I don’t need it, but I want to have it

Have you ever clicked on Instagram, seen a nice blazer jacket or someone raving about a new beauty product and thought: “I want this. Now.” And then went right ahead and bought it? As social media users, we are constantly and indirectly being influenced, whether we like to admit it or not. This is a psychological mechanism, upon which influencer marketing thrives.

Photo by raquel raclette on Unsplash

The editorial team behind the Sustainable Fashion Gift Card was curious about the influencer phenomenon in relation to sustainability. Being in the spotlight all the time, sharing your personal life, is that even a sustainable lifestyle at all? And to what extent can you be sustainable as an influencer when you promote “stuff?” In this four-piece series we try to unravel the influencer phenomenon with an eye on sustainability.

Capitalism, also known as commercialism, has taught us to see a product and want it. But there has been a shift going on within today’s Western society. We’re constantly being reminded of the deteriorating state of our planet, due to climate change. That’s why most of us are becoming more aware that the so called “need” for products, in fact, tends to be non-existent. We don’t need a new dress, but rather buy it because we want to have it. Why is that? Well, this is when the influencer enters the stage. The science of influencing is something we will elaborate on later. First, we will take a look at the practical side: why are influencers so useful?

Influencers are a cool marketing tool

Increasing consumer awareness results in new challenges for the modern marketer. It is not easy to promote a product that is, in fact, quite similar to others already on the market. So why compete with others, when you can take your product straight to the individual such as via social media influencers. The trusted online “friends?” Influencers have been around for a while. Think about the businessman at the end of the street who speaks highly of a certain insurance company and his neighbors start using that same company. But today’s influencer finds him – or herself in a unique powerful position between the brand and the consumer. And thanks to the internet, their reach for consumers is – in contrast with the old-school influencer – not limited to neighbours. On Instagram, Dutch influencers are followed by American users, who follow Spanish influencers, followed by the French, etc.

It should be clear, the hype today is centered around social media influencers, and this is for a reason. There are currently 3.484 billion people who are actively using social media. That is just under half the world’s population. With adults spending over three hours a day, on average, on their smartphones and tablets, it’s no surprise that brands are turning to these users for marketing. Plus, the “business profile user” can analyse insights and understand what content drives more traffic to their sites. This makes influencer marketing way more focused than, for example, a TV-spot or some random bus bench ad.

Adults are spending over three hours a day, on average, on their smartphones and tablets

No story, no product

Of all established social media platforms (Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Snapchat and Facebook), Instagram has proven to be one of the most effective business platforms, as it is centered on storytelling. And as you might have realised yourself, nowadays storytelling is everything. It gives a brand the opportunity to sell more than just a product, by creating a lifestyle around itself. Storytelling allows the brand to communicate its identity. Since consumers respond to the process of identification, influencers are the perfect tool to tell a story. With their story they connect with their followers as well as reflect the values of a brand, resulting in a connection between the brand and the follower. On top of this, they’re the king or queen of showing appealing visual content. This cocktail often makes it hard for the average follower to resist what their favourite influencer promotes.

Specifically in fashion, Instagram has set new standards of what it means to be a celebrity. Consumers are seeking the latest trends more through Instagram, and less via (traditional) shiny magazines. But not only in fashion are influencers successful brand advocates. They are currently shaping consumer behaviour in the field of nutrition, healthcare, design, political ideology and climate change (think Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate activist), among others. It can be so subtle – or genuine – that you don’t even realise you are following an influencer.

Instagram has set new standards of what it means to be a celebrity

Hashtag successful influencer #ad

In order for influencer marketing to work for a brand, a sense of community must be present. Authenticity and realness are a must for any influencer. This will get the consumer (you) feeling like the advice given by the influencer is honest and not just given for the sake of their own income. To be a successful influencer, one must engage actively and consistently with one’s audience. Generally speaking, for an influencer to have a real influence on the behavior of a consumer, they must have a somewhat attainable lifestyle. Think of a self-made entrepreneur and not Kim Kardashian; one seems to be more attainable than the other.

Another crucial part of influencer marketing is transparency. Some consider this to be the most important factor when it comes to influencing an audience, at least within contemporary Western society. Again, consumers want to believe what influencers are saying is real. They want to think that the product being promoted is actually being used by the influencer and that they love it as much as they are saying. That explains why influencers have recently started sharing which of their products have been gifted to them (for example referring to #sponsored, or #ad hashtag) and which have been purchased by themselves.

Consumers want to believe what influencers are saying is real

Private life, who?

So what kind of job is that, getting free products and promoting them on your online platform? Flexworking from any place you’d like, at flexible times. Traveling the world and getting front row invitations for your favorite fashion shows. Although at first sight this might sound odd, the job of a social media influencer might be harder than it seems. Not only do they have to be open and constantly share their life and suggestions, they have to post relevant, interesting, and entertaining content all the time. After all, no one wants to follow a negative Nancy. At the same time, they must not overdo it. What good would it be to show us seven posts in a row about some “amazing” green juice that aids weight loss, for example? Since authenticity, realness, and transparency are a good influencer’s core values, they have to constantly find a balance between business and “real” life. In fact, their work – their business – is their real life.

Plus, just like any other working individual, influencers have bills to pay. They have to budget their expenses, and they have to work. Social media influencers don’t have the opportunity of going home and switching off from their job, they have fans and followers waiting to see what they will have for dinner, what fancy wine bar they will try, what hairstyle they opt for on a Friday night, and so on. Is it possible then, to consider social media influencers to be somewhat underestimated and undervalued when it comes to their job and their work content? Is it possible that their life isn’t as glamorous as we originally thought? After all, people on social media only show the best bits, right?

This four-piece series is derived from the research internship about social media influencers of Hannah Ospina for SFGC magazine. The series was edited to make it fit for our magazine by content creator Donna Brouwer.

Read all articles in this series
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