Influencers: Getting Down to Business
Scroll through a selection opinion pieces on the topic of influencers, and you’ll notice that quite often the word appears in quotation marks, like so:
The rise of “influencers” in a digital age
There seems to be a hint of derision, and it’s unclear why. Actually, influencers work their asses off (at least the successful ones do). Creating the copious volumes of compelling content required to build a genuinely engaged audience is nonstop, assiduous work.
The traditional currency of influence — fame — now comes with almost zero barriers to entry beyond talent and elbow grease. Say what you will about social media; its unprecedented democratising power has forged a new career path to entrepreneurship for normal people in the form of influencer work. As recently as five years ago, this didn’t exist.
In the early days (say, 2014), lots of high-profile influencers didn’t monetise their content. It’s fair to say that there was a time when shilling to your followers was seen as selling out. As the space has evolved, sponsored content has become more acceptable. These days, most influencers’ audiences understand that the people they follow do this as a living, and brand partnerships are what make their fabulous-looking lifestyles possible.
But the savviest influencers understand that platforms are ephemeral, and they don’t want the brands they’ve built to exist at the mercy of Instagram’s algorithm. They want to leverage what they’ve created into businesses with longevity — ones that can outlast their social media presence and don’t require them to keep up with the gruelling pace of content creation.
Building a brand that goes beyond Instagram is a smart way for influencers to diversify, but it turns out it’s harder than it sounds. And it isn’t just about how hard you work. In the fashion space, influencers who want to build their own brands must break into and navigate a remarkably opaque and complex industry with high barriers to entry. They face countless pitfalls, from shady suppliers to quality control issues to customer service nightmares. Launching a stand-alone brand can be a career-maker, but it can just as easily be a career-ender — usually there’s one shot to make it work.
The emerging wave of influencer interest in launching stand-alone brands is a natural evolution. Those who have what it takes to make a living as influencers are hard-working and astute. When they emerge as successful, stand-alone entrepreneurs, we should celebrate it.
Fashion is a notoriously wasteful and outmoded industry. Those who take advantage of their Instagram fame to launch their own brands have a very compelling opportunity to upend all of this and do things in a new and better way. Successful influencers have a finger on the pulse of their audience. As the zeitgeist shifts full tilt and younger consumers demand more sustainable means of consumption, nimble, enterprising influencers are well-positioned to fill spaces in the market once occupied by slower-moving, larger brands.
Platforms may evolve and change, but social media and influencers are here to stay. There’s no going back. Here’s hoping the democratisation of influence will give rise to a new generation of entrepreneurs who can tackle the challenges at hand.