Influence, influenza – What influence means in 2016

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Lucie Kerley asks the people who influence her what the word ‘influence’ means in 2016.

‘So, do you prefer to be called an influencer or a blogger?’ a guy asks me. *Gulp* Influencer sounds pretentious. Blogger feels like one in a million.

Growing up in the 90s me ant things like Pop Tarts, sleepovers, school discos, Girl Power and Smash Hits magazine were my world. No social media. Just talk and real-life interactions. Your peers were your influencers. But now, it’s all about ‘the new normal’: five second Snapchat conversations, funny filters, frivolous, accessible fun.

The girl or boy next door effect, as Joerie Van den Bergh puts it, has turned bedroom vloggers into superstars. ‘It could have been me,’ followers think.

Influence. Influenza. You can’t escape it. When questioning what the word ‘influence’ means in 2016, I decided to pick the brains of my peers – the very people who influence me. I knew it was something tha t needed talking about in a more transparent way. The response was phenomenal.

Kelle Roos, like me, is a Gen Y Millennial. But, unlike me, he’s also a 23 year-old professional footballer who gained a significant following after Niall from One Direction retweeted him to his 24.8m Twitter fans. The result? 50,000 retweets and a surge of new 1D/football-loving followers. Incredible.

When asked what ‘influence’ meant to him, Gav Strange, senior designer at Aardman, feels strongly that “influencers should use their powers for good”.

It got me thinking about influencers as role models. Kids still dream of growing up and becoming pro footballers – just as they now do of being a Zoella-esque vlogger or celeb. It dawned on me that – if the rose-tinted filter is removed – social media can be a really valuable way of revealing the hard honest truth behind some of the professions that people aspire to the most.

Blogger and graphic designer Michelle Haswell says: ”A real influencer is someone who challenges mindsets. I personally want people to move out of their comfort zones and, to me, an influencer should be able to do that.”

It’s much more than just knowing how to cultivate, preen and curate your online world.

You have to really care.

When it comes to brands working with influencers, blogger Anna Hart, founder of Pitch & Post, dispels the ‘bigger is better’ rule. She says: “There are some great mid-sized influencers who have incredible traction with their following, and can have a much stronger engagement with their readership.”

Social media advisor and blogger Erin Niimi Longhurst places emphasis on trust and integrity. “Disclosure and transparency is really, really important… if they haven’t disclosed their relationship completely, they can fall in my estimation.”

So what will the future of collaborations between brands and influencers look like? Editor/writer duo Mat Pike and Nik Speller are hopeful that relationships will be improved by allowing for a bit mor e give-and-take to help deliver real results. Mat’s tip for brands? “Tailor your aim towards the influencer. Let them individually create content that works with their style and audience.”

Influencers need empowering too. Will it happen? Watch this space.

Lucie Kerley is a creative digital strategist and social media consultant at Agent K and founder of the blog, Lucie Loves

This piece was first published in The Drum's special 20 April issue which has been guest edited by BMB co-founder Trevor Beattie.

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