Influencer, negative influence and problematic views. According to marketing publication The Drum, approximately £12 billion was spent on influencer marketing in 2022, with some brands spending up to 75% of their total marketing budget on social media influencers.
If it didn’t work, if it didn’t influence people’s attitude and behaviour in the ‘real world’, these very smart brands and advertisers wouldn’t be spending this amount of money.
So what is influencer marketing and why is it important that parents and schools are aware of how young people are being influenced, not just by brands, but by content creators with something to say and huge followings?
Human beings are most influenced by other human beings
For most of us our parents and carers have had the biggest influence on us. They influence very foundational things: our values, our beliefs including our belief in ourselves, our judgements and prejudices, our attachment style, how we view relationships and love.
We are so influenced by our carers because we want to be safe, to be loved and not abandoned, we want to belong within a family unit whatever that may look like. To do so, we allow ourselves to adopt their views and ways of being. Carers role model to us, showing us, in their repeated patterns of behaviour how things are done. In this way our attitudes are shaped as well as our behaviours, insecurities and prejudices.
Our friends influence us as we grow up, perhaps not in such deeply as our carers, but they do because we want to fit in, we want to belong. We don’t want to be judged or to feel alone. These things are especially important to us as we’re growing up because we are insecure about ourselves in lots of ways and we need to have reassurance that other people are feeling the same as us, reassurance that we’re not weirdos. Or worse still, that other people perceive us as weirdos.
If the view within a group is that Nike trainers are the cool trainers, then the people in that group and the people who aspire to be like the people in that group, will all want Nike trainers.
That’s influencer marketing right there.
Influencer marketing was invented in the playground way before the internet!
We are all susceptible to it, but young people, whose views are not fixed, who are seeking out answers and reassurance and who want to fit in, are especially susceptible.
3 factors that can make someone influential online:
- We see something of ourselves in them – they are relatable to us
- We see something we aspire to be in them – they have what we want
- They are entertaining/funny
Someone is especially influential if they are all of those things. We can relate to them, perhaps because of their background, perhaps because of their opinions. But we also aspire to be like them because they have characteristics that society or our communities associate with success and status, for example they have wealth, they have possessions, they are desired, people seem to listen to them.
If they are also entertaining, funny or popular with your real life mates then it’s likely someone will keep coming back to watch them.
How young people are being influenced:
- Through the internet, young people’s attitudes and opinions are being influenced, at a formative stage in their development, unlike at any other time in history.
- Young people seek out and follow content creators that share content related to a specific topic of interest, for example cooking, gaming or beauty. They will subscribe to that content creator and keep coming back for more if they are entertaining, funny or popular with their friends.
- If the content creator is relatable, perhaps due to their background, gender or common views to the viewer and/or if they are aspirational to the viewer then they will be have more influence on the viewer.
- Online influence can be positive, it can also be unhealthy and negative.
- The way algorithms on Youtube and TikTok work means that if you subscribe to a particular type of content creator talking about particular topics you will mainly see related content creators with similar viewpoints in your feed. In this way influence is amplified, it isn’t just one influencer that is affecting a young person’s views, it’s the reinforcement of views and opinions over and over again in subtle and less subtle ways by a range of content creators over time.
What schools need to be doing to counter online influence:
Young people need help interpreting what they are watching online, to help them read between the lines of content. This includes considering the motivations of content creators who for example will say shocking statements because it will lead to more views which leads to more income (content creators make money from ad revenue).
We need to do this through discussion in a safe space with facilitation by a teacher. Pupils need to be active participants for the influence of the class to be as effective as the influence of the online medium.
Discussion should focus on the opinions and behaviours that online viewing is shaping, whether that’s body image or misogynistic views.
We should provide alternative healthy narratives to the negative influence that are being presented online.
Check out our other influencers blog: How Schools can Counter Negative Influence from Online Content Creators