Social Media

Being A Social Media ‘Influencer’ Is Officially Meaningless

New report on influence of influencers accidentally reaffirms their imminent demise

Social Media
Photo Illustration: Vocativ
Jun 22, 2016 at 5:59 PM ET

There was a time that the term “influence” meant something, but those days are a distant early social media memory. A new Yahoo survey found that nearly one-third of millennials can be deemed “social creators,” and therefore potential “influencers”—making the buzzword so ubiquitous as to lose all meaning.

The study focused primarily on Tumblr—unsurprising given Yahoo’s ownership of the platform—and found that sixty-three percent of millennials want a brand to help them “become better” (better what, exactly, they didn’t say).

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Yahoo devised three buckets to categorize young content creators based on their reach and marketing prowess—newbies, rising stars, and socialites—and advise companies how best to take advantage of the youths’ crushing need to develop a personal brand. Across the board, most respondents expressed interest in partnering with fashion and beauty brands, which is sensible, given the insanely lucrative world of beauty vlogging, where some YouTubers make reported salaries of over $145,000.

“The most important thing right now is unifying my brand,” one fictional-sounding-yet-apparently-real 19-year-old is quoted as saying in the report for which social media intel firm Shareablee exhaustively interviewed nine whole influencers in LA and New York. “You want to make sure you appear as a single entity so your audience can recognize you.”

22-year-old newbie influencer Colleen explained to her Yahoo/Shareablee interrogators that her “biggest achievement thus far was making my Tumblr,” concisely explaining, in just eight words, why the concept of social media “influence” and the companies that sell “intelligence” on said influence are hollow.

While the idea of amassing perks, undue self-confidence, and ultimately a career may reflect the ultimate millennial ethos, there’s no way it’s healthy, or sustainable. A recent study on teen influencers found that almost all of them spent at least two hours per day on social networking sites and that 91 percent had more than 500 friends on these platforms, something that has been linked to increased stress. (Not to mention that Australian teen that launched a campaign against social media after amassing half a million followers and becoming “addicted to social media, social approval, social status and my physical appearance.”) Some millennials spend up to 14 hours per day online tweeting their way to wealth with parody accounts, memes, and general high volume posting.

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As social media influencer marketing becomes more ubiquitous, some within industry feel that it’s quickly getting out of hand.The chief of one ad agency recently told the Wall Street Journal that the massive takeoff of this trend is “terrible for the industry,” and will quickly lead to the kind of inauthenticity millennials can see right through.

Like Scott Disick’s cringe-worthy Instagram fail last month:

Others within the industry admit that there’s a tremendous amount of money at stake, but that the bubble is sure to burst. (Tumblr has already had one teen influence bubble burst to spectacular effect—how many bubbles exist?)

“Influencers are going to start disappearing. Brands are going to start realizing the amount of followers you have doesn’t mean shit,” a social media executive told Digiday.

There’s also the matter of advertising transparency. While a strict code of conduct on social media influencer marketing exists in the United Kingdom, a recent survey shows that roughly one-third of brands choose not to follow it.

Basically, if you’re considering going into the business of social media marketing, the best advice may well come from one of the biggest social media influencers out there, a genuine, well-established #personalbrand: