‘Influencer’ is a word which at one point could be defined as “a person or thing that influences” – but in today’s modern society has been rendered pretty much meaningless. The hot label of the moment borrowed – and promptly destroyed by bloggers and social media stars alike – is tossed around as a justifying means to define what it is to use your social media prowess to sell people things, and to attempt to carve a living for yourself doing this in an overly saturated market.
This overrated self appointed title is something you slap on a cv or business plan – but most commonly your insta bio – as if it was earned through some area of study; like you received your doctorate in social media influencing and now get to brandish this honour across all of your accounts. It implies people should trust you, that you know what you’re talking about, you know what’s cool. It implies you have power, that people follow you, that you’re an appointed leader.
The status of influencers/bloggers in Ireland has reached critical mass, helped in part by the tendency of Irish media to propel social media stars into the limelight like bona fide celebrities. Back in the day a prerequisite for a career in Irish media used to be as simple as having served a stint on reality tv of some kind – a past series of The Apprentice or Big Brother for example – and suddenly you were deemed worthy of having a voice on the airwaves, or a presenting gig. Studied media or journalism in university? That’s not going to cut it. However, if you’re the first person to have had a wank in the Big Brother house, or were formerly in a boyband, or you’ve appeared on any other inane English reality tv programme – then you’re fair game. VIP magazine was running out of watered down Irish celebs to feature until the bloggers came along and saved the day. Now there was a new crowd of people to fawn over; to brandish with attention and elicit tepid interviews from like their word was sacred, meaningful. This is the word of the social media influencer, thanks be to God.
But what exactly is it that sets these social media influencers apart from one another? Honestly, not much. They’re all variants of the exact same blogging concept that focuses on the usual fitness, fashion, makeup and interiors posts. I could never understand why accounts with such similar content could gain these huge followings; photo of a YSL bag, photo of a Tom Ford lipstick, flat lay photos of a planner on a table with paperclips scattered around it, flat lay photos of a candle and some jewellery, your office with the white Ikea desk and hollywood bulb mirror and clear perspex chair and iMac, a pristine outfit paired with those token studded Valentino shoes which you buy because everyone knows they’re Valentino without you having to brandish the label, white teeth, big lips, clear skin, perfect hair…. Just the same ol’ same ol’.
It stands to reason the social media account of an influencer is desirable for thousands of people to follow because it is aspirational but also potentially attainable. It might be hard for you to reach the status, wealth and lifestyle of Kim Kardashian, but the lifestyle of your favourite blogger? Well that could just be next best thing. I mean, they always look so fulfilled, don’t they? Is it the copious amounts of freebies companies give them that they get to hoard and then invariably make into a giveaway competition because no one needs that many products? Is it the perfect makeup, the carefully chosen outfits, the holidays, the homes, the cars, the nights out, the sponsorship deals…. is it anything that doesn’t have some connection to materialism?
With these copycat influencers seemingly all single white female-ing each other, the only way to stand out in such a vast pool is to try to add an air of authenticity to your ‘brand’, to be relatable enough that your followers see some value in your content and what you preach. Authenticity, however, is the first thing to go when you’re competing for attention in the blogosphere.
I’m sure most bloggers start out with the intention to lead with their personality, and have that be the factor that sets them apart from the rest. However these bloggers who dream of making their blog a full time job soon realise that in order to have widespread commercial success, you have to appeal to the masses and what’s popular. That’s why they write about the same old topics and wear variants of the same styles of clothing. You can have success as a niche blogger, sure, but it probably won’t make you much money, or garner you much free stuff. If you’re blogging for notoriety’s sake then you don’t particularly care about what value it is you’re bringing to your readers, and will just do whatever it is that elevates your platform and keeps the parcels and sponsored posts coming. This is when the public opinion of you begins to slide and when your authenticity really comes into play.
Most influencers make their money from affiliate marketing, sponsored posts or through their own product lines. If Sunday Riley contacted me and said ‘Hey Aisling, if we send you free skincare will you promote our products?’ I would say ‘YES! I use your products and I love them and will rave on and on about them because I believe in what you do.’
If Miss Sporty Makeup contacted me and said ‘Hey Aisling, if we send you free products will you promote our brand?’ I would say, ‘Sorry Miss Sporty rep, but unless they’re under the age of 12 I don’t think any of my readers would use your products. Also, they’re not the best quailty and as I don’t have a teenage disco to attend anytime soon I think I’m going to have to decline. I can’t be a corporate shill for something I wouldn’t buy, or don’t think is good quality.’ I would then delight in my Sunday Riley freebies and make a post promoting their brand, putting #ad and #sp in the caption. That’s honesty and transparency, right?
