If you asked someone in 1945 what a celebrity was, they would tell you it was someone you see in film or on television. These were mostly A-listers that were seen practically as gods over the general population. This is not true in the modern world. Today we have levels to celebrity, and the social media influencer is the closest connection between the celebrity and the general person. Social media influencers started to appear during the 2000’s. Platforms like YouTube allowed normal people to post their content and send it out to the world. YouTube allowed audiences to subscribe to videos and as posters started to gain followings, becoming miniature celebrities. At the early stages of this, there was no real way to make a lot of money doing this, other than monetizing your YouTube page, receiving a cut of the ad revenue that YouTube made from a poster’s videos. Posters would make a bit of cash, but certainly not enough to call it a career.
In 2018, it is a much different story. People still make money by monetizing their YouTube pages, but with the addition of other social media platforms, particularly Instagram, influencers and big companies have found ways to mutually cash out on content. The social media influencer in 2018 is the product placement extraordinaire. While their content might have originally been authentic and focused on what they thought was funny or beautiful, it is now focused on how to place products in order to advertise. This can sometimes be subliminal, but often is outright. This includes video game streamers telling you what gaming products to buy, or fitness freaks telling you what their favorite protein powder is. The federal government took issue with this, and now requires all influencers that have a “material connection” with a company to explicitly state it in posts. There are strict standards for where in the post it must be stated, so that influencers cannot sneakily hide that they are working for companies by stating connection deep within a group of hashtags, or at the bottom of a post where most people will stop reading before they reach.
Influencers use an array of tricks in order to gain and maintain followings. The app Facetune advertises itself as the “best portrait and selfie editor. It’s fun, powerful and jam-packed with tons of retouching tools” and uses the tagline, “Wow your friends with every selfie”. The app manipulates your face in order to appear more attractive. It removes pimples, provides good lighting, and even can manipulate the size of your chin and eyes. What you get is a version of yourself that is completely unrealistic. This app is used to create the image that influencers are more perfect than the general population.
Other apps like “Tracker for Instagram” “Social Rocket,” and “Instatag” allow users to do an array of beneficial tricks. You can track your followers, exchange likes for likes, find the most popular hashtags, and much more in order to boost your presence. Apps can even follow massive amounts of people in order to gain followers through “follow backs,” only to automatically unfollow those people days later. (Forsey)Influencers can make quite a living for themselves. Live streamers make advertising revenue, money from product placement, and can often get thousands of dollars donated on their streams in exchange for shoutouts or fulfilling goals and activities. One of the most popular streamers in the world is Tyler Blevins, aka Ninja. He makes over $500,000 a month streaming the massively popular game Fortnite on Twitch. (Kim) He also has a partnership with Red bull. All of his streams feature a Red Bull minifridge in the background, and he can be seen often drinking the drink, as well as wearing headbands with the company’s logo on them. Blevins had to manipulate his stream when he got a larger following. He realized that many of his viewers were young children, whose parents got upset when he would use expletives on stream. Because of this, he now uses words that are child friendly when he gets upset. He also only plays with other streamers that use clean language and will kick anyone out of his stream that doesn’t. Other influencers use different tactics to connect with their audiences. DJ khaled was the first celebrity to start influencing through Snapchat. In addition to showing viewers a look inside his lavish life, he created little sayings that he would repeat throughout his posts. His saying that something was a “major key” became a massively used device on social media. Influencers like Kylie Jenner use their beauty to convince other women that they can look like them if they use the same products and follow the same health and workout routines. This of course not true, but it works fabulously as an advertising technique. Jenner started her own line of signature lip kits in 2016, and is now worth 900 million dollars.
Influencers are more trusted by their audiences than normal celebrities. In a study done by Experticity, 82% of those questioned said that they are likely to follow a recommendation made by someone the study calls a micro-influencer. They define a micro-influencer as someone that has between 5,000 and 50,000 followers. This idea that the person is well respected, but not too big to be a real celebrity is what causes a sense of connection between influencer and consumer. Someone has only marginally more of a following than the regular individual is considered to be special allows for a false belief that anyone regular person can easily become a celebrity. People copy the lifestyles of these influencers. They eat the same foods, use the same products, and even wear the same clothes in an attempt to make themselves more like the influencer that they feel connects best with them. Even though there is a sense of connection between consumer and influencer, it is important to remember that it is fabricated, with all effort coming from the audience side of the relationship. This is called a parasocial relationship.
Parasocial relationships are a massive aspect of the modern social sphere. They are defined as “one-sided, non-reciprocal relationships, often with a celebrity or other media persona. Parasocial relationships are strong emotional bonds with people you’ve never met and who do not relate back to you.” The public can have parasocial relationships with any celebrity, from football players to politicians. These relationships trick the public. They make us feel that we have a connection with others that does not really exist. While it can help people in their escape of loneliness, it does not provide for long term benefits and is generally used to manipulate emotions for advertising purposes. Using social influencers is becoming a fundamental aspect of the advertising market. It is important for us to regulate it through government like the action of the FTC, but also for us to be literate in the syntax of influencers. We must remember why we connect and who is being sold when we follow certain people. It is wrong for us to believe that we simply follow people for entertainment. It’s important to acknowledge how we are being sold not only products, but ideas. If we succeed in this, we will be able to more accurately decide what our wants and needs really are without being manipulated by outside forces.