Authenticity in Social Media: Influencers, Paid Media, & Relentless Marketing
“Social media is more about sociology and psychology than it is about technology”
You love it. You hate it. You run away from it. You run back to it. It’s made your life better. It’s made your life worse. Social media is… complicated.
As someone who has: read a handful of books, completed a 40 page senior thesis, conducted a focus group, researched for hours, and obtained a career in this field… social media is a topic that I have been consistently intrigued by. It inspires me, but it also drives me crazy. I think that is how we all feel about social media at the moment. It’s almost impossible to drag ourselves away from logging into Facebook or Instagram every morning – it’s pretty much the first thing we check when we wake up. It has built relationships, but it has also destroyed relationships. It has made some things in our lives easier, but it has also made things more complicated. Social media is more about how people behave and communicate rather than an evolution in technology.
Do you remember when you first created a Facebook profile? Or the first tweet you sent out on Twitter? Or the first picture you posted to Instagram? Social Media has been around for almost half my life. I think I created my Facebook in 2007, about 3 years after it was created by my idol… Mark Zuckerberg. Say what you want about him (The Social Network – my favorite movie – explains the history and lawsuit he was involved in while Facebook was evolving – very messy), but you have to agree that the 5th richest man in the world has to be an extremely intelligent individual.
According to recent findings, the top 4 social media sites are: (1) Facebook (2) YouTube (3) Instagram and (4) Twitter. Facebook was the first main social media platform that excelled in user growth astronomically. Most people you know DO have a Facebook profile nowadays, whether or not they use it as much as they once did when it first became popular. Due to to the rise of the other platforms listed above, and other apps like Snapchat, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, etc., Facebook’s popularity among Millennials and other age groups tended to fade a bit. This is when Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and Snapchat’s appeal grew. There is one phrase that comes to mind when describing those 4 platforms: “Short, sweet, and to the point.”
A lot of people have drifted away from Facebook due to it’s “messiness” – AKA, the Event Invites, the Game Invites, the Birthday Notifications, the Video posts, Image posts, Status Updates, Advertisements, People You May Know… and the list goes on. This is not necessarily saying Facebook is a “bad” social network or that it is too complex, however… Millennials now tend to gravitate toward the more simpler platforms where a post can be easily explained with visual cues – a photo or video.
YouTube is a collection of videos. Search the topic you are interested in, and
browse results until you find what you are looking for. Twitter is feed of status updates under 140 characters. It’s basically the headline or summary of any specific event, feeling, occurrence, etc (Twitter is #ShortSweetAndToThePoint, which also makes it the fastest moving platform with a constant conversation flow). Snapchat is a photo and/or video that disappears in 10 seconds or less. You can send these photos/videos directly, or post them on your “story” visible to the public or your friends which disappears 24 hours after it was posted. Instagram is a feed of images or short videos posted by people you choose to follow. Similar to Twitter, you have a # of people who follow you, and you have a # of people you choose to follow. Unlike Facebook, the relationship does not have to be mutual. You can choose to follow people who do not follow you and vice versa.
When I was in my senior year of college (2013), Instagram was the “it” platform. Facebook purchased Instagram in 2012 for $1 billion – an incredibly smart move (#Biased cause of love Mark Zuckerberg but c’mon, it was a good move). Personally, I still believe that Instagram is the ‘favorite’ platform to use for Millennials – if not Snapchat. Both of them are dominating the social scene right now. The rise of “social media influencers” and social advertisements on these platforms has increased drastically throughout the years. You can now make thousands of dollars just from posting a sponsored advertisement on Instagram or Snapchat – crazy, right?
That leads me into my next point – social media influencers – who are they and what do they do? When I type the word “influencers” out on my keyword, it is underlined in red as not even a real word. Social Media Influencers are the new celebrities of the digital revolution. They are people who have grown their social media audience to add up to millions and millions of followers – mainly from the content they post online to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Basically, their rise to fame was not from a reality TV show (more of a 90s/early 2000s trend), or being a professional athlete, singer, actor, etc. They gained popularity primarily through what they share on social media. This can be anything from their singing abilities, makeup tutorials, or their incredible body.
When companies discover these influencers, and see how large their audience is, they say, “Hey, if we can get this person to share our product/service to their millions of followers from just making a Facebook/Instagram post, this will save us a ton of $$$, and it will reach millions of people – how awesome!” This is now what we call social media advertising/marketing.
Many companies and brands are *awesome* at social media marketing. A lot of companies, when they first start out and have a low budget, typically market their product/service on their own pages which usually costs them little to no money. Other companies will send their product to an influencer (or let them use their service) for free in order for them to share it to their audience. Influencers typically disclaim that they were sent the product for free (but they do not have to from what I can recall), but that they “would never share a product or service that they did not genuinely like.” ~Eye roll.~ I know, I know… I seem petty, but maybe it is my guilty conscious, but if a company sent me a crap ton of stuff
for free, I would feel a bit bad for going online and calling it shit. I believe that a lot of influencers feel the same, so they go online and state how much they genuinely love the product/service, which will most likely lead to more free stuff in the future, and a positive networking relationship in the future. In my opinion – networking is A MAJOR KEY in life – one of the most important skills to become an expert in (…as my dad’s voice goes off in my head, “it’s all about who you know“).
