Man About Town: Influencer blacklash - is it fair?

Patrick McLoughney

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Patrick McLoughney

Man About Town: Influencer blacklash - is it fair?

Are the days of the internet influencer over?

YOU might have noticed that in a few of the articles I've written so far this calendar year, I've made mention of the fact that I have unfollowed several social media accounts and influencers that I felt either existed to make others feel inadequate or have been flaunting their fabulous lives at a time when the mood of the nation is one of discontent.

It seems I'm not alone.

In response to my articles and my podcast – The Stylin & Profilin Podcast – where I have also shared these stories and opinions, I have received hundreds of emails and DMs from people who are completely fed up of influencers. This is not something I'm welcoming for reasons I'll get to but it seems the proverbial straw that has broken the back of many a camel has been influencers hopping on planes during Lockdown for "work trips to Dubai".

Influencers boasting of sunshine holidays – sorry work trips – amid the global pandemic are now facing a furious public backlash. As they've shared photos and videos from beaches and clubs, lockdown has appeared not to apply to bloggers and models who've used 'loop-holes' to jet off to the sun under the guise of work.

As restrictions have been extended, criticism has intensified with members of the public becoming more and more disenchanted with social media personalities and tone-deaf posts.

Instagram stars such as Maura Higgins, Amber Gill, Molly-Mae Hague, Nicole O'Brien and Rob Lipsett have raised the ire of their followers by jetting off to sunny climates during the global pandemic and some have even sparked fury by claiming to be essential workers!

In the last few weeks, this ire has extended past the beaches of Dubai and the discontent has started to spread domestically with the influencer community, in general, coming under an increased level of public scrutiny.

"I'm on the PUP and can barely pay my bills at the moment, does (name withheld) really think I want to see all the free s**t she's getting? UNFOLLOW" wrote one irate Instagram user.

It would be easy for me to join the mob and condemn all influencers but the trouble is I am a person who uses Instagram to promote brands and products so if I was to completely denounce influencer marketing, I would be a bit of a hypocrite.

Influencer marketing exists for a reason. It works. It is already a billion-euro industry as more and more businesses use it as a strategy to improve their bottom lines. Influencer marketing offers many advantages to local, national and international businesses that would admit to needing the help right now.

One of the immediate benefits of using influencer marketing is an improvement in brand awareness. A target audience that uses social media will get to know your brand, story, and the offerings you have. Therefore, it is vital to create valuable content that enhances social media presence.

Influencers have also built strong relationships with their followers, establishing trust and credibility. Users respect their recommendations. For example, when a celebrity endorses a product or service, it instantly establishes credibility for the brand they are promoting. Social media influencers exert a degree of authority on the goods or services that they are supporting. Influencers that are relevant to a particular brand already have an established audience on social media. Hence, you can easily get hold of your target group when you use an influencer. There is no need to spend extra money just to test and find your market, as the influencer has already one.

Influencers have the power to direct their followers towards a product or services. Because consumers see them as trustworthy, they look up to influencers for recommendations. According to the Digital Marketing Institute, 49% of consumers depend on influencer recommendations that could lead to sales.

So the concept is a solid one, the problem lies with how a certain section of the influencer market are using their 'influence'.

As we've discussed, many of the influencers who've come under fire for travelling to sunnier destinations during the pandemic have defended their actions by stating that being an influencer is their job and that these trips are "unavoidable work trips". Sheridan Mordew, a UK based fitness influencer, who has been in Dubai since the beginning of January, appeared on This Morning with Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby last week and stated that her trip was 'essential work travel' to provide sunny content for her fans and inspire them. She went on to describe herself as an essential worker.

That's an extreme case (of arrogance) but the idea that being an influencer is "a job" is not playing well to the general public right now and I can understand why. However, the reality is that for some, it is indeed a full-time job.

I personally have not translated my online presence into a full-time gig but I do know plenty of people who have and I know that a lot of work goes into their content creation. These people have registered themselves as limited companies, they make their money and they pay their taxes so in my book they are business owners whose personal brand is their business so being an influencer is indeed their job.

But like anyone who sets up a business, you have to look after your customers and concern yourself with customer satisfaction and customer services.

I'll cite two recent examples of influencers who made public faux pas' as their reactions are a perfect illustration of how to handle it and how not to handle it.

Louise Cooney, one of Ireland's biggest and most successful influencers, posted about her volunteer work on Instagram last week. Unfortunately, Louise unintentionally offended many by accompanying her charity post with an image of her sitting on a brand new sponsored Mercedes. Queue public outrage!

I may be slightly biased on this one as Louise is someone I admire greatly and a person I would consider a credit to her industry, but I have to give Louise credit for the way she handled this unfortunate situation. Louise deleted the post the very next day but not before she replied to every negative comment, admitting her mistake and apologising for the offence caused.

Contrast this with a young Dublin influencer – who I won't name except to say she's the one who popularised OnlyFans among young Irish girls – who last week when asked on an Instagram Q&A whether she was pro-life or pro-choice, responded by saying that she was pro-life but would get an abortion if she wanted one. Queue public outrage!

This young lady's response to the criticism was to screenshot any critical comments that she saw on Twitter with captions accusing these people of being sad losers and negative people who should just try to be kind and wondering why anyone would be so bothered by the opinions of a young female influencer.

Let's go back to the "it's my job/it's my business" analogy for a moment. Let's say I own a shop and you purchase a cup of soup in my shop. Now let's say the soup I put on sale is spoiled and it makes you so ill that you have to spend time in hospital. Let's say that when you recover you return to my shop and point out my mistake to me. If my response is "why are you so negative? You're such a loser – just be kind" would you accept it? I think not.

That, I think, is what's getting lost in all of this. Everyone wants that insta-rific life and get paid to post stories and get free stuff and free trips abroad. But not everyone wants the responsibility and accountability for what they are posting that comes with making social media content your "job".

Now more than ever, businesses need the help of influencer marketing but the public need influencers to be better. Trolls are gonna troll and there's never any excuse or justification for that but not all critical feedback can be written off as trolling or toxicity, some it of it is entirely justified.

The reason I've decided to write this is the number of emails and messages relating to this that I've received in the last few weeks. I mentioned on the most recent episode of my podcast that it almost feels like people want me to become the new 'Bloggers Unveiled". For the uninitiated, Bloggers Unveiled was an anonymous Instagram account that gained a lot of traction for reposting tales of bad-blogger-behaviour from followers. It very quickly became toxic and turned into a breeding ground for misinformation and personal vendettas. The identity of the person running the account became public and it disappeared. A year or so later 'ShiteBloggersSay' came along and followed the exact same path right down to a sudden disappearance when its anonymity was taken away.

These pages were/are awful and were proven to be motivated by hatred and personal grudges. In each case, the people running these accounts were doing so from the shadows. I fear that the next time one of these accounts pops up the person behind it will see no need to hide behind a veil of anonymity.

Let's avoid this by being better, being more socially responsible and more in tune with the mood of the nation when we post. I'm saying 'we' and not 'you' because I'm including myself in this. If I mess up or offend I'll own it and I'll take responsibility for it. I hope others follow suit.