A post by online publication Rice Media has sparked fresh debate over influencers in Singapore. Netizens are divided about whether instances of influencers’ poor command of English is cause for online ridicule, or not.
The article calls into question the snarky posts made by the Facebook page Singaporean Influencers and Bloggers Write SHIT English and are Annoying AF, which has garnered over 23,000 likes since its inception in December 2016.
Rice Media disagrees with the page’s aggressive tone, and categorises the page’s activities as “cyberbulling”. Rice also claims that the page carries a highbrow, elitist attitude that associates a good command of language with superiority.
Even though they mostly pick on influencers/bloggers, their gripes also imply that anyone who does not speak good English (according to their standards) is professionally, intellectually, and morally inferior. — Rice Media
Instead of pointing fingers at the influencers, however, Rice Media places the blame squarely on the influencers’ “unoriginal social media content and personal marketing strategies, and the similarly uncreative brands that continue to enable them”.
While I wish that SIABWSEAAAA (help la) would be a lot less snide in their delivery, I am not in favour of pardoning influencers as innocent scapegoats.
As an undergraduate majoring in communications, I am concerned that my area of study is being devalued.
If left unchecked and excused, I believe that instances of poor English in influencer marketing may erode the standards for copywriting everywhere.
Okay, hear me out:
Interestingly, the piece by Rice Media comes after a particularly active week for the offending page in question. Between 11 and 14 March, the page criticised three influencers for their linguistic gaffes on Instagram, one of which was later retracted.
In one of the featured posts, an influencer mistakenly uploaded her sponsored Instagram post with the caption “My go to car rental will always be @akacarrental ! They never fail to disappoint me and are the best”.
While I’m sure she meant that the brand “never disappoints”, such a blunder would not have been tolerated by a client in a traditional marketing context.
Had a boutique PR company or advertising creative been in her position, accounts would be put on review, jobs would be at risk, and the entire team in charge would have expected an earful from their supervisor. So why are we this soft on what influencers are being paid to do?
Appropriateness of Message
Some argue that influencer marketing serves a different segment from professional copywriters in that their message is presented more casually.
This means that sentence fragments, run-on messages, and even memes can all be part of a well-thought-out campaign on social media. This also means that I may have job security after all.
This liberal use of language is supported by descriptivism, where language is determined by what people do with it. The hallmark of the descriptivist argument is that language cannot be judged as “right” or “wrong” if the intended message is successfully communicated to the audience.
As seen in the examples above, however, some captions by occupational influencers range from the bizarre to the antithetical. Whether it’s a hundred words of rambling and trying to disguise the #sponsored motives of the post, or mistakenly criticising the very product they were paid to promote, the only message communicated here is one of confusion.
The Future of Influencer Marketing
In February, Singaporeans mocked the influencer marketing strategies of the Ministry for the Environment and Water Resources. The ministry reportedly paid 28 micro-influencers for a three-month marketing campaign to spread awareness about climate change.
Micro-influencers are understood to be online personalities with between 1,000 and 10,000 followers on Instagram.
As a millennial with an interest in digital marketing, the idea of paid micro-influencers is genius, if not a little perverse.
On one hand, micro-influencers offer a cheaper alternative to expensive campaigns with well-known influencers, whose engagement numbers may already be tinted by the smitten responses of their adoring fans. I may double tap on a pretty face, sure, but am I really reading the caption for that brand of car tyres she’s promoting?
Micro-influencers are valuable because their followers do not approach their posts with caution, wary that they are being sold something. Rather, my friend, who has a little over three thousand Instagram followers, is genuinely recommending some new car tyres. Nice.
However, I think influencer marketing is not sustainable, and the sooner brands realise this, the better. The same way “ad blindness” has blighted advertisers for years, posts by influencers will be increasingly ignored by the online audience.
I hope this short piece didn’t read like a preachy Facebook post by SIABWSEAAAA (help again). At the risk of sounding like an out of touch headline, “millennials are killing the copywriting industry”.
I’m just worried, you know, that my uni degree like, no use when I graduate. I study so hard, practice my writing, but the advertising money all going to influencers, not newsrooms, not magazines, not ad agencies, then how? A bit sian, right?
I know we must accept change la. Got smart campus, got smart nation, but people don’t want to be smart about what they read, how sia? It’s good to have some standards la. People pay you to do something, must at least do a good job right?
See? It’s not impossible to communicate effectively with a non-standard variety of English.
It’s not impossible to want to be better. #spon