Who was the first “influencer”?

Was it Xiaxue with the blatant, unapologetic advertorials? Was it mrbrown with his takedown of cheesy corporate ads? Was it… Amos Yee?

That whole FavesAsia video has really blown up. Rather than going into that shitstorm once more, here’s a post that we’ve published earlier titled “FavesAsia and Social Media Influencers In Singapore: Are They Fame-Chasers and Hypocrites?” and here’s a parody we enjoy, made by the amazing Preetipls.

Like a poorly-thought-out MRT shelter, it seems the path to online success has been remodeled multiple times over the years. The word “diva” originally meant a female singer with a snobbish attitude, but today it refers to just about any stuck-up individual – and we don’t even get a song!

Likewise, an online personality used to have to court controversy through the written word. Bloggers reigned supreme in the mid-2000’s, and knowing how to put pen to paper finger to keyboard was a prerequisite to getting known. Admittedly, being physically attractive was definitely a factor, but you needed to at least sound coherent.

Those blessed with pre-pubescent hotness struck gold when YouTube became a thing, and a new wave of online personalities was born. Given the greater amount of work required to produce video content, this cohort was markedly smaller than its predecessors. Video content is a highly marketable skill, and many of these personalities could adapt their talents when the third wave rolled around.

But we’ve gone from a written piece to a edited video to… this.

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I’m not discounting hobbyist/professional photographers who showcase their work through Instagram, but purebred “content creators” who have no part in the original artistic creation of the image’s composition, framing, and caption are simply not working as hard as the creators of the past.

An “influencer” posing doe-eyed in front of a garden with a “Photo Cred: @XXX” is not original content. A caption taken off Thought Catalog (followed by a million hashtags) is not original content.

And no, attending media events to eat burgers with forks and knives is not the most taxing part of your influential day.

Image: FavesAsia video screengrab

Image: FavesAsia video screengrab

Informing your “followers” about where you were invited to for a lunch tasting is not work. You should not be rewarded for your presence. The day popular culture employed the term “celebrity” in casual use (without a proper claim to fame) was really the beginning of the end because – what exactly is it about them that we are “celebrating”?

But as you stomach this new low for “content creation”, remember to smile, okay?

How To Be A Smart(er) “Influencee”

While it’s great to support online personalities whom you admire or enjoy, don’t become a passive “influencee”. You’re concerned about your health and what you put in your body – so why shouldn’t you be concerned about what you consume online?

Hold your idols to a higher standard and don’t be afraid to call a spade a spade. Holler it if necessary. But which is the more accurate term – “influencers” or “content creators”?

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Are they “influencers”?

If we buy into this terminology and go ahead with referring to them as “influencers”, what has your favourite Instagram user done to better his/her industry and community?

At this point I’m already assuming that they are keen on making a positive influence. Nobody should have to explain why negative influencers don’t deserve an audience.

Has your favourite “influencer” collaborated with others to create a sustainable, cooperative industry? Or has he/she lied about engagement numbers to brands in order to get ahead of others?

As an infantile industry, the social media marketing influencer enjoys a lot of unchecked leeway when negotiating with corporations. It was just last year when bloggers were “taken by surprise” at having to declare freebies received as part of their income tax.

Are they “content creators”?

Imagine if every single item introduced in their content was motivated by paid sponsorships or advertorials. How much of their originality is left intact? Are you enjoying someone’s genuine, imperfect lifestyle or are you listening to a manicured talking billboard?

In a similar vein to our guest-written piece on this issue, “content creators” means nothing. But in an age of self-important job titles, perhaps this phrase might fit right in.

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Marketers – I’m sure you realise that influencer marketing is not a sustainable model. In the same way that ad banner blindness drove a dagger into the heart of traditional advertising, pouring your dollars into online personalities with inflated numbers is fast growing old. When everyone’s trying their best to be special, nobody is.

When the influencer marketing industry collapses, what’s left of this third wave?

“Content creators” with no adaptable skills stop creating content – because they can’t. Brands who used to work with them catch on and turn to the next big thing in online marketing.

What’s in it left for the “followers”? What’s 1 follower to 100k? What’s a user to the decline of a massive social media platform?

Suckers like us? We’re just a statistic.

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