer sounds like a pretty cake job, right? You just torture your friends, add some boing sound effects, take a picture of yourself in a big floppy sun hat, and you're famous! At least, that's how it used to be. If it seems like the business of being a social media personality is getting weirder and more dystopian, there's a reason for that ...
Companies Are Scouring Their Pasts For Scandal
Hey, remember that famous social media figure whom everyone loved and celebrated right up until it was discovered that they'd said a whole bunch of incredibly offensive stuff? What's that? You're saying I need to narrow it down, because there have been several thousand of those in just the last year? Well, companies are catching on to that. So much so that there's now a boutique industry of influencer background checkers, vetting these people for dirt like they're running for president instead of selling hair products on Instagram.
Sure, there's the obvious stuff, like making sure their engagement matches their follower count (the world is full of scammers trying to inflate their audience with bots). But then there's the more detailed background checks some companies like L'Oreal are doing. Their chief digital officer says that they spend more time looking into individuals to make sure they don't have any "brand safety issues, like nude pictures." Wow, this guy hasn't been on the internet long if nude pictures are the worst thing he can imagine in someone's past.
Brada Associates, a company that performs background checks on influencers for corporations, warns potential clients that "Often times a celebrity's social history can come back to haunt not only them, but the brands that pay them to be a spokesperson." Gather round, corporation, and let me tell you the spooooky story of the social media star who pretended to merely be "edgy," but actually had a severe personality disorder.
Sure, back in the faraway days of 2018, Logan Paul could electrocute rats and joke about suicide all he wanted, but if you want sponsorships now, you better make sure not only that your content is clean, but that all of your past interactions are as well. These people aren't getting burned again, dammit! No secrets can hide from L'Oreal! And no, it doesn't matter how ironic that blackface Halloween costume was supposed to be.
The Government Is Starting To Call Them On Their BS
One of the big problems with social media stars is that while they're great at making slime in their swimming pool or looking pretty next to a beige bowl of fruit, they're terrible at understanding the rules and regulations around disclosing advertising. Research has found that social media users react more negatively to clearly labeled ads, so a lot of influencers solve this problem by not labeling content they were paid to make as ads. This works really well! As long as the FTC doesn't notice.
In 2017, the FTC finally sent a mass letter to over 90 Instagram celebrities about clearly marking their sponsored content as such, rather than using ambiguous hashtag's like #sp. That could could stand for anything -- #spaghetti pirate, #sick pencils, #spitinmymouthJakeGyllenhaal. You know, all things I would click. This wasn't a problem for just a few influencers, either. Last year a group called Truth In Advertising reported 1,700 posts across 50 different accounts that didn't properly disclose Ciroc ads.
The FTC isn't the only government agency trying to put a stop to the nonsense. The SEC fined Floyd Mayweather and DJ Khaled over $100,000 each after they failed to disclose to their followers that they were paid for ads on a crypto currency called Centra Tech, which turned out to be a big ol' scam. In 2017, the SEC had issued a statement that advised, "Any celebrity or other individual who promotes a virtual token or coin that is a security must disclose the nature, scope, and amount of compensation received in exchange for the promotion." So as a consumer, you can safely go to JoJo Siwa for investing advice and know the SEC is looking out for you. Until the marketers find another loophole, anyway.
Every New Child Is A Potential Income Stream
Since it's getting harder to scrape by on an influencer's salary, a lot of times, the entire family has to work for their meal, even the ones who haven't been born yet. Six-month-old Halston Fisher has almost half a million Instagram followers, and had 112,000 of those before she was born. That's the benefit of coming into an influencer family. Her mother and father have a YouTube channel with three million subscribers. Her three-year-old twin sisters have 2.8 million Instagram followers. According to their father, ads on their Instagram sell for up to $20,000 a post. Do you know how many juice boxes that'll buy them?
Influencer families with multiple members finding success across multiple platforms as part of one corporation are becoming more and more common. The Bee family has 3.8 million YouTube subscribers. For $25, you can buy a T-shirt with their 13-year-old daughter's face on it. The Bee boy has his own YouTube channel which focuses heavily on playing video games. It comes with a membership option for $4.99 a month.
The kids' fame feeds into the parents', and vice-versa. It's synergy! The father of the Fisher twins told The New York Times, "If we didn't have the girls, I can't imagine being as far as we are." The kids are Iron Man, and he's Jessica Jones. The brands build off each other and feed into each other, and sometimes literally feed each other, and burp each other, and put each other to bed.
Burnout Is A Huge Problem
Imagine that when you were a teenager, you started a YouTube account where all you did was impressions of your cat. They were funny and your friends shared them, and all of a sudden you were making money! Now doing impressions of your cat is your job. You have to upload five cat impressions a week, and they have to be new, and funny, or YouTube will choke off your traffic and you'll be broke. Also, you can never take a vacation for that same reason. The mighty algorithm only rewards the most relentless and prolific of creators. Your entire life is now cat impressions. You sleep, eat, and breathe cat impressions. You dream about cat impressions. What was once your fun hobby is now a cat prison that you have built for yourself.
People like to think that an influencer's job is easy, and it no doubt is compared to a whole lot of jobs out there. But in the world of entertainers and creators, it's an absolute grind. Earning enough to do it full-time requires cranking out an absurd amount of content. Hiring anyone to help is beyond all but the upper crust.
YouTube knows this is an issue. So much so that they've launched creator courses specifically targeting burnout. If your workplace safety videos are instructions on how not to have such a mental breakdown that you literally can't do your job anymore, then yeah, there's probably a problem there.
"But wait," you might be thinking, "isn't YouTube's own system what's causing the problem in the first place?" Well, you should know that YouTube is very worried about you thinking that. As they directly say in the video, "It makes us look bad if all of these creators are talking about burnout." They don't try to reward creators who post the most, they insist. They simply "Let the data drive and reward whatever works for the audience." See? We don't encourage Godzilla to crush the city, we simply present Godzilla to the city, and his interests drive and reward the least-crushable buildings.
Robots Are Taking Their Jobs
You would think this is one job that couldn't be automated, but it's 2019, and robots can take everything, from your job to your baby (before it can grow up to fight the robot apocalypse). Computer-generated influencers are "people" created by marketing firms to sell products, and they're getting pretty popular. Miquela, one of the most successful CG influencers, has 1.6 million Instagram followers, she's released a music video with over a million views, she's been in Vogue, and she has many lucrative branding deals. It's like if the cast of Reboot were trying to sell you cute shoes on Instagram.
And Miquela isn't the only CG influencer at this weird robot party. Blawko and Bermuda, two personalities created by the same marketing firm, Brud, both have 137,000 followers. Shudu, the creation of a photographer, has 177,000.
It's easy to see why CG influencers would be appealing to companies. They'll never get old or fat. They'll never unexpectedly break a contract to go to rehab, or have a family emergency. They'll never go rogue and post something offensive. They're known for direct-messaging their followers and being extremely interactive with their fanbases, because they have unlimited time to devote to them. I would probably be pretty good at my job too if I didn't have to sleep, eat, or care about anything else. Eh, who am I kidding, no I wouldn't.
You would think the problem with CG influencers would be that consumers wouldn't be interested in a cartoon telling them what clothes to buy. Miquela can't taste the coffee she advertises, or smell the candles she's selling, but that doesn't seem to matter. Social media is about social clout, and apparently it doesn't matter to people anymore if you believe in what you're selling, as long as they know that a million other people are watching you sell it. Welcome to the future, everybody!
Lydia is vehemently against social media. You can find her on Twitter @YouKnowLydia
For more, check out Why Parents Who Over Share On Social Media Ruin Their Kids:
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