A particular person was basically having her entire person and character questioned because she is a social media influencer. And it appeared that it was being questioned simply because there was very little understanding regarding what it means to be an influencer, and there was the implied suggestion that she is automatically some sort of con artist simply for having an influencer title and capabilities.
So what is an influencer? Well, they influence. See, easy!
That’s actually not an inaccurate description, but how does it work? Well, when you have a bajillion followers, you have what’s called a market – people who are already interested in your work. It’s a built-in audience. In my case, I do mostly weird shit, like paintings and patterns on hair. Was anyone interested in that before? I dunno, probably mostly not. But you get a few articles written about you, which gives you some exposure, which sends a stampede of people to your social media pages, and now a lot of people are into it. Now people WANT it – people who probably didn’t want it before. Now there’s more demand for my services. Cool! My social media, along with other media outlets, allowed me to influence the amount of demand for my work.
Naturally, what this means is that a lot of people also want to know HOW I’m doing the work. What’s my technique? Are there specific strategies? What sorts of brushes do I use? What kind of color is that? What works best for this stuff? Now, there’s demand for knowledge and tools. I can provide the knowledge – this blog and my tutorials. But I can’t provide the tools. And this is the part where people start to get funny about all this stuff.
I use anywhere from 10-20 different product brands to do weird shit, from the color to brushes to bowls to foils to meches to hairspray and god knows what else I have to have in order to make this crap. I have used various rainbow colors on hair for two decades now, so I have a ton of experience and brand knowledge regarding things like staying power, color bleeding, coverage, tonal values, mixability, workability, and all the other stuff you pick up after 20 years of playing with hair paint on clients. This allows me to customize my service for each and every one of my clients, to meet their specific requirements regarding maintenance, budget, color preferences, and all the other factors that hair colorists take into consideration every day. So sometimes, when people ask me about what I’m working with, I tell them what and why.
And this is where people lose their shit. When the person who inspired this post was shown to charge money to work in much the same way, people started tearing into her, assuming that she must automatically be dishonest because she is “paid for her opinion”. I found this surprising for a number of reasons.
First of all, while being a social media influencer is sort of a new job, advertising isn’t. We get advertised to all the time. Is it always dishonest? I dunno, is it? How do you find out if the claims advertised by a product are true? Maybe you ask around, read reviews, or take the risk and try the product yourself. Maybe you’ve tried other things by that company and they did or didn’t work well, so that influences how likely you are to use them again. Maybe you’ve heard unsavory things about that company, so even if their products are good, you don’t wanna support their business. There are a LOT of things that help us decide what to buy.
But here’s the thing – something that doesn’t work at all isn’t gonna last long on the market. People figure it out and word gets around and if there aren’t sufficient sales, then the product gets kicked out of the market. Yay free market system! That company now has a bad reputation, assuming they can even keep their doors open.
But what about cash payments? Isn’t everyone motivated by money? Sure, money is great. But let’s think about this a little bit. If you’re a stylist (or honestly, in any kind of business), how did you build your clientele? How do you make your money? Probably through consistently delivering quality work, with quality product, and developing a good reputation that got you referrals. You had to show up and kick ass regularly. No faking.
Same deal for influencers. We have reputations on the line. We got our following by establishing credibility much the same way we did in the salon – good work that is consistent, and in my case, also providing usable knowledge to fellow professionals that can help them perform better, too. I look like a dumbass if I provide bad information. You think no one is going to notice that? You think that’s not gonna hurt my credibility? What are the long term effects of that? That’s right, you lose trust in my brand. You don’t wanna follow me anymore, or you can’t take me seriously. I lose influence.
This is bad business. There can be short term gains for getting paid off to use and/or promote ineffective or bad product, but the long term story is different. If I lose influence, I lose more money down the road. I lose professional credibility, not only among clients and followers, but also among my peers. This can hurt, and even ruin, my career. I want to be taken seriously, not only because that’s important to me personally, but because I still have a long time to go in this industry, and I have bills to pay like everyone else. Hurting my own credibility can damage my ability to do those things. I have a responsibility to maintain follower and client trust if I want to continue to have effective and profitable branding.
We also must take into account how other advertising and education works in the hair industry (and many other industries). We have brand educators coming at us all the time, whether through our beauty suppliers, hair shows, online, and everywhere else. Now, we take them seriously - and we should! They have learned all the ins and outs of their brand and the product lines and the way to best maximize the results they can provide. Do we denounce their credibility simply because they are paid to do so? No, not typically. We respect their knowledge and experience and consider them experts in their particular field. The same can often be said of influencers who may be formally trained or, like me, have learned through experience and a lot of trial and error - but we have no specific loyalty or requirement that we use only a certain brand. We can choose whoever we want to promote, and we have no obligation to say anything one way or another, because we are usually independent contractors that make those decisions entirely free of any ties to a particular company or brand - except our own.
Now, are there going to be some people out there that will advertise anything for money? Sure! There are always cheaters in every system. But they are usually few and far between, and they almost always get caught, especially now that information is so easy to exchange online. People can easily compare notes, take screenshots, and all the other wonderful and awful things that the internet allows. These are just more incentives to be honest with product promotion.
My point is, we can’t assume that someone being an influencer automatically means they are blowing smoke up your ass. Influencers have very strong incentives in place to keep them pretty honest. If they have built a relationship with their following and they’ve been consistent providers of good information, then that will very likely remain the case even once they start getting paid for their knowledge and skillsets. We are just regular people - not marketing teams who are disconnected from their market base - and that is one of our strengths. But like with any type of advertising, consumers must do their own due diligence, too. And there IS some inherent risk in that. Shoot, even a great product that works for 99.9% of people might still not work for you. But the only way to find out is to do the research and try it out for yourself.