Andrea Cheong – To The Times: Don’t Bite The Hand That Feeds
For a long time, I believed that hate speech shouldn’t be gratified by a response. That if someone is so dissatisfied with their own life that they would like an entire group of people, in this case, a whole profession ‘to be dead’, they should seek medical help instead of public attention. But that isn’t the world that we live in. In 2018, we have newspapers like The Times printing Deborah Ross’s spiteful diatribe for the sake of readership. You might like to know that I’m a journalist too but I have an Instagram account and a blog, and since that’s how I make most of my income now, you might consider me to be a ‘detestable freeloader’.
Hi, nice to meet you.
My peers believe that Ms Ross’s article comes from a place of fear, as print faces disruption from digital media and advertisers are turning their budgets to influencer marketing. It seems like a plausible explanation but in the face of an unsubstantiated death wish, I’d rather bring to light what is true rather than pick apart someone’s attempt at riling up populism.
Social media has been one of the most democratising tools of our generation, allowing everyone with internet access, regardless of their social status, age, education, race or location to start a business or publish their passions. It is more or less the closest to meritocracy we can achieve. Even if you love to hate influencers or you just plain hate us, it’s you the consumer that have put us on the map. 10 years ago you were voting for your favourite Big Brother contestant, three years ago it was the next reality star on Love Island. Except influencers are unscripted, there was no audition and if we’re ever deemed as inauthentic, it shows in the responses to our content. There is also no sky-rocket to fame, most of us work for free for years, even buying our own products to review – I know, shocking. I worked on my blog since 2011, unpaid until last year. Please name me an industry that requires an unremunerated work experience period of six years. And by the way, we were assigned the term ‘influencer’, we’d prefer to be called content creators or if we write – bloggers.
In reality, the real receiver of Ms Ross’s attack is you. One of the hundreds of millions of individuals that seek advice, inspiration and even solace from the other millions out there that are willing to share. And you know what, frankly I am sick of ill-researched articles claiming that you only need 1000 followers to pay half your rent or posts provoking outrage at our ‘masked advertising’. Furthermore, ASA guidelines require us to disclose any partnership where we were instructed on deliverables, regardless of whether there was monetary payment. Not a single person I know in this industry purposefully avoids this because we aren’t ashamed of our jobs. We also value our audiences, not least because they got us the collaboration in the first place.
The good that influencers do outweigh any of the annoying, consumerist or even superficial things with which we are associated. We are bringing diversity to the advertising industry, particularly in fashion and beauty, sectors that have been slaves to rigid standards of unrepresentative beauty. The Instagram account @dietprada claims that their recent unveiling of the racist Dolce & Gabanna scandal built up over 15 million impressions. Influencers are championing social causes, something that brands are hesitant to do lest it cause them a PR nightmare, because we are so in touch with our audiences we know that what we care about, they will too.
Ms. Ross has likely forgotten that you can no longer tell your readership and viewers what to feel, buy or believe. We might live in a time where some newspapers condone vicious and barely legal abuse, but it is certainly not one where consumers are stupid. The fact she thinks that we strive to mindlessly instruct while hoarding freebies, wallowing in ‘a lifestyle we don’t deserve’ shows her mindset as she writes her tirade. Could she be referring to some of her own colleagues?
That article did not just mock the intelligence of consumers but was also so deeply disrespectful of brands – likely the very advertisers that pay tens of thousands for a 5cm square in black and white. These are companies that have found valuable return in a new form of media and continue to invest in influencer marketing because we provide an emotionally intelligent way to relate to increasingly demanding consumers. For the travel industry alone, 42% of millennials around the world base their holiday choices on posts from their social media feeds. For the typical Instagram audience of 16 to 35-year-old consumers, just under 40% look to social platforms for advice on tech and fashion purchases. Brands reuse UGC alongside the professional content that influencers create, even formally requesting for these usage rights, because they know that authenticity and critically, loyalty to their customers is the core of any marketing strategy.
So next time you’d like to tear a burgeoning industry apart, built up by young people trying to make a business for themselves (bear in mind a looming unstable economy, the cost of university fees and the elitism that exists in some industries), please don’t be a bully. Meet a few of us and share your point of view, rather than abuse your power and reduce your editors to publishing for the sake of content.