Accidental influencers, for better or for worse?

Influencers. Large, small, micro, nano. We all know about them, see them, and understand them to be at the very core of social media. Working with brands and agencies, speaking directly to consumers, carving out niches and exercising real power in the market. They play a significant role in everyday communications and are a necessary media force for better or for worse. But what of individuals who didn’t set out to become influencers?  Those who, by nature of birth, relationship, profession, have been inadvertently thrust into the social media spotlight and are forced to plot a course from there? The ‘accidental influencer’ is on the rise. And whether they chose the title or not, what role do they play in the whole social media whirlpool?

Who counts as an ‘accidental influencer’?

Whether with aspirations of fame or not, the paths to accidental influencer status are plenty. A few of the most trodden include:

‘Mini’ influencers

And that’s ‘mini’ age-wise, not stature or follower base, just to be clear! Take a second and you’ll realise that many of the personalities in your peripheral Instagram vision fall into the category of accidental influencers. It’s not necessary that they even have profiles of their own. As long as they appear on social media in some capacity, their influence can be felt.

Start with the children of high profile influencers. From the Kardashians to the Beckhams, to the children of local mummy bloggers or broadcasters, you’ll be able to name a few. Brands are acutely aware of their pull in the market. Provided parents are on board, you’ll see gifted brands, and #ad #spon content that relates to them, not to the account holder themselves. Harmless perhaps? What happens when these little ones are old enough to make their own decision about visibility online? Realising they have a digital footprint they can’t erase. And have inherited the ethical decisions of endorsed brands and life philosophy. Will it feel harmless then?

Unlike ‘average’ parents whose accounts could be private and visible only to friends and family, these famous account holders have no such barriers. Images can be used, reused, and stored in perpetuity. Maybe we think Stormi Kardashian is adorable in those baby Uggs and it might encourage us to purchase them for a gift right now, but when she’s 18, will she be delighted about the endless photographs of her entire life that she can never make private? That might be a bad example to choose given the family business, but you get the point.

Sports influencers

The professional life of a top-level sportsperson has changed significantly in the last 20 years. Whereas individuals previously focused on their sports and their team, and marketing may have extended to TV ads and sportswear sponsorship deals, their visibility has exploded in the online world. Owning a space on social media, being a voice for a generation, partnering with charities and being approached by all nature of brands, regimes and products to endorse, the list is endless. But do all professional sportspeople welcome this? Sure, there are huge advantages to income opportunities, freebies and the ability to truly connect with fans, but there are also sportspeople who simply want to be that. Sportspeople.

Husbands and Wives

Slightly surprising but yes, the wives and husbands of influencers or celebrities or sportspeople, have in many cases become influencers in their own right. Think of Father of Daughters, Father of the Birds, Celeste Barber’s husband to name a few. It’s a very real thing. Appearing with or in their partner’s feed draws attention, garners questions and before long, leads to their own public profile.

To Influence or Not?

So really what is the difference? You’re an influencer by choice and design or you’re not, it all ends up in the same place, right? Freebies, brand collaborations, the ability to talk directly to your follower base, a connection online……Well no. That’s not all there is. The nature of being an authentic influencer necessitates a genuine desire to be so. And if you’re someone who has been thrust into the influencer mould without choice or intention then really, all the freebies in the world are not going to compel you to stay. And that’s exactly what should happen where possible. These individuals should have the right and ability to absent their thrones. To shut down profiles, delete content, and to pass the influencer crown to those who aspire to it. That might be simple enough for the adults in the room but it’s going to be a difficult one for the children who may have to wait 10 years or more to be able to make those decisions, never mind exercise them. And by then, the damage may be done. It’s hard to know.

It’s also possible that as time passes, it could become harder to remember why you didn’t want to take on that role of accidental influencer. The experience of receiving things, of being paid, of being part of the social media glitterati might just have sucked you in enough to take pause before giving it up. Enough pause to ignore the often lonely and intimidating role of influencer, to look past the invasion of privacy. It will be interesting to see how the next generation of influencers handles these questions, especially those who right now, have absolutely no grasp on the extent of their influence.

Laura Tweed

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