I remember as an older child having conversations with my mum about influence: what kind of influence was I on my friends? What kind of influence did they have on me? That kind of thing. Maybe she saw an early rebellious streak in me. Or maybe she knew that influence was powerful – that our actions, our movements, decisions have the weight and the power to impact others; a pretty big concept to hold onto as a child but has stood me in good stead (except for my teenage years where influence was waylaid, and I got into my fair share of teenage mischief). So the idea of influence has been a strong thread in my life and I attribute my deep sense of responsibility (holler to all my enneagram ones out there) to be a good influence to those early conversations.
And now that word seems to be pretty popular, ringing in my ears when I dive into the world of social media. Some people are using it as their job description, PR’s and Marketing Teams are including it as a significant part of their campaign plans and strategies and I’m interested in having a conversation about what it really means – what mantle we are giving this term of being ‘an influencer’…
As most thorough blog post researchers do (!), I asked my friends on Instagram what the term ‘Influencer’ meant to them and the response was compelling.
Answers ranged from:
“A synonym for leader”
“Someone with the power to sway you for good or bad in your mindset or actions”
“Someone who makes an impact – positive or negative”
“Someone who lives in such a way that others want to imitate and become more like”
“Someone who inspires me to more, who’s further along than I am”
“Someone that changes your thoughts/viewpoints and is then followed by action”
“Smart use of our covetousness by those with something to sell/advertise”
“Instagram accounts where staged pictures are tagged with #ad or #gifted. Insincere posts”
“Someone who gets paid to tell you something is good – which makes me want to do the opposite”
“Someone with high social media numbers meaning they can get paid to promote other peoples’ goods”
“Someone who influences people to buy more shit they don’t need”
“People who will happily sell a lifestyle they won’t fund themselves”
“Often someone disingenuous”
“Someone that gets paid to encourage others to buy a product”
“Someone with a large following that is approached by brands to create ads in exchange for free products”
“*A bunch of eyeroll emojis*”
“Someone that uses social media to make money by getting people to buy things they don’t need”
(folks, tell me how you really feel though…)
“Someone trying to sell me something”
“People who get freebies on Insta”
“Desperate bids for attention”
“Someone who is famous on social media for doing very little”
YIKES. I had almost 100 replies – 20% of them pointing towards the diplomatic, thoughtful meaning of the word and 80% of them with a pretty negative view of what this term now seems to represent in society.
And so, I want to talk about that. I want to open up the conversation of ‘influence’ and share a little bit of my own thoughts around it, what it means for women and see if maybe we can reclaim this word back to its positive potency.
I need to caveat that this isn’t a conversation that is intended to shame anyone. That’s never my goal – shame never really produces any change, only mistrust and fear. And it’s not a conversation about whether doing sponsored or gifted content on social media is bad or good. I am super proud of being able to use my own platforms to share about brands that I believe in – that I know contribute to the good in the world. This conversation for me is about reminding myself and the women I know and love that our influence is important and worth our intentionality.
What’s interesting to me is that when it comes to this online ‘influencer’ culture, it is mostly women who are drawn in. Of course, there are men who also have large followings and engage with campaigns and ads, but by and large the influencer marketing world is a female-powered machine (women as influencers and consumers of influencer content) and lately I’ve been wondering if there are undertones of patriarchal control that contribute to it being this way...
Bear with me.
Recently I have been deep diving into the history of women’s rights and the suffrage movement and am so moved by how relentlessly women fought for a seat at the table, for their voices to be considered worthy in society. They broke rules (and windows), were imprisoned and lost pretty much everything they had to see that women coming behind them would have more autonomy, more ability to be their truest selves. When I think about the here and now, and the rise of women wanting grow followings, become influencers and be noticed by brands, I wonder if we still have some heavy mindset shifting to do around this long history of women not being seen and heard and the patriarchal hangovers that we are maybe unknowingly tethered to.
Maybe some of us are still stuck in the belief that we must clamber to be noticed, or seek the approval of others to be deemed valuable or to belong. After all, It’s only been 100 years – just two generations - since women were able to even vote on what kind of society they’d like to live in – that mindset can take a while to run out.
Maybe some of us believe that the only way for women to make money AND be caregivers is to sell other peoples’ stuff on our social media platforms. Maybe the patriarchal hangover here is that we still feel nervous about not having enough money of our own or we haven’t taken control of our own finances and think that this will do. Maybe the fact that we still aren’t getting paid equal to our male counterparts makes us feel like this outlet gives us at least some power. Maybe it’s because we are only just beginning to see a rise in women holding positions of power or women making sustainable incomes from their own ideas. Maybe because selling our own ideas, products and innovative thinking still feels icky and we’d rather hide behind someone else’s stuff even if we don’t fully believe in them.
Maybe some of us are still telling ourselves that there is some sort of holy grail of validation that will come when we have X amount of followers or Y amount of attention. Maybe we are just afraid to act like we are free at all because to be free to be who you really are is scary and vulnerable and sometimes it feels safer to not even imagine the possibility.
What I would love for us all to know, my friends, is that we are emancipated. We are more free than we have ever been to contribute to the world on our own terms and the table is long and wide and extendable so we can all fit in. All of us.
What I’d love for us to know is that our ideas, our dreams, our creativity and desires are important and worth exploring and sharing. In fact, we desperately need your amazing ideas, your innovative thinking, your empathy, your fierceness, your opinions, your entrepreneurial prowess. We need it because there are problems to solve here on this planet and you might have the answers. Yes, you.
We need it because the way things have been going isn’t really working out too well for humanity and we don’t have time for you to hide your brilliance behind ads and consumerism and the false belief that likes and follows is what makes your life influential. We need to hear the thoughts and ideas of how women are going to make the world better, more tolerant, more creative, more resilient, more beautiful.
I know that you have desires for your life and for the world that you haven’t even admitted to yourself yet because you’re scared - but we need them. We need women that are awake to their truest selves, their deepest desires. Truth be told, I’m not sure I really know anyone whose deepest desire is to share ads for Babybel on their Instagram and believe it to be a meaningful contribution.
“But MEL!” I hear you say. “What if being an ‘influencer’ allows me to stay at home with my kids and that’s what I want to do”?
To that I say – amazing. Being a mother is one of the hardest roles I’ve ever taken on – it is no easy option and the internet has opened up a wonderful community of support for mothers to feel less alone. Brands and PR companies know how much time mothers spend on the internet sharing so I understand that the lure to earn money this way is real. But please, for your own sake, don’t let it be something you hide behind. Don’t put off throwing your own hat in the ring and continue to invest more of your precious time on other peoples ideas than the ones buried deep in your own soul. Don’t believe the lie that this is the only thing you can do to make money or be influential.
Finally, we need to reclaim influence so we can have conversations with our daughters and the young women in our lives about what matters because they need to see our bravery too. They need to know that their dreams and desires and ideas and voices matter as well. They need something to aspire to that has weight to it, that brings light to dark places in the world. I want to be able to tell my daughter about the amazing women in my life that are doing things that light up their souls. I want to have endless amount of role models to point my daughter to and say – “Look what she did! You can do amazing things too!”. I want to be able to divert her attention from the influence of perceived perfection, the numbers game, the popularity contest and endless consumerism and show her a world of women propelling each other forward with their big dreams and big hearts for goodness to reign in the world. I want to be able to hand over to her a legacy of women that are relentless in their pursuit of purpose and passion.
And so we need to continue to reclaim influence; to amplify the voices of women who are putting their bravest selves into the world with their own ideas and voices – to champion their influence. Let’s shine a torch on the important ways that women are shaping the now and changing the future and channel our energy into something that lasts longer than a current trend could ever offer.
We need to do that because we need to be able to see and to show what is possible – how our influence can have impact. We need to support women who are courageous enough to put their heads and ideas above the parapet because when they get brave it should give us license to as well. Seeing someone in their stride should set us alight and fuel us to do the same – not cripple us with comparison or envy. We have work to do ladies: fears to manage, ideas to explore, problems to solve, dreams to make space for, legacies to shape and there is so much more room here for your influence than you can ever imagine.