4.3 Social Media Influencers

There are others online who profit due to their ability to persuade. These individuals do so based on their personality or content, hoping to gain popularity that will result in promotional money or ad revenue. Social media influencers are online celebrities who are famous on one or several platforms (Instagram, YouTube, Twitch) and their fame is measured by numbers of followers. Influencers existed prior to the Internet, as celebrities or athletes–think of the 1990’s, Michael Jordan and his still famous Nike shoes, the Air Jordan. Nowadays social media enables everyday people to quickly shoot to similar levels of fame. Online influencer culture is a new area of study with lots of gaps but it is a phenomenon that those on and off social media encounter regularly (Jansen, 2020). For instance, it has become a new practice for news outlets to interview influencers on niche topics. For instance, this Global News story (2021) features an influencer discussing the pros and cons of an organic waste program. The influencer Maygen Kardash runs a blog that features “giveaways, events, activities and more” in the city Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Her Instagram account @sneaksandlipstick has 19.2K followers making her a micro-influencer. She is a former writer, a stylist, and a mom (Kardash, n.d.). Does her biography qualify her to be interviewed about a city’s waste-program? Why might a person want to hear from her as a citizen of their city? Why not?

Influencers are defined by their following (how many other accounts follow them) and this is directly related to how much they earn. Influencers fall into the following categories:

  • Mega: 1 million + followers
  • Macro: 100,000-1 million followers
  • Micro: 10,000-100,000 followers
  • Nano: 10,000 followers or less (Foxwell, 2020).

Influencers generally have sway over a group of people and they usually claim to have expertise in an area such as travel, cosmetics, or fitness (Lou & Yuan, 2019). They make money with brand deals; although the exact way that each deal works is not public knowledge. In general, it is understood that a brand will reach out to an influencer to promote a product, then the influencer will negotiate the content and expected deliverables based on their following. It can be a profitable endeavor and several people’s entire income is made through content creation on social media. For instance, one influencer who responded to a journalist’s queries in 2020 claimed that with a following of 275,000 followers, they have negotiated brand deals for $700,000 over a six-month period (Bradley, 2022).

Most mega influencers are celebrities, already extremely popular by some other means. Kylie Jenner, from the popular series Keeping Up with the Kardashians and the owner of multiple successful cosmetic lines has 359 million followers–which translates into a huge amount of influence (kyliejenner, n.d.). Other mega influencers provide harmless fun for their followers. For instance, mr.pokee (2021) is a traveling hedgehog who posts images of travel destinations, assisted by his owner Talitha. At the time this book was written, mr.pokee (2021) had 1.8 million followers. Many macro and nano influencers are professionals in their field who use Instagram to build their business. For instance, Kelly LeVeque is a celebrity nutritionist with an education from UCLA and UC Berkeley. She has 445,000 followers and focuses her account on holistic nutrition (bewellbykelly, n.d.).


Screenshot of mr.pokee's instagram profile featuring an image of a hand holding a small hedgehog, a description, message/follow buttons and the caption: The World's Cutest Adventures.
Figure 23: Screenshot of mr.pokee’s Instagram followers (mr.pokee, 2021).

Influencers’ impact on news and information is exemplified by the fact that, over the past couple of years, governments have hired them to spread messages (Jansen, 2020; Abidin et al., 2020). Finland, China, Japan, and South Korea have all used social media influencers in government campaigns (MediaKix, 2021). During the COVID-19 pandemic, the governments of Finland and the UK hired social media influencers to help spread accurate health information online (Abidin et al., 2020). Meanwhile, several influencers globally were responsible for the spread of anti-mask and anti-vaccine messaging. Many were called out by their governments and medical professionals. In one situation, the Australian College of General Practitioners called out influencers telling them to be “silent on the topic” (Abidin, et al, 2020, p. 11). Meanwhile in China, a wanghong (influencer) apologized on their account on behalf of the entire country for starting the pandemic (Abidin et al., 2020).

One interesting example that occurred before the COVID-19 pandemic comes from Australia where the government spent AUD700,000 on a #girlsmakeyourmove health campaign. The campaign had young female influencers promote active lifestyles and sports (Lynchy, 2016). But, at the completion of the campaign, the Australian government realized that some of the influencers had used the platforms to promote unapproved trends, such as diet pills for weight loss. Following this discovery, the Australian government said that they would no longer hire influencers for government marketing campaigns. But just a few years later, they began to hire travel influencers to increase tourism to Australia (Lynchy, 2016).



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