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Why social media influencers won’t replace journalists

Stephen Waddington is partner and chief engagement officer at Ketchum and visiting professor at Newcastle University.

It’s unlikely that a social media influencer would ever do a Jay Rayner – the influencer market is increasingly a brand-led ecosystem.

Last weekend the Observer’s food critic Jay Rayner launched an assault on Le Cinq, a high-end restaurant in Paris. His byline was the only part of the article that wasn’t caustic.

“It’s like eating a condom that’s been left lying about in a dusty greengrocer’s.”

“[The dining room] is decorated in various shades of taupe, biscuit and fuck you.”

“My lips purse, like a cat’s arse that’s brushed against nettles.”

It’s hard to imagine a food or lifestyle influencer being so damning on Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube or a blog.

Influencers work hard to build networks across different forms of media. If they’re dependent on brands to sponsor content or invite them to openings, it’s unlikely they’d ever write a take-down in the style of Rayner.

Understanding the Influencer ecosystem

There are plenty of influencers that don’t do paid work of course, notably in the business-to-business sector, but increasingly it’s a brand-led ecosystem.

The result, like the Instagram lenses that make our crappy photos look vaguely professional, is a filtered version of reality.

It’s important that public relations and marketing professionals understand the relationship between journalists, and paid and earned influencers. It’s an increasingly fragmented and complex world.

At Ketchum we’ve developed planning tools to get to understand influencers working across different markets and media.

We’re all influencers now

Influencers that work on an earned, rather than paid, basis need to maintain relationships. It can quickly get personal.

I’ve blogged for more than a decade – for myself, my employer, professional associations and LinkedIn.

Occasionally I cross the line and write for industry titles such as The Drum. But in 10 years I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve challenged a personal or professional relationship, and I’ve never broken a story.

I sometimes wish I was braver but, like influencers, I also need to put food on the table.

There are, however, exceptions in the influencer world. Canny Food recently wrote a stomach-churning review about the hygiene of a restaurant in Newcastle. I’ll let you discover that for yourself.

Political analysis and satire is a purpose in itself for Owen Jones and Jonathan Pie, but they are exceptions rather than the norm.

There are also trolls who vent their angst on TripAdvisor and Twitter, but it’s rare for an individual to build a sustained relationship with an audience.

Critical role of media and journalists

Rayner provides a public service: he’s part entertainment and part information.

We trust the judgement and recommendation of journalists such as Rayner, although I’ll never forgive him for the rave review of Riley’s Fish Shack in Tynemouth – it’s now impossible to get a table.

Influencers will never take on the role of hardened critics or investigative journalists. They won’t call business leaders or politicians to account.

It’s why an independent earned media is more important than ever and why we must celebrate the work of journalists such as Jay Rayner.

Stephen Waddington is chief engagement officer at Ketchum and visiting professor in practice at Newcastle University. He tweets @wadds