It seems a lot of influencers will say yes to every brand that approaches them – no matter how crappy the brand is, no matter if the ‘diet tea’ is unhealthy and makes you shit yourself, no matter how unlikely it is they’ll actually use the Essence foundation when they use M.A.C Studio Fix Fluid in tutorials – they’ll say yes just to receive free products to hoard or purely for the money. This is when your audience starts to distrust you – and when your reviews are basically meaningless – because there’s always an ulterior motive behind the post; to gain financially or materially no matter what. If you have sponsored social media posts but fail to disclose #ad or #sp on them, although you are obliged to do so by the Advertising Standards Authority Ireland, then you are a sneaky and untrustworthy individual. Similarly, if you’ve launched a line of false lashes or makeup brushes which you’ve sourced from AliBaba or AliExpress like everyone else who ‘creates’ a product line, and you’re telling me it’s made from high quality materials and charging me the price of high quality materials, and then it transpires that it’s cheap and nasty and you’re ripping me off for your own gain – then you are also untrustworthy. It’s not that hard to be a decent human with morals who doesn’t just lie and cheat to the detriment of your social media following, but to cling on to the full time blogger title it seems many influencers have no issues bending the truth.
There is also Google Adsense as a revenue stream, but from the standpoint of someone who places ads in their content as their only source of potential return – it doesn’t pay unless you’re doing huge numbers. (I currently stand at just over 7 euro in ad revenue for nearly three years, the milkybars are on me lads!) I am okay with that though, as I don’t blog for money – I do it because I enjoy it.
When I first started to blog, I knew I wanted to make a website that had content I was proud of and would be interesting to read. I love to write, and so to keep it that way I quickly learned I couldn’t possibly attempt to make my blog my full time job. In order to get those coveted huge view counts and followers, I knew I would have to sell out and start writing about basic things I didn’t enjoy or believe in, and I really didn’t want to do that. Sure, when I started Bawdy Fox back in 2015 I had a very short lived style diary, but I managed to do three outfit posts before I realised that it just wasn’t me. I didn’t enjoy the idea of promoting the fast fashion lifestyle, where you just continually accumulate clothes, take a photo in them and never wear them again. I always wear variants of the same things but I like it that way. A capsule wardrobe of pieces I really like is appealing to me, and I would hate to be under pressure to buy new things all the time just to keep up with other bloggers and give off that ‘luxe’ vibe. Don’t get me wrong, clothes can have the ability to transform someone’s confidence, and feeling good about yourself or your outfit isn’t a crime. But clothes also have the ability to make people feel bad for not having the latest gear, or for not being able to afford expensive brands. The more famous bloggers become the more they seem to push the same old tired tropes of attainting the Chanel bag, the Louboutins, whatever material status symbols mean you’ve made it in the influencer world…whatever ‘it’ is.
I remember coming across the YouTube channel of an English fashion blogger a little while ago, and as she showed off the sheer volume of clothes and shoes she had for a single season of the year, I wasn’t envious – I was just a little nauseated. If being an influencer means you must uphold the values of materialism and consumerism as if that’s the most important thing in the world, I can’t think of anything less aspirational. If those are the only values you give your readers, then your blog is ultimately meaningless. You only have to look to documentaries like ‘The True Cost’ on Netflix, or read articles about how many retailers are destroying unsold clothes to know that this era of consumption is damaging to everyone, not to mention the planet.
Keeping up these unrealistic appearances in the influencer world means the only people you’re impressing are those with less than you, and unfortunately for them they’ll continue following you hoping to one day accumulate the same amount of miscellaneous items; thinking that then they’ll be happy too. Just once I’d like to see an influencer with an honest ‘Look guys, I get all of this free shit but none of it means anything and my life isn’t better than yours because of that’ stance – but the influencers seem to keep on fooling themselves and everyone else.
Don’t get me wrong, some of them throw in the odd post about anxiety or depression – and it’s candid confessions of imperfection like these that really engage with an audience the most – but they’re far and few in between. An influencer can be upfront about having acne but keep schtum about having lip fillers. An influencer can promote body confidence and sell fitness workshops but be categorically photoshopping her body. The transparency of influencers is very inconsistent and you could argue ‘well it’s their body, it’s their face, it’s no one’s business’, when infact they are making a living from the brand of ‘self’ and all of it’s components, and their followers are making them that capital. If you’re blogging about makeup or fitness then be transparent about the tweaks you’ve made to yourself. If you’re selling me a lip plumper in a sponsored post then tell me my results may vary because you happen to have lip fillers. Don’t try to make me aspire to have a body like yours, when you don’t even have a body like that. If the followers of these popular influencers feel under huge pressure to look a certain way or maintain a certain lifestyle, I assume the competition between influencers is far worse. Does it get to a stage where they’re not looking to connect with their readers anymore, more keep up with the other bloggers and put on a show solely for them? It all just seems so vapid and hollow.
In recent days there has been a furore about the Irish influencer scene and the deceptiveness surrounding it. There were claims about photo editing and manipulation first exposed by Instagram account @bullshitcallerouter (Now defunct and transcended by a different account called @bloggersunvieled) even more Claims of egregiously marked up products sourced from Asian wholesalers and passed off as quality goods, and claims of apparent ‘bullying’ of influencers in online discussion forums.
Blogging isn’t exclusive to Ireland; self appointed online influencers seem to be taking the world of social media by storm, and they live everywhere. When someone is living their life in the public eye they can expect to have fans, critics, and inevitably trolls. I do feel the village-like quality Dublin has can amplify any comment made about a blogger because it’s always only a few degrees of seperation. Big fish, small pond. Influencers are discussed the same way you would a celebrity, but chances are a celebrity won’t see what’s being said about them – or they just won’t pay attention to it. When there is an online forum where people are discussing Irish bloggers I can imagine from the standpoint of a blogger that reading lots of comments about you would feel overwhelming. The only bit of experience relating to this I can draw from is when I went to the reopening of the (now closed again) Kitchen nightclub years ago. I was 20 at the time and the (seemingly also defunct?) Showbiz.ie website took my photo, which then appeared on their website. (I know right? WHAT an honour, hashtag famous!)
I remember logging on to see if it was up, but being shocked by the comments underneath the thread of photos. People I didn’t know, behind a screen, were commenting on how I looked. Now in fairness to them, I remember one comment said ‘Aisling is wearing way too much eye makeup’ and another said ‘Like de outfit but yeah you need to chill on de eye makeup hun’ which now 7 years later I TOTALLY agree with – those false lashes and all that smouldering black liner looked redic. Utter makeup fail. But the point is I’d never had strangers comment on me like that, and it made me think ‘jeeeeez, if this is what it’s like when you’re a known figure but amplified by a million, I would find that awful to deal with.’
None the less, that is pretty much what you have to accept is going to happen should you choose to go down the route of large scale blogging, or want to be famous for anything. You cannot avoid it. You’re putting out your lifestyle, your products, your brand and people are going to discuss it. You will have people who like what you do – but you will also have people who don’t like what you do and call you out on things you deserved to be called out on. In the forums I have seen that discuss these Irish bloggers, the majority of comments were followers who were fed up with the lack of transparency, the unrelatability of influencer’s content and tired of being lied to. That is not to say there were not some commenters who did move into murkier waters and say meaner things – but they were a minority at best and certainly not the general consensus. You will always have people who overstep the mark and move into personal territory, and I do not agree with the scathing things people of that calibre say. But to call everyone who disagrees with something you’re doing, or anyone who has a comment to make about your brand that isn’t undulated praise ‘a bully’ – that is unethical, misinformed, and makes a mockery of anyone who has had the misfortune to have been at the receiving end of bullying in their lifetime.
If a large group of followers are unhappy with how their favourite bloggers are conducting themselves as of late, there is a reason for that. It is not a random attack prompted by jealousy or whatever other tenuous theory you choose to dismiss it with. You make your money off your following so you have the duty to address what it is you could be doing that is putting people off your brand. It is a learning curve for you, it is an opportunity for growth. No one is exempt from criticism, no one! I’m one of the millions of bloggers who has received hateful comments online in response to things I’ve written – but you can tell the difference when that person is a troll, and when that person is someone who is critiquing some things you could actually improve on. When it’s the troll, you just ignore them. If it’s someone who has something to say about your brand that isn’t with the sole intention of being mean, then maybe take the comments on board. Do not have such a huge ego that you are unable to hear anything about yourself that isn’t sunshine and rainbows. Does it suck when someone says ‘I don’t agree with you’? Yeah it kinda does, but that’s life. The only way you become better at anything in life, is by constantly reviewing and evolving. You owe it to the people who fund your lifestyle to take on their feedback.
In the influencer realm, it can be said that there are a few individuals who have managed to maintain their personality over product endorsement – but it is a shame that is not the case across the board. The influencers held in the highest esteem by the Irish media and beyond seem to be the ones who will most readily deceive their audience and make money doing so. I am so grateful to not be a teenager growing up in today’s social media obsessed world. I wish every young person knew that most of what they see online is smoke and mirrors, and didn’t ever feel inadequate about themselves or their life in comparison to that of the influencers – who spend their time trying to convince themselves and each other that perfection is real. A few years ago I was very much social media obsessed, and also miserable. For this reason I don’t have a personal Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, and my only online presence is that which relates to my website. That’s my choice and I am personally happier that way. I put out into the world what I think will be of value or entertainment to people and limit my attention of anything else. I don’t judge anyone who does enjoy social media, but I would suggest you choose wisely what or who you give your attention to. A warped view of the world is best achieved by living with your eyes in the facade of the social media influencers and the warp tool. Just because something is popular, does not mean it is truthful.
– Aisling Abbey