However, as influencers gain more thousands and millions of followers, they start to become greedy. They don’t care as much about getting free stuff, they want the money money money. Paid social media is one of the most successful marketing tools used today. You have probably noticed that when you scroll through your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter feeds nowadays, you see a lot of posts that say “Sponsored” at the top. This means that that post was specifically planted on your feed (based on your demographic, web browsing history, etc) to garner your attention. A cost is incurred depending on the type of ad planned; for example many ads incur a cost per click. There is so much to say about paid media in terms of these brand-made sponsored post, but the point is: since companies/brands realize that more people are spending MORE time on social media, so they are putting their money where you are. If their target market spends the most time on Instagram out of all social platforms, then they are going to appear on your feed there in a Sponsored post, hoping for you to click (companies also track engagement here – likes, shares, retweets, etc.) on their ad and make them some more, more money.
Influencers can be part of sponsored posts as well. Let’s look a Kylie Jenner – one of the most talked about celebrities in pop culture – with one of the most insane bodies #curvesgalore (and also labeled as #SlimThick which is the new “look” apparently), with almost 100 million followers just on Instagram (on JUST her personal account – not included her makeup line account, etc). Let’s take a look at this post here. Kylie Jenner takes a selfie with a weird sanitary pad-looking wrap on her stomach. This is apparently a ‘tummy fat loss wrap’ made by the Queen of Social Media Scam Companies – FitTea. FitTea is known for using beautiful, skinny, fit, and trending social media celebrities in their marketing campaigns on Instagram specifically. Why Instagram? Because Instagram is all about the image – it is a platform solely based on a picture and the story it tells. Therefore, FitTea uses the most social stars with the most incredible bodies, and pays them to talk about their product. Do these stars actually USE the product? My belief is no, but I am honestly not sure. I guess if I was getting a product for free and getting paid to advertise it, I would give it a try. But then again, me being someone who researches everythingggggggg – I would also hesitate to use something that is essentially a liquid laxative marketed to “detox” the body, when your body already detoxes itself naturally.
Depending on the amount of followers the influencer has across all major platforms, the brand will offer/negotiate on a price to pay the influencer for posting about their product. Sometimes the price can be $5000, and sometimes it can be $20000 or more. Each brand is different, and sometimes they may ask the influencer to use certain keywords to explain their product, or if on YouTube… talk about their product for a certain amount of time, at a certain point in the video, etc. (2 minutes at the beginning of the video, for example).
At this point, we can go back to the quote that I introduced the article with:
“Social media is more about sociology and psychology than it is about technology”
I believe through all of my extensive research online, public seminars and workshops, interviews, and books read on the topic… social media is the observance of human actions/behavior, and the portrayal of their mental state. Social media strategists are the psychologists behind these new social media campaigns that are targeting YOU. They are researching how you communicate, what you communicate, where you communicate, when you communicate, etc. They are looking at your organic behavior and your reactive behavior. They are keeping track of trends you follow, who you follow, and how you interact with what you love and hate. This sounds kinda stalkerish and/or creepy, right? Remember when you were shopping for shoes, and then 20 minutes later when you logged onto Facebook you saw an advertisement for the SAME shoes you were just looking at? Your actions are being recorded online ev-ree-where….
Most of this piece talked about how brands/companies use social media to study their consumer and how to successfully market to them on the platforms where they are most, what messaging to use to them, what voice/tone to speak in, etc. However, we can use social media to also analyze people with our own knowledge of psychology and sociology. As someone who has been interested in psychology since my mid teens, it was a no-brainer for me to jump into the social field when it gained huge popularity (and while journalism sadly grew less popular *hint: I was a journalism major) while I was in college. As said before, I studied the way college females use social media to help shape their self-presentation as my senior research thesis.
I read and read and read and read.
I read about the word “selfie” for 4 weeks. I read about how females use social media differently than males. I read about the importance of platform selection and post time when crafting your post. All of these things dig dip into the human psyche, rather than justifying social media as just a way to communicate with people. Social media is also how we communicate ourselves to the world, which is
typically our “ideal” and “edited” self rather than our authentic selves. We share the best parts of our lives that are exciting, beautiful, memorable, unique, etc. Everything about our social media feeds – the captions we use, the type of photos we post, the language we use – is all an analysis of ourselves and how we want to be portrayed. It’s more than just communicating a friend, it’s about how we want our friend to communicate with us.
With the ability to freely edit everything about ourselves and/or our brand(s) on social media, how are we to believe who or what is authentic anymore? These posts are a compilation of what we want to hear, what we want to see, what we want to read – is any of it genuine anymore? How are we to believe who is real and who is fake? How are we supposed to know which brands are trustworthy anymore?
I can talk about this for hours – so I’ll wrap it up here before this becomes another 40 page research paper. What are your thoughts on influencers and authenticity on social media?